UNDERSTANDING OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM AND THE SCIENCE OF "FEELING SAFE"
What happens when our bodies experience a real or perceive threat? Our goal in program is to understand how powerful safe relationships can be in helping us establish, maintain and return to a physical and emotional state of safety and calm. This is why it is very important to learn and practice taking time-outs and actively engage in self-care practices often.
Our brains are always scanning for info from the environment that regulates whether we feel safe or not safe. It is spontaneous and completely outside of our awareness.
Polyvagal Theory or the “science of feeling safe,” is another research advancements that helps us better understand our emotional challenges. This helps us understand on what is happening in the body and the nervous system, and explains how our sense of safety, or danger or perceived threat, can impact our behavior(s) when we get into relationship conflicts with our partners and people around us.
You can think of it as a ladder. We end up in a freeze response when our system gets so overloaded with stress that it has to split off from itself or dissociate.
Our nervous system is split into three parts:
1) BRAIN - Vagal nervous system
This is where we are able to calm ourselves easily with talking, thinking rationally about stress. We are grounded, engaged socially, and regulated physiologically, even when we are stressed out. (Example: Fighting often with your spouse or others about issues. Our brain nervous system perceives these issues as stressors as life or death situations when they actually are not. As a result, you may be experiencing tightening of your forehead, or grinding your teeth and clinching your jaw a lot. You may have chronic migraines, headaches, and act, yell in anger and you are not aware how scary you may sound or completely shut down and check out emotionally completely)
2) OUR UPPER CHEST and LOWER BELLY - Sympathetic nervous system
This is where we experience anxiety, tightening of the chest, and muscles. We viscerally engage in a fight or flight
mode to protect ourselves against real or "perceived" danger. We enter in a fight or flight mode. We tend to react
to a trigger with exaggerated aggression or complete avoidance even when our life is actually not in danger, but
our body thinks it is (Example: Fighting often with your spouse or other about issues. Your upper chest may
tighten and be short of breath or breathing shallow. As a result, you act defensiveness, you blame or attack
verbally or physically. You might physically leaving a party abruptly, or stonewalling. You might be yelling, or
talking really loud at this point not being aware of how intimidating you look and sound). Longterm, you may
be experiencing chronic anxiety or heart palpitation, or sleep disruption. You may be prone to use substances to
3) OUR FRONT AND LOWER BACK - Dorsal Vagal nervous system
This is when our body freezes and locks down mobility functions, especially our back and lower belly.
We become immobilized to protect ourselves against real or perceived danger. We shut down, and our
nervous system collapses. You may be prone to use substances to relax or to numb again.
(Example: Arguing with your boss, colleagues, or spouse can be activating our nervous system because our brain is perceiving the argument only as a life or death situation in which you HAVE TO FIGHT BACK... When you actually don't. As a result, you may end experiencing some severe back problems, back aches, tightening of our back muscles for long period of time is a strong indicator that your dorsal nervous system is overly activated from a perceived threat.
We make our way back up the ladder through safety - both in the body and outside the body. That means, meeting TAKING CARE OF OURSELVES, taking care of our basic needs on the inside, getting enough water, food, breath, rest, and support etc... And on the outside, establishing safer relationships and a safer environment. Practicing physical and emotional safety helps us stay in ventral vagal longer (mind) where we can think, rationalize, weigh in pros-cons, asking for feedback etc.
The goal is to stay or move UP the ladder faster. Safety helps to build flexibility and strength within the nervous system. BUT becoming "rational" is not always the goal. Our nervous system works to keep us alive and SURVIVE. So if your "gut feeling" or Dorsal Vagal nervous system if often engaged, my guess it theres a pretty good reason. PRESENT traumatic stress vs POST traumatic stress. When you’re living in trauma, your body is fighting SO hard but can be understood and heal from.
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