Understanding The Body Through The Nervous SystemDec 06, 2023
The human body is a complex system, intricately designed and finely tuned. The nervous system, one of the most vital components of this system, plays a crucial role in controlling and coordinating various functions of the body. The nervous system is divided into two main parts: the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). The PNS can further be classified into the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the Somatic Nervous System. This blog post will delve into the workings of the ANS, discussing its various aspects, including the vagus nerve and the polyvagal theory.
The Autonomic Nervous System
The Autonomic Nervous System, as the name implies, controls the automatic functions of the body. It is further divided into the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. The Sympathetic Nervous System prepares us physiologically for activity, whether it be exercise, play, or threat responses that include active survival efforts such as fighting and fleeing.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System, on the other hand, is linked with the ventral vagal and dorsal vagal branch. It is primarily responsible for rest and digest functions, sleep, meditation, and relaxation.
The Vagus Nerve
An important player in the Autonomic Nervous System is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve controls the autonomic nervous system and facilitates the brain and body connection. It is interesting to note that about 80-90% of communication is bottom-up, i.e., from the body to the brain.
Poly Vagal Theory
The Poly Vagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, provides a deeper understanding of the functioning of the vagus nerve. It highlights the existence of two branches of the vagus nerve - the Ventral Vagus and the Dorsal Vagus.
The Ventral Vagus, often known as the "smart vagus," controls speech, communicates with facial muscles, and interacts with the social engagement system to relate to people. It also provides resilience and health regulation. On the other hand, the Dorsal Vagus, sometimes called the "dumb vagus," is associated with perceived danger and overreaction to non-threats. It is not subtle in its response and can make us feel flat and depressed for days after a conflict.
Signs of Low Vagal Tone
Low vagal tone can manifest in various ways, including anxiety, fear, emotional overwhelm, difficulty switching off, depression, feeling stuck, lack of motivation, digestive issues like IBS and bloating, chronic pain, aches, muscle tension, autoimmune issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, insomnia, long-term fatigue, and chronic inflammation.
Regulation and The Window of Tolerance
Regulation refers to our ability to manage our emotional state and physiology to calm ourselves during heightened emotion. Our window of tolerance, or our ability to handle stress, is greatly influenced by our regulation capabilities. When we're within this window, we're able to effectively process stimuli. When we're outside of it, we may enter states of hyperarousal or hypoarousal, leading to stress, anxiety, and other detrimental emotional states.
Chronic Traumatic Stress
Chronic traumatic stress can lead to persistent states of hyperarousal or hypoarousal. People suffering from chronic stress often find themselves stuck in either a state of constant anxiety, panic, hypervigilance, restlessness, and aggression (hyperarousal), or a state of shutdown, depression, numbness, lethargy, and dissociation (hypoarousal). Learning to regulate these states, and returning to the ventral vagal state, is key to recovery.
Regulation techniques can help improve our ability to manage our emotional state and physiology. Co-regulation, or regulating one's emotional state through interaction with others, can be particularly helpful. This can involve talking to a friend or professional, sharing space with someone, being in social environments, or even connecting with pets.
Self-regulation techniques, on the other hand, involve managing one's emotional state independently. This can involve techniques like belly breathing, meditation, grounding, movement, deep tissue massage, and focusing on breath.
Understanding our nervous system is crucial to understanding our bodies and minds. It helps us stay present, recognize what's happening in our bodies, and respond accurately. This knowledge, along with effective regulation techniques, can significantly improve our emotional and mental regulation, leading to enhanced health and well-being.
For More Information
If you want to learn more about the nervous system and how to regulate emotions, stay tuned for group programs coming soon at CornholeMeesh.com/GroupSupport!