New science has shown us that the activity of our autonomic nervous system, in any given moment, is the grounding for our lived experience in that moment. The Polyvagal Theory describes the constant scanning for danger and safety that is nervous system’s critical role in survival, and the signaling to body systems to regulate according to the threat or safety detected.
When threat is detected, the system activates for fight or for flight, and routes all available resources to meeting the threat. If that threat overwhelms the system’s capacity, it collapses into a resource-conserving shut-down state. Anywhere along this continuum of survival reactivity, access to resources for ‘non-essential operations’, including digestion, is compromised.
Fortunately, our mammal nervous system has evolved a third path: the calm ventral circuitry of safe connectedness. In the absence of threat signals, the nervous system signals the settling into its calm state, where resources are available for health, growth, and restoration.
This understanding provides insight into the importance of our system being in its calm state, and how to influence that state.
Our job: to create for our nervous system the conditions it can ‘read’ as safe, ie the absence of threat signals ~~ from the environment, from another person, and from within the body. Calm is the natural response to the sense of safe connectedness, just as activation — tension, fear — is the natural reaction to signs of threat.
Our challenge: signs of threat and triggers of stress reactivity abound. Safety, not so much. This must be cultivated, with care and intention.