The polyvagal theory highlights how the nervous system responds to threat – fight, flight, freeze, and sometimes fawning/appeasement. Polyvagal theory details that we have different states to our nervous system. The three main states in polyvagal theory are:
- A Sympathetic State – where we fight/flight in response to stress/trauma
- A Ventral Vagal State – where we feel safe and connected
- A Dorsal Vagal State – where we freeze/collapse in response to stress/trauma
What Are Mixed Nervous System States?
The nervous systems do not operate in only three different states. A mixture of states can occur as well. It may be easier to think of your nervous system on a spectrum with sympathetic at the left, ventral in the middle, and dorsal at the right. Some examples of mixed nervous states include:
- A blend of sympathetic and ventral where we feel playful or ready to engage in sport play
- A blend of ventral and dorsal where we are relaxed and lethargic
- A blend of sympathetic and dorsal where we feel the need to fight but are paralyzed. This can occur in traumatic events
How To Regulate the Nervous System?
This is a great question and something that does not receive a lot of attention during our school years. How we regulate our nervous system depends on what state the nervous system is in. We can then build awareness skills related to identifying our nervous system states.
Once that is done, we can identify and resource internal and external cues to pull and hold us in ventral. Internal and external cues or ‘anchors’ act like ship anchors to hold us in ventral. Additionally, these anchors can ‘pull’ us back into ventral if our nervous system drifts to sympathetic, dorsal, or some other mixed state.
Stephan Porges has an incredible book that highlights the importance of the nervous system and the use of polyvagal theory in application to helping people heal. Click here to reference this book.
How Does Polyvagal Theory Inform Trauma Therapy?
There are various forms of trauma therapy. These can include:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
- Somatic Experiencing
- Internal Family Systems
- Cognitive Processing Therapy
- Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy
After someone experiences trauma or overwhelming stress their nervous system can become easily dysregulated or stuck in certain states. Utilizing polyvagal theory not only helps to identify states in nervous system but how to intervene to support someone’s healing process. Polyvagal theory can inform many different types of trauma therapy.
Polyvagal Informed Trauma Therapy Near Cherry Creek
At Revitalize Mental Health PLLC, we are trained in polyvagal theory and both EMDR therapy and Somatic Experiencing. These therapy modalities are both bottom-up therapy approaches and support trauma recovery via internal healing versus symptom management approaches. If you are ready to take the first step in your healing journey, submit a form here, or call 720.295.6703.