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Mental Health

Studies Show Stimulating Vagus Nerve Reduces Stress: Here’s How To Activate Yours

Relieve tension with simple de-stressors.


Wish you could improve heart health, boost immunity, and banish tired, blue moods? You can. It just takes stimulating the vagus nerve, the longest set of 12 pairs of cranial nerves. When this pair of nerves is toned, everything from digestion to heart rate to handling stress is optimized. But chronic tension takes a toll on the vagus nerve, as does getting older. Fortunately, help is here!

Start a ‘joy spiral’.

Sending heartfelt thoughts to others with a loving kindness meditation creates an “upward spiral” of positivity. University of North Carolina research found that this stimulated the vagus nerve in study participants, boosting its strength significantly in nine weeks. The reason? Focusing on love and compassion spurs the release of oxytocin, a hormone that activates cells that make up the nerve. For a how-to, check out the Kindfulness bookazine at

Chill out in the shower.

Research from the American Physiological Society says exposing your body to cold water stimulates thermo-receptors in the skin that boost vagus nerve function. Just end your daily shower with a two-minute cold water blast to get the benefits. Short on time? Splash cold water on your face. Australian experts say this activates the body’s “diving reflex,” a natural process that heightens vagus nerve activity. (Click through for more on how cold water tones the vagus nerve.)

Serenade yourself.

Good news for women who love belting out tunes while driving or puttering around the house: The vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords and muscles at the back of the throat, and lifting your voice in song gives the nerve a tune-up. In fact, research conducted in Sweden found regular singing boosts the nerve’s activity.

Sniff this scent.

Inhaling jasmine’s aroma (whether by sipping jasmine tea or taking a whiff of jasmine oil) may rev the vagus nerve in as little as 15 minutes. Plus, it continues to optimize its action for an hour. That’s the word from a Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry article, which says compounds in jasmine send stimulating signals to the nerve via olfactory bulbs above the nasal cavities. Not a fan of the soft scent? Additional research says cedarwood and lavender aromas have similar effects.

Note: Check with your healthcare provider before supplementing.

For more on stress relief, check out these stories from our sister publication:

Tired? Blue? 7 Easy Ways to Reboot Your Nervous System So You Feel Better Fast

Study: This Tea is So Good at Easing Stress, Just Smelling It Works Better Than Meds

Experts Say Fidget Rings Are Powerful Tools For Outsmarting Stress

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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