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Anxiety from a Polyvagal Lens

Anxiety looks and feels very different for different people. Unlike many common perceptions it isn’t all in the head. Your body will be sending out signals showing that you're in a dysregulated state.

What does dysregulated look like and feel like for you?

What does regulated look like and feel like?

Your autonomic nervous system will either be in a sympathetic state or parasympathetic state. Within the parasympathetic state we have another 2 states called Dorsal vagal and Ventral Vagal.

Dorsal vagal is the freeze response.

Can you think of a time where your reaction to something was just to freeze?

Think of our reptilian ancestors who used the freeze response for survival.

The sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight reflex.

Can you think of a time where your heart rate quickened and you were poised to fight or flight?

Think of an antelope, running from a lion for instance.

The dorsal vagal system regulates the organs below the diaphragm including the digestive system and the sympathetic nervous system is everything above the diaphragm, like blood circulation, heart rhythm, body temperature etc.

The ventral vagal system beings the ability for human connection and social engagement. This is quite an advanced system.

Can you recognise times when you are in a ventral vagal state? Ie, calm relaxed, engaging with others? What does that look like and feel like in your body?

The dorsal and vagal pathways send messages bi-directional throughout the body.

Can you recognise what messages your body is sending you when you are in a heightened state, when your sympathetic nervous system is engaged?

Can you recognise what messages your body is sending you when you are in a ventral vagal state when your social engagement system is working?

Using a polyvagal lens you can use your own body awareness to understand your own triggers and when you are moving throughout these stages on a daily basis. There are many exercises that you can do to help understand yourself and your triggers. This book of exercises in ‘Polyvagal exercise for Safety & Connection’ Deb Dana is a great start to help you move from a place of anxiety to a place of calm connectedness.

You cant change anything without awareness and like a dietician would ask you for a food diary if you approached them with a food issue this is a great place to start if you are experiencing anxiety, take note of what your triggers are and how they look and feel to you.

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