How to press pause & relieve stress: A quick vagus nerve hack

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, stress has become an unwelcome companion, affecting both our mental well-being and physical health. 


One in 14 UK adults feels stressed every day and 74% of people feel so stressed they become overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to the latest stress statistics by CIPHR, Mental Health Foundation and YouGov. 

Stress is no stranger to us. However, amidst the chaos, there lies an internal ally — the vagus nerve

This powerhouse nerve, extending from the brainstem through the face into the abdomen, has the remarkable ability to activate our calm, rest and digest response, otherwise known as the parasympathetic nervous system.

Understanding the vagus nerve and its impact

Originating at the brainstem, this nerve's expansive reach touches various regions of our body, offering a profound connection between our mental and physical states. When stimulated, the vagus nerve becomes the conductor of a symphony that orchestrates calmness, promoting a restful state that counters the effects of stress. 

It’s pretty amazing what our body can do for us, if we know how to tune into it.

Practical application: The art of ear massage

Now, let's transition from theory to practice with a simple yet effective technique to stimulate the vagus nerve: an ear self-massage. There are many techniques to stimulate the vagus nerve, but this quick self-massage is definitely a favourite of mine and my clients. Why? Because this soothing practice can be seamlessly incorporated into your daily routine, offering a tangible way to invite relaxation and balance.

Let’s walk through the steps:

1. Pull down, move up:

Start by gently pulling down on your earlobes. Gradually work your way up, pulling the sides and tops of your ears. This slow, deliberate movement allows you to synchronise with the rhythm of your body's response. Perhaps notice how your breathing starts to calm and ease along with the movement.

2. Circles of serenity:

Engage the pads of your index or middle fingers to massage the front of your ears with small, circular motions. This tactile experience encourages mindfulness, urging you to savour the serenity of the moment.

3. Behind and beyond:

Transition to placing your index fingers behind and your middle fingers in front of your ears. In a gentle up-and-down motion, explore the sensations as your fingers traverse this often-overlooked area.

As you indulge in this self-care ritual, pay attention to subtle cues. The desire to swallow or yawn serves as an encouraging sign that your parasympathetic nervous system is awakening, bringing your nervous system into a state of balance and ease.

4. Post-massage pause:

Upon completing the ear massage, take a moment to pause. Consider placing your hands on your heart to anchor yourself in the present. This pause not only reinforces the mind-body connection but also invites a sense of self-compassion.

Stress management beyond the ears

The impact of stress on our bodies is undeniable — muscles tense, inflammation rises, focus wavers and anxiety looms. Prolonged stress can have major impacts on our physical and mental health such as increased blood pressure, mood swings, poor sleep, fatigue and even persistent pain. 

Incorporating brief pauses throughout the day can be a game-changer. These moments of respite serve as an opportunity to recalibrate and recenter, enhancing our overall well-being.

In the quest for well-being, understanding a symbiotic relationship between mind and body is paramount. The vagus nerve is a potent force, offering a pathway to serenity and equilibrium. Through simple yet profound practices such as ear self-massages, we can tap into this internal resource, inviting moments of calm into our daily lives.

The journey toward a more relaxed, balanced you can begin with just a touch — in this case, a therapeutic touch to the ears.

If you’re ready to start relieving stress and want guidance and support to do so, I’d love to hear from you — visit my profile or contact me today to learn more.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Therapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Manchester, Greater Manchester, M40
Written by Tess Jewell-Larsen, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, RPYT, YACEP
Manchester, Greater Manchester, M40

Tess Jewell-Larsen is a certified mindfulness coach, somatic healer and a Yoga Therapist-in-training. Tess emphasizes breath support, mindful movement, stress management, nervous system resiliency, mindset and lifestyle shifts, and taking small steps that build up, so that her clients feel more joyful, balanced, and optimistic, and thrive.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Massage therapy


All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals