Stress is more and more common these days as life seems to be getting harder rather than easier with all our technology and being ‘on’ all the time!
Our poor little adrenal glands!
When we are stressed, our flight and fight response kicks assuming we still need to run away from that dangerous animal. Adrenaline kicks in and energy
is directed to our limbs, eyes and blood vessels to pump oxygen around the body.
However, the organs not involved in flight & fight become switched off. Over time, this can really have a negative impact on the body causing indigestion,
low blood sugar, low immunity, asthma and other breathing problems, chronic pain such as headaches, joint pain, low back pain, and neck pain, skin disorders
such as acne, eczema or psoriasis, weight gain, or under weight, hormonal imbalances, and menstrual problems.
Mental problems also develop, ranging from insomnia to anxiety and depression, mood swings and even psychosis. 
Therefore, we need to focus on exercises that activate our vagus nerve, relieving the stress.
Tips to overcome stress
- Yoga, meditation & breathing techniques
Yoga has definitely helped me to manage my moods and calm my mind when feeling anxiety and depression. It is also amazing at releasing any tension
building up in the body and mind. It increases GABA thus helps vagal tone decreasing gut issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Singing has also been reported to increase the level of bonding hormone-oxytocin and helps in fostering social closeness. Om chanting and mantra slow
down the breath and deactivate areas of brain controlling stress, fear, anger, drives such as hunger, sex and dominance and can also help with epilepsy
and depression. [Study in International Journal of Yoga 2011] [1b]
Simple breathing techniques
The bhramari pranayama has a similar effect, which involves lengthening your exhalation while singing the mmmmm sound, which further amplifies the
parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) response and vagus nerve reducing stress and inflammation.[1b]
Even simply taking some deep breaths when you are feeling a little overwhelmed and a bit off centre is amazing. Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Sodhana)
where you breathe in through one nostril at a time is amazing for balancing our nervous system. Left nostril breathing increases PNS stimulation, relaxing the body.[1b]
Deep exhalations and retention after exhale switches on PNS via the vagus nerve instantly reducing stress.
Meditation is amazing even if for 5 minutes a day to start. You can even do it while still lying in bed and taking time to reflect on the things you are grateful for in life.
If I feel a little anxious I try to sit with the feeling and try to let it disperse before going into my day. [1b]
iPhone applications like Headspace are a great way to start with guided meditations for 15 minutes every day.
- Do something nice for yourself everyday
It might simply be a pampering massage after a busy week, or getting your nails done, or simply taking a morning off to stay in bed and read a book. Read inspirational
books to increase positivity and hope i.e. Brene Brown, Eckhart Tolle, and Abraham Hicks.
Whatever it is, really let yourself indulge and don’t feel guilty. We often are too busy to just stop and give back to ourselves.
Massage can stimulate the vagus nerve, especially foot massage, decreasing blood pressure in both healthy and hypertensive patients. [1c]
Massage has been found to lessen stress, depression, anxiety, migraine, pain associated with fibromyalgia, improve immune functions and decrease muscle tension.
All these effects of massage are mediated by vagus nerve. Acupuncture is also amazing to relax the body and increase vagal stimulation.
Run a lovely bath with some Epsom salts and your favourite essences and rest up. Tomorrow is another day!
It is also really important to ground yourself when you’re stressed. We can become stressed and contracted so baths are beautiful to relax the muscles and the mind,
helping us to have a deeper more restful sleep which is so important for healing during times of stress.
- Walk barefoot
Whether in the soft, wet grass, on the sand or in the ocean, this really makes me feel more grounded and less stressed. Spending time in nature is also crucial. It can
let all the stresses of the day just melt away when you just sit and watch the trees, insects and birds and smell the flowers around you.
Seeing trees, the ocean, mountains, rivers and lakes all help to make us feel more connected and like we belong and can reduce anxiety and stress and affects the
vagus nerve and thus our stress response.[1b]
- Dance & laugh!
Most importantly laugh, and shake your booty!! In fact, I found myself feeling a little lost in self-pity and self-doubt the other day. I was frustrated at my lack of motivation
and energy, and thus lack of time and energy to do the things I love. I therefore took myself off for a salsa dance! I felt my lethargy and negative thinking just shake out of
Laughter also increases our exhalation breath and thus activates vagus and the PNS.
Any kind of positive feeling like love, gratitude, contentment, and tranquility can immediately reduce stress via the vagus nerve.
What are you going to do that you love this week?!
- Improve your nutrition
Diet is very important as a poor diet can lead to a lack of essential nutrients key to good mental health and stress management.
Poor diet choices lead to inflammation, poor immunity, hormonal imbalances that can all lead to higher levels of stress as you are not feeling 100% and less able to manage
stress, leading to mental health disorders.
Inflammatory sugar, gluten, preservatives, excess dairy, artificial sweeteners, excess meat and caffeine, alcohol, smoking.
- Vitamin B rich foods are great for
- stress management
- low mood, anxiety, depression as increase acetylcholine and GABA, relaxing the nervous system and helping with insomnia (1)
- B6 increases serotonin and is especially required in alcohol users and women on the pill (2)
- B12 helps in mood disorders and B8 is great for brain function and depression
- Omega 3 rich foods great for brain health and inflammation and critical for proper functioning of neurotransmitters
- Potassium rich foods
- Zinc is essential for
- the nervous system as it increases GABA
- reducing excess dopamine and adrenaline or serotonin, thus reducing stress, anxiety, aggression (1)
- gut health when stressed, causing irritable bowel (IBS)
- Magnesium is amazing to help relax the mind and muscles
- especially useful if levels of stress get to the point that you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
- is neuroprotective and great for depression/neurological disorders
- is a great antioxidant which is great for reducing heavy metal toxicity that can leak to the brain causing fogginess, depression and anxiety
- Is a precursor for GABA helping calmness and relaxation in anxiety (1)
- SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine)
- Increases glutathione, a potent antioxidant reducing free radicals and toxins and serotonin both helping our mental health
- B. Not to be taken with antidepressant medications and you should consult a doctor before taking (2)
- Is a precursor for dopamine, great in depression to improve mood, mental exhaustion and addictive tendencies (1)
- Increases B vitamins and serotonin for improved mood; and melatonin to help insomnia, migraines, chronic pain, hypertension and anxiety (1)
- 5 HTP is a supplement derivative form of tryptophan and great to increase serotonin and thus enhance mood
- DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
- a hormone that depletes over 35 and enhances mood and well being as is the building block for oestrogen and testosterone.
- N.B. Consult a doctor or naturopath as it is contraindicated in some circumstances, especially in some hormonal cancers etc.
- Vitamin C and calcium
- Affect neurotransmitters and nerve endings thus helping in mood disorders
- Vitamin D
- For immunity, neural cells, seasonal depression (SAD)(3)
- Adrenal herbal support to counter effects of excess cortisol
- Licorice, Rhodiola, Rehmannia, Withania and Panax and Siberian ginseng are all beautiful herbs for adrenal fatigue
- Probiotics help gut micro biome and this vagal tone, reducing anxiety and depression [1b]
You would need to see a practitioner to discuss this further or feel free to pop in the Health Emporium for a further chat.
Surfing is amazing for relieving stress and any anxiety/depression.
I surf as part of a group called OneWave, whereby Grant manages his stress, depression and his ‘funks’ by getting out for that ‘one wave’ that makes his day a whole lot better.
Studies show how being in salt water can actually increase your serotonin levels within 30 seconds decreasing stress instantly! 🙂
Exercise is vital to increase a feeling of well-being, gets you outside in nature and releases feel-good endorphins to help disperse any stress.
Tai Chi, Qi Gong, walking, aerobic fitness all help with activating our vagus nerve.
- Write a journal
Writing can really help to bring awareness to any negative thoughts that stress is creating. Writing helps to process unconscious thoughts and allows them to come up so they
are not suppressed, causing more stress and anxiety unconsciously.
Including gratitude and creative and affirmative visualisations can also be very helpful to keep a positive outlook and reduce anxiety and stress. Any kind of positive feeling like
love, gratitude, contentment, and tranquility can arouse vagus nerve.[1b]
- Be around animals
Animals are amazing to cuddle and bring so much unconditional love. There is research that proves that having a pet can really help reduce the incidence of stress and even
depression as stroking or cuddling an animal actually increases our levels of feel good hormones.
- Be kind to yourself!
We all can go through some really tough times and when these happen, be kind to yourself.
If you just want to lie in bed, do so, watch a funny movie and just let the feelings come up and feel them and be ok with them! Have a cry, but try to not judge yourself for feeling
Laying on your right ride leads to highest vagal stimulation. (Circulation Journal 2008).
And, most importantly, it’s ok not to be ok and ask for help if things get out of control and you need to talk to someone. 🙂
Written by Chrissie Alexander
Chrissie is a Naturopath at The Health Emporium, and is also a yoga teacher. She is passionate about all things health related and loves the ocean, yoga, nature, dancing and healthy food.
Pop in to chat to Chrissie anytime for some naturopathic tips and advice.
1a Theresa Vernon
1 Bio Concepts
1b Moksha Mantra ‘Natural ways of stimulating Vagus “Buddha” Nerve’
1c Journal of Clinical Neuroscience 2014
1d Alternative therapies in Health and Medicine 2011
2 Gary Null ‘A Natural Approach to Overcoming Depression
3 Hechtman L, ‘Clinical Approach to Nutrition’