Trauma and the Nervous System
Last week, we talked about how trauma changes the nervous system and identified the different ‘states’ our nervous system can be in.
This week we will work with how to know where you are at any given moment.
Our nervous system changes moment by moment. You could be in sympathetic overdrive one moment and then parasympathetic freeze in the next moment.
You could be grounded with a balanced nervous system in one moment and in sympathetic overdrive the next.
The nervous system isn’t static. It changes from moment to moment.
States of the nervous system
In this state the sympathetic nervous system is activated. The overriding emotion is fear or anger. Your instinctive reaction is to run away or fight. You are mobilized; your survival energy kicks in. You feel like you need some kind of action to be safe.
The perception here is one of danger. We’re alarmed. We’re hyper vigilant. There’s a sense of separation, where we’re cut off from others. We are looking and listening for danger.
This gives rise to ongoing anxiety, panic attacks. Angry outbursts. An ongoing feeling of anger. Being in self protective mode. We can’t rest or relax. Insomnia is frequent.
You may be driven to be active all the time, unconsciously trying to keep yourself safe.
What are other signs that you become aware of, that are unique to you? We are all different and unique.
The body puts you into a state of freeze. You are immobilized. You shut down. You are locked into a hypo arousal state. You become fearful of everything with an inability to respond or react. If your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged you will feel lethargic, exhausted, no energy, overwhelmed, dead, sleepy, disengaged, spacey, ungrounded. Brain fog.
You don’t have the energy to fight or flight. You may feel as if you are floating. You are untethered. A sense of me versus you, us versus them. You we have a sense of separation, cut off from others. Disconnected.
What are other signs that you become aware of, that are unique to you?
Regulated Nervous System – Ventral State
A healthy nervous system regulates our experience. Our body can gear up for activity and gear down for rest and relaxation. And we can easily switch from being geared up to gearing down. In a healthy, balanced nervous system, we experience a sense of inner calm, clarity, compassion and confidence.
The goal isn’t to always be in the same state.
As we move through life, we will experience all of these states. We naturally move through the states. That is normal and healthy. The problem arises when we get stuck in sympathetic arousal or parasympathetic freeze, or a combination of the two. We don’t have access to the ventral state.
Often, shame creeps in. Self judgment arises. We feel like we need to be more in control. We shouldn’t get angry. We should have more energy. We shouldn’t be depressed or anxious. But we are.
But remember, these states are your nervous systems way of trying to protect you and keep you safe. They are automatic reactions over which you have no control.
Compassion is necessary. Let yourself off the hook.
There is a way out.
Awareness and acceptance.
Last week, you were introduced to a simple breathing exercise. To let the out breath be twice as long as the in breath. Regular practice will help to bring you into a Ventral State, which will become stronger over time
This week, we will become more aware of our states. And holding yourself with compassion and acceptance. Becoming aware of your states, is an essential part of healing.
For this week.
This week, focus on watching your experience. Noticing when you are in sympathetic arousal, parasympathetic freeze or Ventral – regulated. Here are some things to watch for.
- Do you stay in one state most of the time?
- Do you move between states? How often?
- Do you ever experience Ventral – regulated?
- What state is dominate in your experience?
- Are there triggers that will throw you into a fight or flight or freeze state?
- What are they?
- Do you judge yourself?
- Do you feel ashamed?
You might want to pause a few times during the day and just ask yourself, “what state am I in”. When you wake up in the morning, what state are you in? When you prepare for bed, what state are you in?
Notice if self judgment or shame arises.
Place you hand on the center of your chest. As you hold the hand there, breath in for two counts and out for two counts. Notice what happens.
Give this a try this week and let me know how it works. You can use my contact page or message me in Facebook.
May you be aware, 💗Bindu