How Craniosacral therapy helps settle nervous systems.
With anxiety, depression and stress on the climb, have you ever wondered how you can better manage your reactions to life’s challenges and stressors? With awareness we can track our emotional roller coaster states and become more effective, mindful, and joyful during the day. Learning to map our nervous system has a positive long-term impact on our overall health .
Our nervous system forms as early as three weeks in Utero. It is a highly tuned sensory system that is designed to check for safety. We literally download our mother’s nervous system and continue to be influenced by the whole family environment in our formative years. If our mother was highly strung for example and didn’t have enough support, we may have a ‘short fuse’ as well.
As we notice our states, it is vital to be compassionate with ourselves. None of this is our or even our parents fault, we have all come with our own unique challenges and circumstances.
Looking more closely at the autonomic nervous system, most of us learned in biology about our “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” responses. In 1994 however, Dr. Stephen Porges, discovered that although some aspects of the nervous system are instinctual and ‘automatic’, there are other aspects that we can influence and learn to accentuate. Most critically he points out that we can settle and soothe our nervous system best in pairs. We are social beings and are literally wired to connect. When we are with a person who is stable and calm it will be much easier for us to relax as well. This is one of many reasons why the Craniosacral approach that I offer is so effective.
Dr Porges discovered that our vagus nerve, referred to as the wandering nerve in Latin, is one of the longest nerves and is a cranial nerve that originates in the brainstem. It innervates the muscles of the throat, circulation, respiration, digestion and elimination. During Craniosacral treatments I often make contact with areas that relate to the vagus nerve as it is the major constituent of the parasympathetic, ( rest and digest), nervous system. Over 80 percent of it’s nerve fibres are sensory, relaying changes about the internal and external environment to the brain. This feedback is critical for the body’s homeostasis. Craniosacral work is safe and reassuring for the nervous system. When offered by a calm practitioner, the clients system will melt and settle into a peaceful state.
How do these states feel in our body?
We can view our three nervous system as a ladder with three sections. Top middle and bottom. When we are in locked in a stressed or potentially anxious state, we loose or capacity to be curious and empathetic. We are like a rabbit in the headlights and are not able to regulate our attention and focus.
First, in the middle, our “fight and flight” response is our survival strategy, a response from the sympathetic nervous system. If you were going to run from tiger, for example, you would want this response to save your life. A fight response can be prompted by a sudden sound, an unexpected pressure or demand of some kind. It can stimulate anger, rage, irritation, and frustration. During a flight response, we experience anxiety, worry, fear, panic and a feeling of literally wanting to get out of a place. NOW! . Physiologically, our blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline may increase and our pain threshold and capacity to digest will decrease.
At the bottom of the ladder, (or at the top of our image), we have our most primitive pattern, a “ Shut down or freeze” state, which is called the dorsal vagal state. Like an animal ‘playing dead’ after a shock, we have gone into overload and our system has temporarily shut down. We can feel hopeless and believe that there’s no way out. We may feel depressed, conserve energy, dissociate, feel overwhelmed, and as though we can’t move forward. Physiologically, our fuel storage and insulin activity increases and our pain thresholds increase. Some of may overeat, drink, or do something to excess to pacify ourselves.
Lastly, our “rest and digest” is a response of the parasympathetic system, also known as a ventral vagal state. It is our state of safety and homeostasis. If we are in our ventral vagal state, we are grounded, mindful, joyful, curious, empathetic, and compassionate. This is the state of social engagement, where we are connected to ourselves and the world. Physiologically, digestion, resistance to infection, circulation, immune responses, and our ability to connect is improved.
As humans, we naturally shift through all the states. We may be in a positive state and then all of a sudden, due to a trigger, be in a frustrated or angry state, worried about what may happen next. Shocking news could swing us into complete overwhelm.
When we find ourselves lingering in fight or flight or the shut down/freeze state, that is when we begin to have significant physiological and mental/emotional effects. If we are consistently in shut down mode or the fight or flight state, we can have constant activation of our stress pathways also known as the HPA axis. ( Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis ), and we impact our stress hormones, sex hormones, our thyroid, etc. This stress will have significant inflammation effects on the body and overall health as well.
Like any good captain of a ship in a storm, it is helpful to have a map of the territory to guide ourselves towards calmer waters. Choosing situations that resource you and allow you to experience rest and relaxation, is fundamental for your health, effectiveness and happiness. No treatment intervention or professional help will be of benefit until your system feels safe and well from the inside out.
Mapping your nervous system? Get a pen and make a few notes and think of one word that defines each one of these states for you. For example, if you are in your Ventral vagal state, the rest and digest state, you could say that you feel happy, content, joyful. Etc. When you are in your fight or flight state you could use the words worried, stressed, overwhelmed, etc. In the freeze/shut-down state you could use the words numb, hopeless, etc.
Identifying the word that YOU correlate with each of those three states is vital so that you’re able to recognize which state you are in, recognize how it feels and help yourself get out of it!
Identify your triggers and glimmers.
Over time you will notice what causes you stress and triggers your fight/flight and freeze states. A cutting letter from your boss, an argument with your spouse, a death of a loved one, or even if someone cuts you off while driving, etc. IT is helpful to make a note of these triggers for greater self-awareness..
Glimmers are the things that bring you to that optimal nervous system state. It could be something as simple as petting a dog, a soulful connection with a friend, eye-contact with a loved one or something bigger like going on a holiday.
Here is Deb Dana’s Worksheet to Map Your Nervous System. https://www.rhythmofregulation.com/resources/Figure%206-1%20Triggers%20and%20Glimmers%20Template.pdf
Once you identify your unique experience of these stress states, you are on the way to taking ownership of what’s happening to your body, and moving back to a calmer mode. Ultimately, this is how we can begin to develop resilience. WE can respond appropriately to life’s challenges, go to that fight or flight state for a short period, and then return back to the more expansive state of social engagement. To truly enjoy life, returning to your state of safety where you are mindful, grounded, and joyful, is a practice. It can start with mapping your own nervous system.
At the core of this work is the understanding that humans regulate themselves better in groups and as pairs. That is one of many reasons why Craniosacral work is beneficial for lasting change. Do contact me to book a free call to discuss how I can help.
Sara Devoy has worked in the field of health for over thirty years and helps individuals and groups settle their nervous systems and recover their innate spark. Craniosacral therapy is a whole-hearted, approach to wellness that is used for physical and emotional conditions and as a health maintenance programme. Sara works internationally both on and offline. (00353) 87 – 2350900 ( Please text)
Sara Devoy MA BCST