By Amanda J. Prina, LCSW


What is the Vagus Nerve?

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It originates in the brain and then reaches down through the neck into the heart, lungs and digestive system. The vagus nerve plays a component in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which elicits a calming, relaxed response in our body. Activation and toning of the vagus nerve plays a significant role in mental health, allowing us to effectively respond to the emotional and physiological symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD or everyday stressors.

How To Activate Our Vagus Nerve

Toning the vagus nerve activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which calms our body and mind. Greater vagal tone is associated with better mood, less anxiety, and more resilience. The following are methods that have been shown to activate the vagus nerve and help us self-regulate:

  • Deep Breathing!
    • Deep, diaphragmatic breathing. This can be done by placing a hand on your belly then inhaling for 5 seconds, holding the breath for 3 seconds and exhaling very slowly for 7 seconds.
  • Humming
    • The vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, so humming stimulates the nerve. Humming your favorite song is an effective way to calm down and self-regulate.
  • Cold Water
  • When our bodies adjust to the cold, our fight or flight response decreases and our vagus nerve is activated. You can try this method by splashing cold water on your face, turning the shower water on cold for several seconds, or creating a small cold plunge by dipping your hand in ice cold water for several seconds.

We hope this information is empowering and provides you with a few methods to self-regulate when you are feeling anxious or upset. For further information or support, please contact Memor Health at 775-827-2400.


Kok, B, Fredrickson, B, Coffey, K, et al. How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone. Psychological Science 2013 24: 1123

Daraou, Shawna. The Vagus Nerve – How Inflammation Can be Controlled by the Brain. Retrieved from: