If you experience anxiety symptoms, research shows that icing your vagus nerve can slow down your heart rate and signal your body to relax.
One current trend that you may have heard about is icing your vagus nerve. This is when you lay a cold compress on your chest or the back of your neck to help stimulate your vagus nerve in hopes it will signal your body to relax.
If you’re not familiar with your vagus nerve, or how icing it can offer you anxiety-reducing benefits, then it’s worth learning a little more about it.
Your vagus nerve runs from your brain down to your abdomen. Because it wanders down your body carrying a range of signals from your brain to your organs (and vice versa), it’s known as the “wandering nerve”.
It plays a key role in your parasympathetic nervous system which means when the vagus nerve is activated, it sends a signal to slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure telling your body it’s time to relax.
It oversees several body functions such as:
- heart rate
- immune response
- reflex actions (coughing, sneezing, swallowing, vomiting)
Since your vagus nerve is the main nerve that is in charge of relaxing your body after it’s under stress, icing it may help with anxiety.
More recent scientific studies back up this connection.
By icing your nerve you’re tricking your mind and body, and distracting yourself from the experience of anxiety.
How to stimulate your vagus nerve
Using cold temperatures to stimulate your vagus nerve works quickly. In the 2018 study mentioned earlier when participants used a cold compress on the neck area, it only took 16 seconds.
TikTok influencer Frankie Simmons who was the original poster of the anxiety hack “icing your vagus nerve” claims it takes as little as 15 minutes to calm down when you place a cold compress on your chest.
To try this at home, all you have to do to stimulate your vagus nerve is apply a cold compress to your chest or the back of your neck. Try it for a few seconds to several minutes and see how you feel. If you’re monitoring your heart rate, you may see a drop. If you don’t, try it again for a few minutes longer.
Other cold water immersion tactics you can try:
- dunking your head in cold water
- taking a cold bath or shower
- splashing cold water on your face
- go outside in cold temperatures
- drinking ice cold water
Moving your body can help to stimulate your vagus nerve.
If you want to avoid being cold or exercising, then you can try humming or singing.
Since your vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords, try singing or humming your favorite tune.
Your vagus nerve can be stimulated by massage, especially a foot massage.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body and is part of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of calming you down.
By stimulating your vagus nerve with cold temperature, you are activating it which helps to signal your body to relax. To activate your vagus nerve try placing a cold compress on the back of your neck or chest for several seconds up to 15 minutes.
You can also try other cold immersion techniques such as:
- dunking your head or splashing water on your face
- taking a cold bath or shower
- going outside in the cold
- drinking ice water
Other ways to activate your vagus nerve are to:
- get a massage
If you’re experiencing anxious feelings on a regular basis, it may be time to consider speaking with a therapist. Use this resource guide to help you find the support that’s right for you.