Vagus Nerve Stimulation: How to Live Slowly in a Fast World

Jul 31

If you have spent any amount of time researching mental health, you have probably been bombarded with suggestions about vagus nerve stimulation. 

It seems that it came out of nowhere – just a few months back, we didn’t know anything about it. Right now, it seems to be a solution for PTSD, gut health issues, depression, inflammation – you name it, vagus nerve stimulation seemingly can heal it.

Naturally, many of us would be suspicious of such a miracle cure. And rightfully so. 

Today I wanted to talk a bit about the research behind vagus nerve stimulation and why I believe it can help us feel calmer.

Why should you even listen to me?

Before we begin, let me introduce myself. I have spent the past 10 years helping people sleep better. As a certified sleep and recovery coach, I aim to use the neuromodulation approach and vagus nerve stimulation to decrease pain and help people relax. 

I care deeply about this because my wife lives with cluster headaches that are 10 times more painful than migraine. A friend of mine has Bechterew’s disease, a painful chronic inflammatory condition. Seeing people I love and care about suffering is excruciating. Naturally, I wanted to do something about that. 

Together with Povilas Sabaliauskas, a biomechanical engineer who lives and breathes neuromodulation, we co-founded Pulsetto. Our goal was to develop a device to stimulate the vagus nerve, eliminate the pain, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality without invasive surgery.

And we did. We have spent 5 years developing the device. This July, we officially launched our product into the market. With the investment from the Kilo Health Ventures program, we were able to develop a unique algorithm, create a wearable device, and develop an accompanying app that offers 3 types of relaxation programs.

Here’s what we have learned along the way.

Why do we feel so stressed all the time?

Our brains developed in a calmer time and have the mechanisms to deal with the most common stressors. In the past, we were dealing with the same types of danger over and over again. 

Wild animals. Strangers who tried to take over your stuff. War, famine, and diseases. An occasional landslide, wildfire, or flood.

While these were not the best times to live in general – the average lifespan could be around 30–40 years old – they were generally predictable.

So our brains would:

  1. Notice something out of the ordinary, such as a wild animal or an enemy soldier.
  2. Our bodies would react by releasing stress hormones, increasing heart rate, and fastening the breath.
  3. We’d launch into one of the stress responses: fight, flight, or freeze.
  4. We’d deal with the issue (or die trying, literally).
  5. We’d go into the “rest and digest” mode and relax. Time for a celebration! 

Of course, this is a simplified version of the process. 

However, our old good stress response cycle got broken these days. Our brains are used to identify novel things as a possible threat. And there are so many new activities all around us. 

From lockdowns to inflation, from mass layoffs to wars, from the climate crisis to financial struggles. Constant notifications, neon advertisements, and sirens on the street. Living in a global world brings global problems to our attention – and they do stress us out.  

These daily stressors add up over a day because we don’t properly complete the stress response cycle. We are always on alert. There is always something new happening somewhere. 

No wonder why we feel anxious, stressed, or depressed.

We need to reinvent that wheel. 

How the vagus nerve comes into play here

The vagus nerve is like that chatty neighbor who knows what everyone is doing at all times. 

Generally, it connects the brain with the rest of our organs. It gathers information about how well we are doing and sends the signals back to our body with instructions on regulating the immune system, digestion, and even mood.

If the brain is the CEO, then the vagus nerve is the HR that looks out for every department. The goal here is to keep everyone informed and ensure that at the end of the day, every team member gets enough rest to seize the next day.

But remember how we talked about the daily stressors? 

The vagus nerve cannot do its job anymore – not correctly, at least. Since we are constantly stressed, we can never fully reach the “rest and digest” state.

Sure, it’s possible to do it manually if we get out of our usual way. Cold water therapy, meditation, or deep breathing will help you calm down, if you regularly practice it. But for many people, these options take too much time. That’s especially true if you live in a city, have a high-impact career, or care for multiple toddlers.

If daily hour-long meditation or cold showers are not the possible for you, the stress will build up, impacting your digestion, sleep, mood, and overall health.

Slow living in a fast-paced world

I see vagus nerve stimulation as a solution to a global problem. 

Sure, you can opt out to live off-grid in nature as our ancestors did. You may not have the same stress-related issues as most city-dwellers. Plenty of people already chose this slow-living lifestyle, leaving their jobs and communities behind. 

However, it’s not an option for many of us. You might not have enough resources to purchase the land, do not have the interest to work it, or have health issues that would make this move impossible. 

Also, we are social animals, and we need a community. Slow living might be a dream you have, but you might not want to leave your family, friends, and the community you have created in a city. 

But what if mental health is still your priority?

Who should try vagus nerve stimulation

That’s where vagus nerve stimulation can help. It helps you achieve the “rest and digest” state and complete the stress cycle in a world that is not designed for calmness. 

It’s an option that allows city dwellers to feel like they are walking in a forest, barefoot. It’s a moment of peace for a young parent who cannot turn off and spend hours peacefully meditating. A restful break for a nurse working a 16-hour shift.

Researchers agree that vagus nerve stimulation can complement the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, depression, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, inflammatory bowel disorder, and even diabetes. It helps boost the immune system. The entire body rests and heals with the help of this simple action. 

The only option you could use previously was surgically implanting the device so it would be easier to stimulate the nerve. Today, we can provide a non-surgical option for home use with Pulsetto.

Would you like to hear more about it?

Let’s connect on LinkedIn – I would be more than happy to tell you all about it. 

Vitalijus Majorovas
CEO and co-founder at Pulsetto
Biohacker who spent 10 years helping people sleep tight. He did a 200-night experiment when he tested more than 70 sleep hacks – and invented a neuromodulation device instead.

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