Uploaded by Pedro Acosta


Reset Your Vagus Nerve
Quickly Self-Soothe to Combat Stress
our autonomic nervous system has two main branches – your sympathetic nervous
system (fight-or-flight), and parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Your
vagus nerve – which travels from your brain throughout your thoracic cavity – is
largely responsible for your parasympathetic nervous system response.
Anxious people often struggle to activate their parasympathetic nervous system
response in difficult situations. This is known as having low vagal tone. Someone with high
vagal tone also feels the initial stress, but they are able to self-soothe and get on with their
day, unlike someone with low vagal tone who may ruminate over a difficult event or situation
for much longer. We cannot bulletproof ourselves against negative stimuli, but we can
balance our nervous system so that we respond rather than react when faced with them.
Good sleep, health and exercise are all beneficial for promoting high vagal tone, but
there are also some medically backed tricks that can be effective for resetting yours in the
short term. Here are three of the best.
When the protagonist of a Hollywood film hides in the bathroom to wash his face with cold
water before a pivotal moment, this is not just movie drama. Water on your face, cheeks, and
particularly your neck, triggers the mammalian dive reflex. While the mechanisms of action
are not fully known, the effects are clear: reduced heart rate, increased heart rate variability,
and a vagus nerve reset. An ice pack is more effective than water and if you place it on your
neck, it delivers the best results.
Press an ice pack to the side of your neck for 15 seconds
Switch sides and repeat at least twice on either side
Practice this anytime you need to self-soothe, many students find this to be an
effective pre-bed ritual
SAFETY DISCLAIMER - some of these exercises will change your blood pressure
and pulse. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or glaucoma, check with
your doctor before practice.
The Valsalva Maneuver is used in emergency medicine to treat tachycardia (racing heart
rate), and you can use it to quickly reset your vagus nerve. This practice initially increases
your intrathoracic and intra-abdominal pressure, then reduces is, and the shift in pressure
affects your cardiac output—and this chain of events stimulates your vagus nerve. It’s helpful
to think of this as a forced reboot of your nervous system.
Inhale deeply, close your mouth and nose, bear down in a faux exhale as you press
outward for 15 seconds
After 15 seconds, breathe through your nose, elevate your legs to 45 degrees and relax
Repeat this exercise up to four times
This is a very simple, gentler version of the modified Valsalva Maneuver and can be done
more discreetly—and is even one that kids will enjoy. By filling the balloon and holding the
pressure, you increase your abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure as well, again creating a
reset effect. You’ll need a balloon and timer for practice.
Blow to inflate the balloon and hold for 15 seconds
Release and pause for 30 seconds
Repeat up to four times – 15 seconds on, 30 seconds off
If you feel dizzy at all, take a break
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