The vagus and the polyvagal theory

The “rest-digest” part of the autonomic nervous system, actually has three parts according to the polyvagal theory.

1. The dorsal high tone vagus
2. The dorsal low tone vagus
3. The myelinated vagal system

The dorsal high tone vagus is
-reptilian in evolutionary origin
-is used in extreme situations
-used to preserve life under severe physical stress
-mental stress can also trigger the same system
-freeze response
-BP drops way down, heart rate slows
-animal can lose consciousness or faint.

The dorsal low tone vagus
-cruise control
-this is a nice place to be in, if you’re trying to heal chronic disease

The myelinated vagal system
-evolutionarily novel
-seen mainly in mammals
-is the system that helps us respond to the environment, other animals and humans
-possibly why cat and dog videos are so irresistible
-this is the system that helps you form social bonds
-helps you perceive safety
-is responsible for reciprocity and by extension, Pro social and anti social behaviour

All three are in balance with each other and with the sympathetic system- which is the system that lets you move or explode into action , add the situation demands.

They are not switched on and off. Their response is not binary. They flow from one end of the spectrum to the other, in response to what is happening around.

A healthy animal/human will be able to shift smoothly and rapidly along the scale of the autonomic nervous system response.

In a high stress environment
-perception changes to interpret neutral situations as threatening
-neutral facial expressions as negative
-the mid range in your audio perception is turned down, and the high and low frequencies are turned on
-light feels too bright
-neutral smells become unpleasant
-pain tolerance increases to a point, but,once the low level pain threshold is passed, then heightened awareness of pain and response to pain starts
-gut responds with poor digestion
-facial expressions are reduced-blank, morose
-speech loses intonation, becomes flat
-the tendency to aggression, depression or withdrawal in behaviour will become higher

The effects go both ways.
-having smiling faces around, will reduce the perception of the environment being threatening
-mid range audio frequencies will increase perception of safety
-a sing song intonation of speech makes the speaker sound more friendly
-warm tones of lighting that isn’t too bright and doesnt cast sharp, dark, shadows, can change the ambience of a location for the better
-a virtuous cycle can be set up that can change behaviour, which can improve perception, which in turn improves behaviour and so on
-deep, slow, breaths send signals to the vagus that the environment is not out of control and threatening
-pleasant smells can change perception
-the presence of friends and family
-a working, happy, trusting relationship

How could you apply this to healing?
How could you apply this to hospitals?
Shouldn’t hospitals resemble temples or resorts more than laboratories?
Isn’t it imperative that the staff who work there, are truly happy, so that when they face anxiety, anger, fear and depression in the people they treat, they don’t break down and react in kind?
Shouldn’t the staff be protected from unwarranted aggression? Leaving them feeling threatened by every person walking through the door only reinforces the vicious cycle. That isn’t conducive to healing. That just makes things worse.

Think about the hospital you work in. Or go to, for your health issues. Are they helping your vagus heal you?

Think about your social network. Your real social network and the virtual one. Is it filled with what heals you or makes your worse?

Anger and negative emotions are a vital part of your defense against threats, but having to live constantly and unnecessarily in that sphere is damaging to your physical and mental health.

Everything is connected.

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