Why your vagus nerve is crucial to your wellbeing

vagus nerve

Did you know that you have this amazing bundle of nerves originating at the top of your spinal chord called the vagus nerve? This nerve is sometimes referred to as the care taking nerve and is one of the great mind-body nexuses in the human nervous system.

The vagus nerve wanders through your body (vagus is latin for wandering) and has many functions. It connects to the muscles in your neck helping you to nod and to focus your gaze towards people, as well as vocalize. It coordinates the interaction between your breathing and heart rate. Whenever you exhale it helps slow down your heart rate and it also controls your digestive processes. This is just to name a few things.

Recent studies have shown that the vagus nerve is the biological building block of human compassion. When people were shown photos of human suffering the vagus nerve was activated with a strong response. This was also the case when people were shown videos of someone acting with kindness. On the other hand, when people were shown something that made them feel proud (ie. it was all about them) the vagus nerve showed a weak response.

Kindness and compassion

Acting with kindness and compassion goes hand in hand with having a strong vagus nerve profile and this has shown to reap many health benefits. People who have kindness and compassion as their modus operandi experience less loneliness, have a stronger immune system and have better health overall. In fact one study showed that helping others protects you from heart disease, twice as much as Aspirin!

Is it possible to increase the tone of your vagus nerve?

The answer is yes.

Scientists used to think that the tone of the vagus nerve was stable, just like your height. But if you can find ways to increase your daily diet of connection with other people you can increase the tone of your vagus nerve. It’s just like going to the gym and lifting weights to increase the tone of your muscles.

Every deposit you put into your happiness account is improving the tone of your vagus nerve.  When your deposit involves making someone else happy you earn interest on that deposit too.

Micro moments of genuine positive interactions

vagus nerve

As you go through your day can I encourage you to become aware of the micro moments of connection you make with another living being. A warm smile to greet someone, a gentle touch on the arm, a hug, a word of praise, an exchange of laughter, a cuddle with your child or time spent with your pet are all micro moments of positive emotions that activate your vagus nerve and improves its tone. This in turn changes you for the better, not only socially and psychologically but also physically.

Be happy, colour the world.



  1. I save your posts for times when I have space in my schedule to relax and reflect on what I’m reading. I know you will always have some wisdom to share that will make me smile. This post reminds me of my mantra a few years ago that was “conscious, compassionate connection.” I spent the year reminding myself of the value to me of connecting with others and made it a new habit to be more conscious of those around me and the love I send out to them. Thank you for gently bringing that mantra back into focus for me and others.

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