Have you ever watched how dogs work with their nervous system? My current furry sidekick loves squirrels. She obsesses over them and even chases them in her sleep. Then after the intense reaction, she shakes, sleeps, runs, plays and reboots.
When have we allowed ourselves to make time for a butt shake after stress?
Some cultures have more downtime than most. Whether it is a siesta, a two-hour lunch or a picnic for no reason, most of us don’t make time for this and are experiencing our lives from a place of reactivity and unsafe feelings.
Stephen Porges, the creator of the Polyvagal theory, says since birth we come into the world sensing safety and risk by listening to each moment by what is happening in our bodies and in the connections to others in our environment.
“Am I safe?”
Dr. Porges coined the term neuroception to describe the way our autonomic nervous system scans for cues of safety, danger, and life-threatening situations without involving the thinking parts of our brain.
The autonomic nervous system is made up of two branches. The first one is the sympathetic branch and is found in the middle part of the spinal cord and is the pathway toward causing us to act. It triggers the release of adrenaline, which fuels the fight-or-flight response to danger.
The second is the parasympathetic branch, which is in charge of rest and digestion. However, it also supports us in an emergency state. It is broken down into two parts: the ventral vagal pathway and the dorsal vagal pathway.
1. The ventral vagal pathway responds to cues of safety and supports feelings of being safely engaged and socially connected.
2. The dorsal vagal pathway responds to danger cues. It takes us out of connection, out of awareness, and into a protective state of collapse. When we feel overwhelmed, frozen or numb, the dorsal vagus has taken control.
If we are in a state of fight or flight, we are constantly activating our stress pathways, also known as the HPA axis. This impacts our stress hormones, sex hormones, immune system, and thyroid. These fight/flight states impair insulin activity, fuel storage and decrease our immune system response.
When we are in this stressed state than we cannot be curious, or be empathetic at the same time. WOAH! This is big.
When we are in a constant state of disconnect and stress, we are less aware of our body’s needs. Instead, our unsafe thinking and subconscious mind are running the show.
When I created the Food Relationship Type quiz, I wanted people to understand themselves and their operating systems (aka nervous systems) more intimately.
I have heaps of empathy and compassion for Numb-ers, Guilt-ers and Comfort-ers. Most of these sensitive humans have experienced extreme trauma in their lives.
I believe the popularity of extreme diets is trying to assist our nervous system out of the stress pathways. That is why initially they may ‘feel’ good. You feel like you are in control, taking corrective action and your body is releasing weight.
However, over time how will the nervous system heal?
Only one way: FEEL!
“We humans are feeling creatures who think rather than thinking creatures who feel. And any attempt we may make to bypass or ignore what we are feeling has the power to derail our mental health.”
This book is my summer read/listen suggestion for anyone who wants to nourish their whole brain. Jill Bolte is one of my favorite authors, speakers and humans. She has the famous Ted Talk, “My Stroke of Insight”, explaining her experience as a neuroscientist WHILE having a stroke.