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calm down anxiety with polyvagal exercises for stress reduction trauma's impact

Calm Down Anxiety with Our
Top 10 Polyvagal Exercises

Finding the best way to calm down anxiety can be a bit overwhelming with so much information and varying opinions on anxiety management. Of course, everyone responds to anxiety and calming skills differently and the polyvagal exercises are an alternative approach that you may not have tried yet. The polyvagal theory offers insights into how we can calm down anxiety through skills focused on our nervous system. Here’s a step-by-step approach to 10 polyvagal exercises that can help you calm down anxiety.

Polyvagal Theory in a nutshell

This theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, highlights the role of the vagus nerve in regulating our nervous system’s response to stress. By engaging in specific exercises that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, we can promote a state of calm and relaxation. Here are 10 evidence-based polyvagal exercises to help you manage anxiety and enhance your well-being.

Try out these skills
to calm down anxiety

These exercises, grounded in evidence-based research and the principles of the polyvagal theory, offer a variety of methods to calm the nervous system and improve overall well-being. Practicing these exercises regularly can help in managing stress, reducing anxiety, and enhancing emotional balance.

1. Chanting to Calm Down Anxiety

Chanting is a powerful way to engage the vagus nerve, promoting relaxation and helping to calm down anxiety through the soothing power of vocal vibration.

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit.
  • Choose a simple, soothing chant, such as “Om” or any other mantra that resonates with you.
  • Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, chant your chosen mantra in a long, drawn-out sound.
  • Feel the vibrations in your throat and chest, focusing on the sensation.
  • Continue for several minutes, allowing the rhythmic sound and vibration to calm your nervous system.

2. Cold Exposure

A brief cold shower can surprisingly help calm down anxiety by activating the body’s natural stress response in a controlled way.

 

  • Start with a warm shower.
  • Gradually decrease the water temperature to cool.
  • Aim for 30 seconds to 1 minute of cold exposure.
  • Breathe deeply and try to relax into the sensation.

3. Vagus Nerve Stimulation through Breathing

Stimulating the vagus nerve through deep breathing exercises can quickly calm down anxiety, offering a simple yet effective method to regain peace.

 

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Place one hand on your belly.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, feeling your belly rise.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your belly fall.
  • Repeat for 5-10 minutes.

4. Guided Imagery and Visualization

Visualization techniques can transport you away from anxiety, helping to calm down your mind and body through powerful mental imagery.

 

  • Find a quiet place to sit or lie down.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
  • Visualize a peaceful scene, like a beach or a forest.
  • Focus on the details—sounds, smells, and sensations.
  • Stay in this space for several minutes, breathing deeply.

5. Grounding Exercises to Calm Down anxiety

Grounding exercises help reconnect you with the earth, promoting a sense of stability and reducing anxiety by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.

 

  • Stand barefoot on the ground, whether outside on grass or soil, or indoors on a natural surface.
  • Close your eyes and take several deep breaths, focusing on the sensation of the ground beneath your feet.
  • Visualize roots growing from the soles of your feet deep into the earth, anchoring you.
  • With each exhale, imagine releasing your stress and anxiety into the earth.
  • Continue for a few minutes until you feel more centered and calm.

6. Humming or Singing

The act of humming or singing can stimulate the vagus nerve, reducing heart rate and helping to calm down anxiety.

 

  • Choose a comfortable sitting or standing position.
  • Pick a simple song or hum a tune.
  • Focus on the vibrations in your throat and chest.
  • Continue for a few minutes, enjoying the sensation.

7. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is an effective way to release physical tension associated with anxiety, helping you to calm down and relax deeply.

 

  • Start at your feet and work your way up to your face.
  • Tense each muscle group for 5 seconds, then relax for 30 seconds.
  • Notice the contrast between tension and relaxation.
  • Move slowly through each part of your body.

8. Mindful movement to calm down anxiety

Incorporating mindful movement into your daily routine can significantly help calm down anxiety, offering a moment of peace in a busy day.

 

  • Find a quiet, comfortable space.
  • Begin with simple poses, focusing on your breath.
  • Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply.
  • Move with intention, observing how your body feels with each pose.
  • Conclude with a few minutes of lying down in a relaxation pose, breathing deeply.

9. Seated Forward Bends Seated Forward Bend 

Seated forward bends are excellent for stimulating the vagus nerve and to calm down anxiety. This exercise promotes relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing heart rate, and encouraging deep breathing.

  • Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you.
  • If sitting on the floor is uncomfortable, sit on a firm, cushioned surface to elevate your hips.
  • Inhale deeply, lengthening your spine and raising your arms overhead.
  • As you exhale, hinge at your hips and gently fold forward over your legs, reaching your hands towards your feet.
  • It’s not about how far you go; focus on maintaining a straight back and feeling the stretch along your spine and the back of your legs.
  • Allow your head to relax and, if comfortable, close your eyes to enhance the inward focus.
  • Hold this position for several deep breaths, focusing on relaxing more deeply into the pose with each exhale.
  • To come out of the pose, inhale and gently lift your torso, returning to a seated position with your spine straight.

10. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a cornerstone technique for those looking to calm down anxiety, directly engaging the parasympathetic nervous system to promote relaxation.

 

  • Lie on your back with knees bent, or sit comfortably.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose, ensuring your belly rises more than your chest.
  • Exhale slowly through pursed lips.

Learning to Calm Down Anxiety is Within Your Reach.

Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine can significantly reduce anxiety levels. Start with one or two that resonate with you and gradually incorporate more. 

Managing anxiety is within your reach. By practicing these polyvagal exercises, you can tap into your body’s natural ability to calm down and find peace. Use this guide as a starting point to explore what works best for you and discover the profound impact these practices can have on your mental health and overall well-being.

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Showing up is all that you need to do! But if you really want to get the most out of session, it could help to take some time to think about what you want from therapy. It helps to write down your goals, questions you have or things that you feel are important to share. 

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Our founder, Rebecca Sidoti, is a highly qualified, state-licensed therapist and supervisor with extensive training in anxiety related disorders and innovative treatment such as Ketamine Therapy. Mind by Design Counseling adheres to standards set by the our governing counseling boards.

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What is VRT used for?

we use VRT to support Exposure Therapy, a long standing traditional therapy modality to treat phobias, anxiety and stress. we send a headset directly to your home so you can access VRT from anywhere.

VRT not only helps with exposure therapy for phobias, but is great for ADHD, mindfulness, PTSD and social anxiety.

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