Get to Know Your Vagus Nerve
Find out what triggers calm for you, and do it
I’m midway through a month of writing these Pandemic Winter Health Hacks as we all slog our way through a cold, dark season. It feels like a good moment to acknowledge the obvious: This is an incredibly hard time to be sick and an incredibly important time to feel good. Granted, staying well may sound like an elusive thing to access, but in fact science is clear on ways we can increase our odds of achieving it.
A key part of that equation is the vagus nerve, the body’s longest, largest cranial nerve. As Markham Heid writes for Elemental, the vagus is “the governor of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps control the body’s relaxation responses.” The more you activate the vagus nerve, the more you calm your nervous system — and there’s research to suggest that heightened vagal activity can help stimulate immune activity. Heid writes, “Pick almost any common medical condition that’s made worse by stress or inflammation — everything from arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease — and there’s research showing that vagus nerve stimulation can help treat it or relieve its symptoms.”
The best part is that you can stimulate the vagus nerve with ease—you just need to prioritize it (easier said than done). Nearly every one of the suggested practices in this column will give it a nudge — from breathing to moving to soaking to foot rubs. So, find what invokes calm for you and do it, every day. Your health depends on it.
Illustration: Sophi Gullbrants