The vagus nerve runs from our brain down into our gut and has an important role in regulating balance within various areas of our body. Around 20% of the vagus nerve fibres are efferent which means they send signals from the brain out to the body.
That means 80% of the fibres are afferent, sending signals from our organs back to our brain. This is what we refer to as the gut-brain connection and one of the links between our gut health and anxiety or mood disorders.
Vagus nerve stimulation refers to any technique where the nerve is manually stimulated. There are specific devices that can be surgically inserted to conduct electrical impulses onto the nerve which have been shown to be effective for children with uncontrolled epilepsy.
However, there are also less invasive options out there which have shown useful for those who may be experiencing depression, anxiety, gut health issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, wide-spread inflammation and heart conditions.
Due to the location of the vagus nerve running from our face, down our neck into our torso, activities such as humming, gargling or singing can stimulate the nerve manually due to the vibrations impacting on the nerve.
Research has found a reduction in the heart rate of choir singers and a direct association with certain note in their music with states of relaxation.
Chanting “Om” also stimulates the vagus nerve which suggests that monks may have found a body hack to support their immune systems while long-term meditating many years ago!
This could also explain why yelling and “gruffing” can be so remedial during times of stress.
Exposure to cold is another way to do this and can be as simple as blasting cold water at the end of your shower or if you’re up for it, plunging into a cold pool, ocean or river.
Next time you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or a little unwell, try splashing your face with cold water or singing your favourite song and see how this makes you feel.