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Tone Up Your Vagus Nerve and Tone Down Your Stress

Tone Up Your Vagus Nerve and Tone Down Your Stress
Tone Up Your Vagus Nerve and Tone Down Your Stress

Chronic stress is rampant these days, wreaking havoc on our physical and mental wellbeing. Health care professionals have been advocating recently for a deceptively simple, yet effective method for managing the symptoms of this silent killer: toning the vagus nerve.

What is the vagus nerve, you might ask? Also known as the vagal nerve, the vagus nerve originates in the brain and carries signals to the heart, lungs, and stomach, controlling specific body functions such as digestion, heart rate, and the immune system. It also helps the body breathe and swallow, regulate emotions and pain, and control inflammation. A key player in the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve calms the body’s sympathetic, “fight or flight” response. Damage to the vagus nerve caused by chronic stress has been shown to result in exhaustion, brain fog, anxiety, and depressed moods.

Thankfully, however, there are some very simple ways to stimulate and tone the vagus nerve so that it is more resilient to the stressors of modern day life:

  • Meditation and heart-centered breathing exercises have a direct effect on calming the vagal nerves.

  • Studies have also shown that tactics as simple as placing a cold compress on your cheeks and forehead, drinking ice water, or taking a cold shower can help the body relax and maintain daily functions.

  • Humming and singing can stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

About Greg Hammer, MD:

Greg Hammer, MD is a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, pediatric intensive care physician, pediatric anesthesiologist, mindfulness expert, and the author of GAIN without Pain: The Happiness Handbook for Health Care Professionals.

A member of the Stanford WellMD initiative, Dr. Hammer is the former Chair of the Physician Wellness Task Force for the California Society of Anesthesiologists. He has been a visiting professor and lecturer on wellness at institutions worldwide and teaches GAIN to medical students, residents, and fellows at Stanford.

Dr. Hammer’s clinical focus is in pediatric cardiac anesthesia and pediatric critical care medicine. His research is in developmental pharmacology and immunology, and he has an active laboratory with multiple ongoing studies in these areas. He has published widely on topics related to pharmacology and perioperative care of children undergoing cardiac and thoracic procedures as well as organ transplantation. Dr. Hammer is a health enthusiast and meditator, utilizing a non-duality and mindfulness-based approach, including the GAIN method.



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