Trauma impacts nearly everyone – directly or indirectly. In our world today, at least 50% of folks have experienced at least one trauma within their life1. On top of that, the global pandemic has put us in a state of collective trauma over the past year.
Research suggests that half of Americans report their mental health being negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic2. While the impact of trauma can be severe at times, people are resilient. They are also searching for ways to find lasting healing and move out of a state of survival and into a thriving state. The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is one way to support your move into thriving!
SSP is a newer listening system geared toward supporting folks to remain in a state of calm rather than survival. Dr. Stephen Porges created the SSP through his research on the Polyvagal theory3.
Dr. Porges’ research confirms that our physiological state is critical in how we approach a task, our ability to listen, to extract information, and to be social. When our physiological state is regulated, our social engagement system is online and our capacity to listen, understand, and respond is accessible.
The SSP can be understood as a “neural exercise” for both the middle ear muscles and vagal regulation of bodily states. During the listening protocol, your system will learn to stretch and grow its capacity to remain regulated in times of increased distress or threat.
Our nervous systems are made to evaluate environments consistently to determine our safety. As we age, we gain more and more cues for both danger and safety. Folks who have experienced trauma tend to have more cues for danger and may struggle to recognize cues for safety. Part of the process of SSP is to build an understanding of your safety cues.
While the SSP was created to be used only as a tool with a trained practitioner, you can begin to understand and build your own awareness around what safety looks and feels like in your system now! Here are three ways to begin exploring your nervous system and what makes you feel safe.
Have you every been questioned by someone for something you’ve done and felt attacked or anxious? Have you ever been asked to complete a task or change a behavior without being told why? Did you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, angry, resistant, or flustered in response? You are not alone!
Context, or the “why, what, and how,” is utterly important for the nervous system when trying to settle into a state of safety. When we do not know the context of the situation it causes our nervous systems to throw up a red flag and begin protecting ourselves from a possible threat.
While we may not always have an answer to the why, what, and/or how, we can still begin to craft structure and understanding. Asking questions and incorporating context into situations enables your nervous system to begin building safety cues. I encourage you to practice adding context to your decisions and day-to-day tasks and notice how your system begins to settle.
Have you every felt trapped in response to feeling like you have no other options? When was the last time you felt overwhelmed because there were too many options? Did you find yourself with a rapid heartrate, sweaty hands, or a nauseous stomach? Again, you are not alone!
Having choice, in moderation, is integral to your nervous system recognizing safety in each situation. Starting as a young child, people want and need to have choices to build a sense of safety. Choice communicates to your nervous system that you can make changes based on your needs and wants without fear of retaliation.
Choice in moderation is key! When there are too many options or a lack of support from a guide, excess choice can feel overwhelming and become a cue for possible danger.
To begin noticing the impact on your nervous system of having choices, start by practicing the choice between “now” or “later.” When you need to respond to an email, text, or call someone back let yourself have the choice of responding “now” or “later.” Start small and with 2-3 choices max, and simply notice how your nervous system responds when having the freedom to choose.
When is the last time you spent time with someone and felt disconnected or defended? Our natural defenses and disconnection are forms of protection when we sense danger or threat. When this occurs, our social engagement system cannot be utilized, and our survival responses become elicited.
When we feel connection with the other person, our nervous system cues safety and we can interact with minimal effort or fear. Connection can come in many different forms: nature, other people, animals, spirituality, self. When we feel authentically connected to someone else our nervous systems begin to co-regulate with the other person and each person experiences a state of safety and calm.
One way to approach this is to begin to check in and notice how your nervous system feels before and after spending connected time with your partner, dog, or being out in nature. As you start paying attention, your nervous system will begin integrating these new cues for safety.
We at Somatic Therapy Partners want to support you in continuing this journey through the process of SSP. If you’re struggling, contact us today to see if beginning SSP is the best step for your healing!