The Nervous System & Your Health And Wellness

What we don’t know can feel mysterious in a bad way, as opposed to the mysteries of the universe, which I find mysterious in a beautiful way.

That knowing, that gut sense of the world is your intuition.

Pausing to understand the science and to situate your own lived experience within the framework of your nervous system can be such a beautiful way to get a little cognitive distance, which is one of the things I also teach.

It’s in the first three years of life that our nervous system gets its primary wiring, which is also not coincidentally when the root chakra, muladhara, the first chakra and the chakra of stability, security, grounding, and our basic needs is formed.

I’m about to talk about the nervous system in general, and your particular experiences of what feels safe and what doesn’t are yours. Unique, individual, and may be very different from someone else’s.

Thanks to the work of the renowned researcher, Dr. Steven Porges PhD, we now know that all this magic is controlled by your vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve has a front, ventral, and a back, dorsal, and they do different things of interest to us, as we talk about how vital your nervous system regulation is to your experience of life and your mental and physical health.

In an activated state, your sense of choice, your cognition narrows, and your capacity to thoughtfully choose your words and reactions kind of goes out the window, which is part of why it’s so vital to understand your own reactions when you’re not in them, to be in touch with your own feelings in your body so you can recognize what’s going on in your body.

Your sympathetic nervous system, so this is one branch of the autonomic nervous system and there’s one part of the vagus nerve that attends to this, is the activator.

Non-vital bodily functions such as digestion, making thyroid hormone, making sex hormones, everything that makes us effective, we feel nice and calm and good in the world sort of shuts down.

These things can activate and rev up your sympathetic nervous system and can fill you with worry thoughts, with low-grade anxiety, a sense of dread, or full on panic.

We can become hyper-vigilant, meaning we smell danger quickly and react intensely, or we can become hypo-vigilant, under-reactors.

Parasympathetic is generally speaking, tasked with conserving energy between lion attacks with slowing your heart rate, regulating digestion, modulating blood pressure to a nice, slow pulse, and has two parts.

The second type is temporarily increased aggression, and going into this nervous system choice really depends on your history and what you have learned works to get you out of danger, but this response is so exhausting and can lead to overwhelming your system into full collapse.

Your dorsal vagus response to cue of danger and pulls you out of connection, out of awareness, and ups all your self-protective everything. This is the freeze response.

It can happen in two to three minutes that you move through every single little corner of your nervous system.

By design, humans are pack animals and the first survival impulse or instinct is to connect.

What’s important to note here is the importance of co-regulation. Your body will mirror the people around you.

To review: sympathetic is fight or flight. Parasympathetic has two parts. Ventral vagal, front body, tend and befriend, safe and secure, rest and digest. And dorsal, back body, freeze, immobilization.

So my beauty, when you notice you’re getting activated, when you’re starting to feel that rev up start, or you’re starting to collapse, to pull out, to withdraw, some of the things you can try are one, naming it. Really just pausing to name the sensations in your body.

Connect in with your body, your environment as best you’re able, and creep up on it. Slowly ramping up your experience of feeling into your body every day. Don’t forget the power of breathing.

Three, remember, we humans are social animals and our wiring is for connection and care. So build co-regulation into your life in an intentional way every day.

If you live alone or don’t have a social network, there’s still lots of things you can do, such as greeting yourself, listening to podcasts that feature sweet people who love you.

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Victoria Albina, NP, MPH

Victoria Albina, NP, MPH

Victoria Albina, NP, MPH is a certified life coach, breathwork facilitator, holistic Nurse Practitioner and host of the podcast Feminist Wellness.