“Understanding Polyvagal Theory: A Pathway to Healing from Trauma and Anxiety”

If you’ve ever experienced trauma or anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. It can feel like you’re constantly stuck in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. But what if there was a scientific explanation for why this happens? That’s where polyvagal theory comes in.

The polyvagal theory is a groundbreaking theory developed by Dr. Stephen Porges that explains how the nervous system responds to stress and trauma. According to the theory, three branches of the nervous system work together to regulate our response to stress: the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the newest branch, the social engagement system.

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response, activated when we sense danger. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the rest and digest response, which is activated when we’re in a relaxed state. The social engagement system is responsible for our ability to connect with others and feel safe in social situations.

When we experience trauma or chronic stress, our nervous system can become dysregulated, causing us to get stuck in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. This dysregulation can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

But the good news is that polyvagal theory provides practical tools for regulating our nervous system and managing our response to stress. Here are a few tips for applying polyvagal theory in your daily life:

  1. Practice breathing: Slow, deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help you feel more relaxed and calm.
  2. Engage your social engagement system: Connecting with others, even if it’s just through a phone call or video chat, can activate your social engagement system and help you feel safer and more secure.
  3. Ground yourself in the present moment: Focusing on your senses, such as the sights, sounds, and smells around you, can help bring you back to the present moment and regulate your nervous system.
  4. Seek professional support: A trained therapist can help you learn practical skills for managing your nervous system and healing from trauma.

By understanding polyvagal theory and applying its principles to your daily life, you can begin to regulate your nervous system and find relief from trauma and anxiety symptoms. Remember, healing is possible, and you don’t have to do it alone.

The Problem with Labeling Trauma

There is a common problem in social work and mental health today in trying to label people who have experience trauma. The reason for this is that trauma can impact the brain and the body in a way that produces a wide-range of symptoms that can be confusing to understand.

Most professionals are not “trauma-informed” meaning they haven’t received training on how trauma affects every area of human functioning or how to treat the whole person. Trauma, particularly the adverse experiences endured in early childhood, that can result in coping mechanisms that mimic criteria of various clinical diagnoses.

What are some of the labels you have heard placed on traumatized children or adults?

  • Manipulative
  • Oppositional
  • Defiant
  • Hyperactive
  • Temperamental
  • Trouble makers
  • Bipolar
  • Narcissistic
  • Borderline
  • No conscience
  • Destructive
  • Stressed Out
  • and many more…

In addition to a lack of trauma awareness, we are all “meaning-seeking creatures” that want to label everything so that we can feel better about ourselves and our world. Unfortunately, it can do a lot of damage to the people we are labeling. If we label incorrectly, we will treat them incorrectly. This is might also be why so many survivors appear to “sabotage” their success. It isn’t a real desire to ruin their life. They need sensitive professionals and parents who understand how to deal with the root, trauma issues.

Fortunately, there is a national movement to train parents and professionals, who work with traumatized children, to become more “Trauma-Informed.” This movement is reaching out to homes, school, and organizations and explaining “What is trauma?”, “Impact of Trauma on the Brain, Behavior and Health”, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, “Power of Resilience”, “Regulation Skills”, “Dissociation”, “Mindfulness and Compassion”, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Children”, “Attachment Disorders”, “Post-traumatic stress and Post-trauma Growth”, “Trauma in the Community”, “Avoiding Re-traumatization in Survivors”, “Trauma-Sensitive Schools”, “Faith-Based Approaches to Trauma” and more.

The focus of these training efforts is shifting the primary question inherent in treatment plans, screenings, programs and polices from asking “what is wrong with you” to “what has happened to you”. 

This paradigm shift starts the dialogue with survivors, humanizes our practices and helps traumatized children and adults on how to find true healing.

If you would like Ron to train your organization on Trauma-Informed Care, contact him today at 805-709-2023 or email at rehuxley@gmail.com.