Whether you’ve sought treatment for anxiety or not, the polyvagal theory may be a new concept for you. It’s a fascinating addition to how humans understand the nervous system.
You’re probably familiar with the common stress responses of fight-or-flight and freeze-or-faint. When you’re feeling fearful or under pressure, your nervous system will try to protect you by using these survival-based responses.
Polyvagal Theory refers to the multiple functions of the largest cranial nerve, the vagus. Created by Stephen Porges, the polyvagal theory adds another layer of insight as to how our nervous systems work with the addition of the social engagement system.
The Social Engagement System
We already know humans have both a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system.
- The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is in charge of the fight-or-flight response, giving us a boost of energy when we feel threatened. This is often in the form of anxiety or anger.
- The parasympathetic system (PNS) actives the freeze-or-faint response, causing us to “play dead” (or shut down) as a way to survive a stressful situation. In humans, this looks like emotional withdrawal, physical listlessness, and dissociation.
Porges discovered that the PNS is also in charge of the social engagement system. When our nervous systems are operating in a place of emotional and physical health, the parasympathetic system helps us connect and engage socially. We feel a sense of calm and are able to rebound effectively with life’s demands.
Reaching this state may sound impossible if you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder or unresolved trauma. Fortunately, Porges developed a protocol to help you get unstuck.
The Polyvagal Theory: Experiencing A Sense of Safety
Stephen Porges developed the polyvagal theory. He explains that humans need to experience a sense of safety in order to initiate their social engagement system.
But if you struggle with anxiety, you know this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Even if you know you are physically safe, your nervous system may be stuck in a perpetual state of feeling unsafe. As you can guess, this can manifest itself as social anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, fatigue and more.
Additionally, if you have experienced traumatic events that are as yet unresolved, you know that feeling a sense of safety in your body can be hard to come by. Consequently, one of the biggest impacts of trauma on the survivor is the loss of connection to others and/or difficulty maintaining relationships. With trauma, other people in general, often feel unsafe.
It’s critical that survivors of trauma work towards an embodied sense of safety to support meaningful connections and relationships.
The Safe and Sound Protocol can help you get there, to a sense of safety in your body!
Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)
The Safe and Sound Protocol, developed by Stephen Porges, offers the sense of safety that you need. The focus of the SSP is to restore our social engagement system through the use of sound to regulate your nervous system.
Per Porges, the social engagement system is centered in the ear, throat (larynx), and facial muscles. Your ability to listen and respond to others with voice and facial expressions are a tremendous part of your ability to socially connect. And as a way to access this system, Porges created a listening program. It is specially formulated music that is designed to address your ability to self-soothe as well as to listen to the human voice.
You may wonder how listening to music can help with complicated issues like chronic anxiety and trauma. It works, though! As you listen, the music stimulates your vagus nerve. Essentially, this resets and retrains your vagal nervous system back into greater balance.
As you go through the SSP, your ability to regulate and process your emotions will improve. Along with this, you will find that you’re better able to manage stress and move beyond your anxiety.
The SSP has proven useful for a number of emotional and neurological challenges, including sound sensitivity, and inattention.
The Safe and Sound Protocol is also highly beneficial for folks who often feel scattered, have been told that they are “sensitive,” and struggle with anxiety.
Would You Like to Know More?
As a therapist who specializes in helping clients find healing from anxiety, I have seen the power of the Safe and Sound Protocol. To read more about the SSP, click here. At Somatic Therapy Partners, therapy focuses on helping you resolve and heal from the effects of anxiety and trauma in your life.
If you’re ready to find out if the Safe and Sound Protocol is for you, please reach out. There is so much love for you here!