We are the most successful species because of our amazing ability to work together. Critical is our ability to evaluate emotions & intentions of others to know who is safe to work with & who isn’t. For us as human mammals this feeling of safety comes mainly from our ability to socially engage. In fact, human thinking is not primarily about ourselves but how best to go about social engagement & cooperation with others. Our nervous system is central to this as its determines our 'state' & with it our ability to be resilient. It craves feeling safe. Once it ‘feels’ safe the brain turns down naturally the survival/alerts signals. This allows your whole brain to process & respond with flexibility to what is going on around & within you. To do this we need an effective 1st line nervous system - the social engagement system. This is where we can detect relevant social cues from human speech, gestures & facial expressions that make us feel safe & put us in a calm state. But with Covid19 social distancing we simply aren't getting enough face to face cues of safety. The body goes on alert, recruits the 2nd line nervous system, the sympathetics or fight/flight/freeze. We become defensive & can misread people's intentions as negative. Pure survival and necessary. But if we don't have the ability to fight our way out or flee like with Covid19 our bodies may have no option but to recruit the oldest part of our nervous system, freeze. To preserve energy & wait out the threat we numb/zone out!
To be resilient now more than ever we all need to understand the importance of our Vagus nerve & how to hack it! As the 10th cranial nerve it’s the longest & most complex, sprawling out from the brain & into the body. It’s the main way the brain & body talk to regulate our state & keep us healthy. Branches are connected to the heart, lungs, immune system & the most important for humans the muscles of the face & head. Collectively known as our Social Engagement System (SES), it allows us to use facial gesture, listening & voice to calm ourselves. When we are feeling connected to others what is known as a vagal brake activates on the heart calming our bodies & allowing the nervous system to help us rest & digest. So how can we hack the SES in this time of social distancing to help us activate the vagal calming effect?
The SES is an integrated one which means even small changes in one part will impact the other parts. Here are three easy to remember neural 'exercises' to help you strengthen it;
1. Extend your ‘out’ breath
Our Vagus nerve acts as a brake for our hearts - slowing down our heart rates when in safe calm states. And this brake is switched on every time you breathe out! While every time you breathe in, it's released. This is because when you breath in you are engaging the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze) while the parasympathetic (rest & digest) when you breathe out.
All this affects the brain. Sympathetic will automatically direct more energy to the sub-conscious brain networks. These are super-fast, primarily automatic & survival driven. While the parasympathetic allow a calmer state, releasing energy to fuel brain-wide networks connected with conscious decision making.
In fact, a really interesting study* shows we are more likely to initiate voluntary movements as we exhale. Indicating that conscious decision-making is wired to our bodies, especially our breathing. So extending you’re out-breath will help you when under pressure & is needed to make good decisions!
Singing and humming out loud it extends your out-breath naturally. While chanting OM gives a really good all-round boost as it exercises all the muscles of the face & head.
2. Eat, drink & be merry
When you eat & drink you are using your ingestion system. Suck, swallow & breathing are the same neural circuit our old friend - the Social Engagement System! This means when you are using the muscles that control eating & drinking it is stimulating the vagal brake on the heart. Helping you feel safe & calm.
If you can’t enjoy a meal of a coffee with someone face to face next best thing is a virtual dinner party or coffee break. But keep it shorter than you would normally as your nervous system has to work a lot harder to pick up cues of safety from virtual communication so it gets exhausted more quickly.
3. Slow it down
Try to extend the length of your phrase as this is picked up by the nervous system as safe, as its easy for us to detect the end of one phrase & beginning of another. When someone is speaking in a choppy quick stop-start way we pick it up as very uncomfortable, our nervous systems see them as unsafe & wants us to move away.
But if you want to supercharge your Vagus training the Safe and Sound Protocol (or SSP for short), a unique novel scientific research-based intervention is for you. It's really easy & convenient to use and simply involves listening to music that has been processed specifically to retune the nervous system. Working with your own innate desire for it helps nudge your amazing nervous system to a balance allowing a solid foundation to work from. A missing link between physical and cognitive tools for supporting resilience and equipping you with a nervous system that allows a healthy reaction to stress.
But if you want to supercharge your Vagus training give it a formal training program of exercise!
The Safe and Sound Protocol (or SSP for short), a unique novel scientific research-based intervention are for you. It's really easy & convenient to use and simply involves listening to music that has been processed specifically to retune the nervous system. Working with your own innate desire for regulation helps nudge your amazing nervous system to a balance allowing a solid foundation to work from.
A missing link between physical and cognitive tools for supporting Resilience Coaching & Training and equipping you with a nervous system that allows a healthy reaction to stress.
*Park, H., Barnoud, C., Trang, H. et al. Breathing is coupled with voluntary action and the cortical readiness potential. Nat Commun 11, 289 (2020)
Developed by the distinguished Scientist & Psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Porges, the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a five-day research-based intervention that involves listening to music that has been processed specifically to retune the nervous system to introduce an increased sense of safety and the ability to socially engage.Want to find out more?
Give Frances a call on 085 862 3009
Safe & Sound Protocol (SSP) Accredited Licensed Practitioner