Calm Your Worries: Part 5
When you understand the basic mechanics of the mind/body connection, your body can help you calm worry.
Just an essence of the Polyvagal Theory, the work of Stephen Porges PhD., has helped me and many of my clients calm and gain self-confidence. If you’re not a theory person, don’t worry! I will translate these ideas into concrete, easy-to-understand, practical techniques to help you calm.
Our autonomic (think: automatic) nervous systems are layered from old to new.
We have the most primitive section, the Dorsal Vagal (DV). This is the lowermost section of the Vagus Nerve which is the largest nerve in the human body. Biologically, it keeps us digesting. So, that’s a good thing. But there is no movement or energy for the rest of the body from the DV. It is a blob state, no offense to digesting!
If I saw you and you were mainly functioning from your DV state, you’d look shut down and pretty dead. You’d feel that way, too. Think of a lizard basking on a rock or a mouse in a cat’s mouth. Very still, no signs of life. In and of itself, this state is not a bad thing any more than digesting or “playing dead” is a bad thing. It’s a normal function of
the body. Is it worried? No.
Calm…Well, that’s debatable.
The next portion of the nervous system to arrive in human history was the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS).
Most people are familiar with the Sypathetic Nervous System. This system is comprised of spinal cord nerves located in the middle of the back. Biologically, these nerves are responsible for regulating our heart and breathing as well as giving us the option of movement. The SNS makes the heart beat quickly and constantly. It is also an important part of our body’s survival instinct in that it scans for and responds to cues of danger. As we humans evolved, we needed this system to help us have energy, caution, and to get the heck out of harm’s way.
Probably most of your feelings of worry are coming from your SNS. Sorry SNS!
There’s an important relationship between your DV state that says “Just rest and digest” and your SNS state that says “Move it!” Because, while the body needs the SNS for safety, it also needs a physical escape from that heightened stress. That rabbit looks pretty calm, right? But…dead! We humans have a much happier option for calm.
You have the newest portion of your nervous system. It’s known as the Ventral Vagal state (VV)
The VV is the upper portion of that same Vagus nerve as the DV. The ventral vagus nerve (aka Cranial Nerve X) runs from your diaphragm and heart up to your lower brain and connects to many nerves in the upper body and head. This part of the nervous system developed as humans needed to connect socially with other humans.
Biologically, your VV moderates your heartbeat, like a little brake, so that your human heart doesn’t race all the time. The heart can go Lub-dup, Lub-dup vs. bangbangbangbang.
From a Ventral Vagal state, you can feel the calm of being safely included in your world. For some, VV is easily accessed and feels strong. For others, it can feel tentative and uncertain. That is okay.
A healthy nervous system moves between these states of DV, SNS, and VV all the time. Usually you’re not even aware of it. Even as you read this blog, you have likely transitioned between these states. Normal, normal, normal. And because these states are in a ladder-like hierarchy, if you have dropped into a blob-like (DV) state, you must go “up”through your SNS state, which has energy and mobility, to be able to use your VV state and feel better.
You’ll see why this is important to unlock your code to worry later.
What does all of this nervous state information have to do with calming down when you’re worried?
First, keep in mind that your body usually perceives and creates sensation before your mind knows about it. Then, if your body feels a cue of danger (anything at all) and your SNS state is activated for whatever reason, your brain will begin to try and make some sense of this feeling.
If, say, you have a tiger or racing automobile or angry boss in your face, it’s pretty easy for your brain to determine the cause of that revved up feeling and even to know what to do next. This is good! However, if the cue of danger is subtle or subconscious, as the cues of danger in my blog, Find Your Secret Code to Calm Your Worries, your brain will think and search and imagine and blame and fret — and worry — to explain this feeling.
Faced with more worried messages from the brain, the body is likely to react even more, further activating the SNS. And the cycle begins: more juiced up feelings from the SNS, more trying to figure it out and worrying, more worried SNS sensation, more figuring out, etc.
Remember to notice these amazing dimensions of your nervous system – DV, SNS, VV. Feel them. See that they are a “body” thing, like your temperature, heartbeat, breathing. It’s okay. For much more on how to take this information and Calm Your Worries CLICK HERE