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2 Easy Steps to Calm Down

Research shows that humming and chewing gum can trigger feelings of calm.

Key points

  • Research shows that humming and chewing gum both trigger the body's calming systems.
  • They massage the vagus nerve, which turns on the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Activating this system turns off the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
BillionPhotos/Adobe Stock
BillionPhotos/Adobe Stock

For many people, hearing familiar Christmas jingles and seeing decorations galore in stores inspires happiness and excitement. But for others, the arrival of the holiday season can trigger feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and sometimes dread.

Hosting large family dinners, choosing the perfect presents, and competing with your neighbor’s extensive light display—all while carrying on with normal life—can certainly lead to overwhelm. And adding extensive self-care exercises to your already long to-do list can just make things worse.

With that in mind, there is clear evidence of two simple steps you can take to trigger feelings of calm this holiday season: chewing gum and humming.

Surprised? Studies demonstrate that triggering your body’s calming system isn’t hard. For example, one intervention study found that students who regularly chewed gum reported lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. And a systematic review of eight studies discovered that “chewing gum is an inexpensive, well-tolerated, safe, and effective way to relieve anxiety and stress.”

For humming, a large systematic review finds it reduces heart rate and blood pressure and helps to relieve stress. Smaller studies also find that humming can lead to stress reduction.

What’s going on here? Humming and chewing gum trigger the same physical response in the body. They essentially massage the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in your body that stretches from your brain through your belly and to your colon. Stimulating the vagus nerve helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion.

Activating these systems has all sorts of benefits. The parasympathetic system is what turns off the flight-or-fight reflex, which leads to lower cortisol levels and stimulates the brain to release the feel-good hormone oxytocin. This entire process is proven to reduce inflammation, soothe headaches, decrease anxiety, and improve digestion.

Humming and chewing gum are two of many ways to stimulate your vagus nerve. Research also finds that deep breathing, vigorous exercise, and immersing yourself in cold water activate similar responses.

The take-home message: If you’re feeling stressed and anxious this season, focusing on stimulating your vagus nerve through humming or chewing gum may be a simple way to calm down. So go ahead and hum along to those holiday songs in the store. And while you’re there, pick up some gum to fill the Christmas stockings.

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