Ever heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response? No doubt you have. In response to a perceived threat, adrenalin charges round your body as your heart pumps faster, sending blood to your limbs, and your pupils dilate.
But did you know that if you get stuck in this response for too long, it can cause serious physical and mental health issues.
You are more likely to get stuck in the ‘fight or flight’ response if you grew up experiencing Adverse Childhood Experiences during the first eighteen years of your life. Here are just some of those Adverse Childhood Experiences -
As a result of these Adverse Childhood Experiences, neurobiologists claim that you produce more toxic stress, an over-production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to a greater likelihood of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and lung cancer.
Life can be a Detox
Even if you have experienced these Adverse Childhood Experiences, all is not lost. There are numerous ways you can teach your body and brain that you do not need to constantly be in a state of ‘fight or flight’. For example, in the safety of a therapeutic relationship, or with the trust of a loving partner, you can learn that life is not always dangerous, and people can be trusted. Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity, where your brain creates new neural pathways as you learn new experiences.
Polyvagal Theory was conceptualized by psychiatrist Stephen Porges, and it helps us to understand how our nervous system responds in different conditions -
Stephen Porges suggested that we could combat stress by enaging in the following exercises that involve the parts of the body that include the Ventral Vagal Nerve Network (anywhere from the diaphragm up to the brain stem) -
You can also take control of your stress by keeping a track of your ‘triggers’. The more you are aware of these activating moments, the more you can anticipate them, and use grounding exercises, to remind yourself that you are in the safety of the present. One such grounding exercise is to use all give of your senses. Simply notice -
By the time you get to the end of this exercise, you will be safely in the calm present.
Give it a try, and let me know how you get on.
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Psychotherapist, (Licensed Professional Counselor)