Learning emotional regulation is key to resolving trauma
Well known trauma-informed life coach ,Mastin Kipp.said this,
” The key is not to focus on whether you have trauma or not. The REAL key is to focus on whether you feel emotionally dysregulated “
Part of my coaching practice involves teaching my clients Polyvagal Theory exercises to helping achieve emotional regulation
Using written and practical techniques, we can ” tune in ” and navigate the natural rhythm of our system , allowing us to return to a place of safety.
Understanding our neurobiology is to appreciate stress’s impact on our system as well us giving us agency over taming our triggers
The polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, describes how the autonomic nervous system initiates responses to experiences.
It provides a hierarchy of three biological pathways, which forms a map for how we engage, withdraw, mobilise and shut down in response to the highs and lows of life.
The polyvagal ladder is an innovative concept from therapist Deb Dana allowing us to identify the internal shifts within our autonomic nervous system. The ladder metaphor encourages us to think of the ladder with three rungs, each depicting a different state,
Safe and Social
I have included a comprehensive list of words that may help you to identify your state/s at any given time.
Safe and Social Open, grounded, calm, connected, accessible, joyful, wondrous, benevolent, courageous, compassionate, devoted, eloquent, grateful, happy, kind, loving, mellow, friendly, playful, quiet, relaxed, skilled, trusting, uplifted, vibrant, whole, extraordinary, in the zone, sharp mind, executive function, resourceful, creative
Fight/flight Alarmed, buzzing, irritated, wired, claustrophobic, panic, anxious, envious, frightened, gaping, hurried, worried, overthinking, irrational, reactive, angry, judgmental, critical, knotted, looping, manic, nasty, danger overdoing, overworking, pressured, rushed, quick, raging, stuck, troubled, fretful, unwanted, vibrating, extreme, yearning, striving, zigzagging, triggered
Shutdown Absent, blank, numb, despairing, exhausted, foggy, grim, hopeless, helpless, impenetrable, judged, knocked out, lost, missing, overwhelmed, pathetic, retracted, queasy, shutdown, terrified, unloved, void, without, expressionless, young, zoned out, hiding, low mood, sad, heavy, burdened, flat, dissociation, monotone voice, lethargic
Play – fight/flight + safe and social
Freeze – fight/flight +shutdown
Stillness – safe/social + shutdown
Dr Porges also teaches about mixed states – freeze response being typical of this . During freeze our body may be rigid, tense, stiff where we are holding onto excess adrenalin as part of the sympathetic response. Simultaneously, we feel shutdown and numb
All our experiences enter the brain through the reptilian ( primal ) and mammalian (emotional ) parts first before they reach the reasoning, rational part of the brain ( cortex ). This concept explains why we react and feel before we think .
Our clever ” thinking ” part goes offline when we are stressed , which is why if you find yourself saying, ” I can’t think straight,” this is precisely the reason why!
When we are in fight/flight, we lose our social engagement with others. The world seems dangerous, threatening, out of control.
We lose our ability to trust others, think critically, self-regulate or be empathetic. We lose motivation, energy, connection, and hope. Our range of emotional expression becomes limited, and the world feels uninteresting, pointless, overwhelming.
RHYTHM is the keyword to help us return to balance.
Rhythmical activities include walking, running, tapping, singing, dancing, humming, swinging, rocking, stroking, swaying, gargling, drumming, artwork,
There is a natural rhythm in NATURE, the swaying of the trees, flow of water, movement of the ocean
BREATHWORK – think of slow, cyclical breathing, MOVEMENT – yoga, pilates, tai-chi, Feldenkrais.
Become aware of which activities, times of day, places, and settings help you to feel safe and social.
For more Polyvagal Theory exercises, click here
To learn more about my PTSD story click here
References: Deb Dana – Polyvagal exercises for safety and connection, Stephen W Porges – the pocket guide to the Polyvagal theory, https://catalog.pesi.co.uk
Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine