Listen Live
WERE AM Mobile App 2020


Joy 107.1 Featured Video
ways to relieve anxiety - Business call

Source: Nikola Stojadinovic / Getty

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly searching for ways to unwind? Maybe you struggle with anxiety or panic attacks, or perhaps stressful situations leave you feeling wired and on edge. That uncomfortable combination of rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and jitters can make it tough to find relief in the moment, and even tougher if it happens frequently.

We’ve all heard the advice to “take a deep breath” when we’re stressed. It can sound cliché, but there’s a reason for it: deep breathing activates the vagus nerve. This “wandering nerve,” as its name suggests (vagus is Latin for “wandering”), is the longest and most complex of our cranial nerves. It connects the brain to various parts of the body, influencing everything from emotions and heart rate to inflammation, blood pressure, and digestion. The vagus nerve also interacts with the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for unconscious processes like breathing and digestion. Within the ANS, the vagus nerve works with the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calm.

Deep breathing is a great way to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is explained further below, but there are other ways to activate our “rest and digest” mode, too. The next time stress or anxiety hits, try these calming exercises to melt your tension away:

Deep Breathing (Diaphragmatic Breathing)

This one’s a classic for a reason! But there are specific techniques that can maximize its vagus nerve stimulation. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, find a comfortable seated position or lie on your back and close your eyes if that feels relaxing for you. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. As you inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four, feel your belly rise while your chest remains still. Hold your breath for a count of seven, feeling the expansion in your abdomen. Then, purse your lips and exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of eight, feeling your belly gently deflate. Repeat this cycle for five to 10 minutes, or as long as you feel comfortable. You may even choose to coast directly into meditation afterwards, as meditation can also strengthen and activate the vagus nerve.

Humming or Chanting

Engaging your vocal cords can stimulate the vagus nerve.  A simple yet effective technique is to hum a single, continuous tone for several minutes. You can also try taking deep inhales and chanting a calming mantra like “om” on each exhale. If you find it more enjoyable, sing along softly to a favorite calming song. The key is to find a sound that resonates with you and focus on the vibration it creates in your body.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and releasing different muscle groups throughout your body, one at a time. It can help to release physical tension that often accompanies anxiety and stress. Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to center yourself.  Start with your toes. Tense the muscles in your toes as tightly as you can for a count of five, focusing on the sensation of tension. Then, release completely and wiggle your toes for a few seconds, feeling the tension melt away. Repeat this process for each major muscle group in your body, working your way up from your toes to your legs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and face. As you release the tension in each muscle group, focus on your breath and how your body feels more and more relaxed.

Cold Exposure

Taking a cold shower or splashing cold water on your face can activate the vagus nerve and trigger the relaxation response. If a cold shower sounds like too much, start with smaller doses of cold exposure. Try ending your regular shower with 30 seconds of cold water directed at your face, neck, and upper chest. You can gradually increase the duration of the cold exposure as you get more comfortable. If cold showers aren’t your thing, consider applying a cold compress to the back of your neck for a few minutes.

Steph R. Long is a Chopra-certified Ayurvedic health instructor, meditation instructor, and well-being coach. She’s also the founder of holistic wellness and coaching company SRL Well-Being and the former Deputy Director of Enterprise for Refinery29 Unbothered, where she oversaw health, wellness, and spirituality content. As a queer Black wellness practitioner who strives toward inclusivity, Steph centers BIPOC and QTBIPOC, who are often underserved by the wellness industry. Her commitment is to help everyone rediscover their inner wisdom, empowering each of her clients to cultivate self-awareness and lead vibrant, purposeful lives.


How Ayurveda Can Help You Elevate Your Wellness Routine

Switching Up Your Daily Routines Could Change Your Life—Here’s How

The Next Time You’re Feeling Stressed or Anxious, Try This  was originally published on