The Vagus Nerve | Depression? Anxiety? Super (Self) Stimulating Subject Matter

Panic Attack Symptoms

“Man, Bill, these panic attack symptoms are taking me out. And I swear major depressive disorder is on-board, as well as butt-kicking stress. Come on, there has to be a creative relief angle here. Something I can put to work right bloody now!”

Well, you know me – always scrounging around for helpful tidbits out there. And I came upon something I think you’re going to like. Something you can use right now.

So what say we chat the vagus nerve (trust me, this is hot)? Oh, and it’s not about working up the courage to increase your bets the next time you hit the casino.

The Vagus Nerve

But when it comes to depression and anxiety relief, you don’t have to fool with invasive or non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation. Nope, you can learn and practice vagal maneuvers.

Okay, so the vagus nerve is the 10th of our 12 cranial nerves. What makes cranial nerves unique is their emergence in pairs from the brain, as opposed to the nerves that thread outward through the spinal cord. With the exception of the optic nerve, the cranial nerves are components of the peripheral nervous system, which serves as a communication relay between the brain and the extremities.

So back to the vagus nerve. In medieval Latin, “vagus” literally means “wandering.” What a perfect fit, because the cord-thick vagus nerve (remember, there are two) originates in the brain stem, extends through the neck and chest, and terminates in the abdomen.

And what does it do? Well, it supplies parasympathetic fibers to our organs from the neck to the top of the colon, with the exception of the adrenal glands.

This parasympathetic biz is huge for us, so let’s stay with it for a bit. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest”/”feed and breed” activities that occur when we’re at “rest.” Its action is considered complementary to that of the sympathetic nervous system – responsible for stimulating fight/flight response activities.

So that means the vagus nerve orchestrates dynamics such as lowering heart rate and blood pressure, downward movement through the gastrointestinal tract, a number of muscle movements in the mouth (including speech), and keeping the larynx open for breathing.

By the way, have you ever heard of vasovagal syncope (fainting)? Well, excessive activation of the vagus nerve during emotional stress – a parasympathetic overcompensation of a strong stress/anxiety-induced response – is at play. It’s all about a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure. Heck, it can even result in loss of bladder control during moments of extreme fear.

The Vagus Nerve | (Self) Stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been used to control seizures since 1979. Well, the procedure, which uses a pace-maker-like device implanted in the chest, has recently been approved for treating tough cases of depression. And how ’bout this? A non-invasive VNS device is under development and will soon be ready for clinical trials.

But when it comes to depression and anxiety relief, you don’t have to fool with invasive or non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation. Nope, you can learn and practice vagal maneuvers. Here are just a few…

  • Immersing your face in cold water (diving reflex)
  • Attempting to exhale against a closed airway (Valsalva maneuver). It’s usually done by closing your mouth, and pinching your nose shut while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon. A modified – less impactful on the Eustachian tubes – version can be performed by breathing with the glottis (the vocal folds and the opening between them) partially closed. Just do the exhale while making a “Hhhh” sound, like when you’re cleaning your glasses.
  • Singing
  • Tensing your stomach muscles as if to bear down to have a bowel movement (carefully, now)
  • Diaphragmatic breathing techniques

Hey, I’m not into yoga, though I so want to give it a go. Anyway, I’m told basic yoga routines can stimulate the vagus nerve. And yoga-associated activities can, as well. Included is chanting – listening and vocalizing. Incidentally, I find making soft and low-tone chanting/moaning vocalizations very soothing.

Oh, one more idea. I’m really into visualization – it’s always worked well for me. So why not visualize that vagus nerve of yours being stimulated, and generating comfort? Go ahead, do a search for a vagus nerve image that hits home. And work it!

We’re Done

Hey, I don’t know what you’re dealing with – panic attack symptoms, major depressive disorder, stress, generalized anxiety disorder, etc. It’s our responsibility to do all we can to come up with management techniques – and practice them ’til they become just the way we do things.

I think (self) vagus nerve stimulation is one of those techniques. So learn more about it and give it a go, k?

image credit

Wanna’ check-out 600+ Chipur titles? All but a tap away.