The Use Of Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation In Treating Stress And Burnout

The Use Of Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation In Treating Stress And Burnout

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Hearing the terms "stressed out" and "burned out" in conversations seems more common than ever before. From financial struggles to an overwhelming workload and even world events, it's no surprise many of us struggle to keep up with the demands of everyday life. Not to mention, many of us are still dealing with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left an indelible mark on many of us. Now, more people than ever are also searching for new and effective ways to treat stress and burnout and come out better on the other side. One such option is non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS).

What is the Vagus Nerve?

Let's begin by discussing the vagus nerve, one of twelve cranial nerves that comprise the peripheral nervous system — which is a branch of the autonomic nervous system. It extends from your brainstem down to your abdomen and helps regulate many bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, respiration, immune response, and more.

More recently, it has been discovered that it can also significantly regulate the body's stress response. The vagus nerve is an exciting component of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which is closely associated with the "rest and digest response" that helps us recover when we're in that stressed-out state of chronic fight or flight mode.

Now, let's talk more about stress and burnout, including how they affect the body and their common symptoms.

Stress and Burnout

Anytime you're faced with a stressful situation, the body triggers the "fight or flight" response we mentioned a moment ago. This survival mechanism helps us quickly and efficiently respond to danger by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. While this can be helpful in short-term situations, chronic "fight or flight" mode leads to physical and mental exhaustion — also known as burnout.

Stress vs. Burnout

Stress and burnout don't always go hand in hand. While many of us experience stress on a very regular basis, burnout usually requires a prolonged period of stress beyond our capacity to cope with. That said, burnout can lead to physical and mental exhaustion — both affecting us in myriad ways and even interfering with our daily lives.

Symptoms of Burnout

Common symptoms of burnout include:

  • Fatigue

  • This can manifest in the form of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. For example, when experiencing burnout, we tend to feel much more tired than usual, even after a whole night's rest.

  • Irritability

  • An overwhelmed and overworked mind can cause us to become easily frustrated and irritable. We may be snapping at our loved ones or having difficulty focusing on tasks. It can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.

  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia

  • Burnout can lead to difficulty falling or staying asleep, leading to a greater degree of fatigue. In some cases, it may also cause nightmares and night terrors.

  • Loss of appetite

  • Burnout often causes us to lose our appetite as our bodies are in constant fight-or-flight mode and don't want us to expend more energy digesting food.

  • Physical symptoms like headache, chest pain, and body aches.

  • The stress response can cause physical symptoms like headaches, tightness in the chest, digestive issues, and overall body aches and pains.

    Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation 

    All of this brings us back to non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation and precisely how it can help us become more resilient to stress, avoid or treat burnout, and turn off the fight or flight response but trigger the body's rest and digest response instead.

    Rather than relying on surgical options for vagus nerve stimulation, nVNS uses gentle electrical impulses through the skin rather than under it. Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation can be used to regulate the body's stress response and help us recover from burnout. It works by stimulating the vagus nerve, activating its parasympathetic pathways, and allowing it to control our fight or flight response and restore body balance.

    Non-invasive VNS has been shown to effectively improve mood, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and increase productivity — all of which can help prevent or treat burnout, among the many other benefits of these effects. In addition, non-invasive VNS is a safe and effective way to gain control over your stress levels without any surgery or medications.

    Benefits of nVNS

    Next, let's get into the benefits of non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation in more detail, including how it:

    • Reduces stress
    • Promotes relaxation
    • Regulates production of stress hormones, including cortisol
    • Alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety
    • It's non-invasive and has a low risk of adverse effects

    Reduces stress

    Again, a primary benefit of non-invasive VNS is it can reduce stress or at least our ability to cope with it. Non-invasive VNS effectively regulates the body's response to stress and helps us become more resilient in high-stress situations. It does this by activating the body's parasympathetic pathways, which control our rest and digest response and allow us to recover from overstimulation of the fight or flight response.

    Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation promotes relaxation

    In addition to reducing stress levels, nVNS also helps promote relaxation. This can be incredibly helpful for those who struggle with chronic anxiety and have difficulty winding down after a stressful day or situation. Non-invasive VNS stimulates the vagus nerve, which triggers a cascade of responses throughout the body that help promote relaxation and reduce tension.

    Regulates production of stress hormones

    Non-invasive VNS can also help regulate the body's production of stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released when we're under stress or in danger. It helps us respond to threats and prepare for fight or flight. Non-invasive VNS helps regulate cortisol levels so we don't become too overwhelmed with undue stress and can stay productive.

    Alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety

    Many people also use nVNS to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, in extreme cases of depression, such as treatment-resistant depression, more invasive measures, including surgical VNS, may be called for. In fact, VNS for treatment-resistant depression was one of the first FDA-approved uses for VNS.

    For those without severe depression, non-invasive VNS is beneficial for many trying to combat the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Non-invasive VNS can help regulate mood and reduce stress levels, making it easier to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.

    It's non-invasive and low risk of adverse effects

    What's not to love about a non-invasive and highly accessible option for stimulating the vagus nerve? That's exactly what devices like Xen by Neuvana can give you! Moreover, you can use these non-invasive devices from the comfort of your own home. Not to mention, you don't run the risk of any significant side effects or adverse reactions.

    Examples of Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation Treatments for Stress

    Now let's get into Xen by Neuvana in more detail and other options at your disposal for non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation.

    Xen by Neuvana

    Xen by Neuvana is a unique, non-invasive device that stimulates the vagus nerve with special headphones that connect to a handheld device. It works with your smartphone to provide personalized stimulation and feedback tailored to your needs. This can effectively reduce stress levels, increase energy and productivity, and promote relaxation.


    Yoga is another popular option for stimulating the vagus nerve in a non-invasive manner. Stretching exercises are particularly beneficial as they help relax the body and stimulate the vagus nerve, allowing it to send signals throughout our bodies to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and return us back into balance.

    Breath practices

    Deep breathing techniques have also been found to stimulate the vagus nerve as well. When we take slow deep breaths, we send calming signals to our bodies to relax and rejuvenate. Meditation and mindfulness practices are also beneficial in this way. They help us become more aware of both our physical and emotional states, allowing us to better regulate our stress response.

    Cold exposure

    Another increasingly popular option that comes with several health benefits along with being a VNS tool is cold exposure. Whether taking a cold shower or jumping into an icy river, exposing yourself to cold temperatures helps activate the vagus nerve and increase its threshold for tolerating stress.

    Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation: FAQs

    Now let's review some common questions we get about nVNS.

    How does non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation work?

    nVNS works by stimulating the vagus nerve without surgical intervention. This is often done through vagus-nerve stimulating headphones that connect to a handheld device, such as Xen by Neuvana. However, it's also possible to stimulate the vagus nerve without external devices. This can be done with stretching exercises, breath practices, and cold exposure techniques.

    Does stimulating the vagus nerve reduce stress?

    Yes, stimulating the vagus nerve can help reduce stress levels and improve mood. In addition, non-invasive VNS is beneficial for those trying to regulate their stress response and cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.

    What are the benefits of stimulating the vagus nerve?

    The VNS benefits are vast, including improved mood, increased energy, and productivity, decreased stress levels, improved sleep quality, better digestion, improved immune system function, and more.

    How long should you stimulate the vagus nerve?

    This will depend on the method of stimulation you're using. For Xen by Neuvana, it's recommended that users begin with 10-minute sessions and adjust accordingly to find the optimal duration for their needs. Other forms of nVNS may require different amounts of time or frequencies to achieve desired results. For example, with cold exposure, you might begin with only 20 seconds at a time and increase this number as your tolerance for the cold increases.

    Final Thoughts on Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation

    We've seen how non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation can help many people. It can be particularly helpful for those who need to overcome stress and survive burnout when it feels like there's no way out. With effective tools and techniques, you can take control of your stress levels. Ultimately, you will find the balance that brings peace and calm back into your life.

    Whether you turn to a non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation device like Xen by Neuvana or opt for natural methods such as stretching, breathwork, and cold exposure, everyone can benefit from activating their vagus nerve and regulating their stress response.

    Don't wait to explore the various options out there. You never know what might work best for you until you try it!