The autonomic nervous system responds to the challenges of daily life by telling us not what we are or who we are but how we are in our bodies. Regulating trauma through the body is necessary to integrate the experience. Cognitive work around the narrative and meaning of the trauma experience will come in a later stage in therapy.
⚠️The autonomic nervous system manages risk and creates patterns of connection by changing our physiological state. These shifts are slight for many people, and, in the moments when large state changes happen, their system is resilient enough to help them return to a regulated state.
🚫Trauma interrupts the process of building the autonomic circuitry of safe connection and
sidetracks the development of regulation and resilience. Trauma compromises our ability to engage with others by replacing patterns of connection with patterns of protection.
🧐If unresolved, these early adaptive survival responses become habitual autonomic patterns.
💮Therapy supports clients in repatterning the ways their autonomic nervous systems operate when the drive to survive competes with the longing to connect with others.
🤷No matter how incongruous an action may look from the outside, from an autonomic perspective it is always an adaptive survival response. The autonomic nervous system doesn’t make a judgment about good and bad; it simply acts to manage risk and seek safety.
Ways to regulate through the senses:
Find a posture that brings a sense of being anchored in ventral vagal regulation. Then, begin to slowly move inward by lowering the head, bending forward, and pulling in the arms and legs, while closely, tracking the autonomic state. Moving from center inward, there are nuances of quiet, deep relaxation, and peaceful stillness shaped by an active vagal brake. Try to track the subtle shifts and describe the experience with each change.
Touch is one of the basic ways we communicate. Looking at touch from an evolutionary perspective, people who worked closely together survived and were successful, and it may be that physical contact promoted that closeness. Touch is the first sense to emerge in utero and the most developed at birth. Skin is the largest human organ, and touch is integral to our growth and development. Early touch experiences shape adult experiences. Receiving moderate pressure massage experienced a shift from fight- fight state to social engagement/ connected state, while light massage brought and increased activation response. Touch stimulates the autonomic nervous system, and supports reducing depression, pain, and stress and increased immune function.
One way to use movement to shape the autonomic nervous system is to use a yoga ball. Sitting on a yoga ball requires constant micro-movements. For people who tend toward collapse/ freeze, making the small, ongoing body adjustments necessary to avoid falling off the yoga ball keeps enough energy moving in their system to stay out of shutdown, and consequently, they are more able to stay present. Even before birth, when we are still safe inside the womb, movement is essential to life.
📚Deb Dana -Polyvagal Theory in Therapy
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🌸 3 emotional regulation systems from the Compassion Focus Therapy (CFT) model by Paul Gilbert 🌸
↪️There are three particularly important emotional regulating systems that work with each other to help us to manage the ups and downs of life’s challenges by helping us to calm our emotional experiences. Each system is designed to do different things and also to work with the other systems so they remain in balance with each other.
💫Supposing something has upset us, what are the things we might do to help ourselves feel better? We could use the drive system to do something we want to achieve, such working, a pleasurable activity or going for a walk/run and this could help in the short term. On the other hand, activating the soothing system could help long term. Often, we find talking to other people can make us feel better because we feel supported, understood, and validated and this really does help us to feel better when we are upset. This is because the soothing system is calming down our threat-based emotions. Same as when we were babies and our caregivers soothe us.
🏁The drive system
▪️The purpose is to motivate us towards resources. It stimulates and directs our desires so we achieve things. It helps pursue our goals. It is known as the incentive & resource-seeking system.
▪️The feelings associated are achieving, pursuing, progressing, wanting. It is activating. It makes us feel driven, excited, vitality.
▪️The hormone released when the system gets activated is dopamine. It plays an important role in how we feel pleasure. It helps us strive, focus & find things interesting.
⚠️The threat system
▪️The purpose is to pick up on threats quickly. It activates us to flight or fight. This is the "fall back system", the easiest of all to feel & trigger as it has evolved as a protection system.
▪️The feelings associated are anxiety, anger, disgust, fear. These feelings alert our bodies urging us to take action against the threat. It produces a sympathetic response in our bodies (racing heart, shallow breathing, raise blood pressure, etc.)
▪️The hormones released when the system gets activated are cortisol & adrenaline.
🥰The soothing system
▪️The purpose is to help us regulate the other two systems, and experience states of contentedness. It helps to restore our balance. It helps soothing feelings of distress.
▪️The feeling associated is contentment. This is a form of being happy with the way things are, feeling safe, not striving or wanting; an inner peacefulness. This system is linked to affection, connection, kindness & compassion.
▪The hormones released when the system gets activated are oxytocin & endorphins.
It is important to balance activities from each system in order to improve our well-being and prevent feelings of anxiety and low mood.
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