Breathe, Sing, See, Be Seen, Walk, Diffusing feeling stuck with the ventral vagal

Many people are currently experiencing a feeling of stuckness.

We are all vulnerable to feeling traumatised at the moment. All of us. This might just be about the collective trauma that we are experiencing, or perhaps our unresolved childhood trauma is also being triggered as a double whammy.

When our brain senses any type of danger, or threat, it immediately goes into ‘flight’ or ‘fight’. But we cannot run away from, nor fight, the current global pandemic. When our nervous system realises that these two responses are futile, the next trauma response we enter is ‘freeze’ or ‘flop’. Our internal system immobilises. In any trauma response state, our thinking brain unconsciously goes off-line and we find we can’t think straight.

When we are in ‘freeze’ or ‘flop’, we can dissociate. Many people are experiencing this feeling of ‘freeze’, three weeks into lockdown – even more than three weeks for many.

This could look like watching too much TV, constant snack eating through the day, under-eating, a feeling of ‘which foot do I put in front next’, not being able to think straight. We might feel as though we physically can’t move – we know we can, but we can’t at the same time. We are in deep procrastination. We feel low. We don’t want to reach out. We feel immobilised.

This is because the dorsal vagal nerve has been activated. (Dorsal = dissociate). If the dorsal vagal remains activated, then we will remain feeling stuck, or dissociated.

However, by activating our ventral vagal system the brain receives a message that we are ok.

Our ventral vagal network runs from the diaphragm up through the lungs, throat, neck and eyes to the brain.

To activate the ventral vagal network, we can do the following:

  • Sit still and notice your body. Notice the stress and where it is.
  • Take deep, deep breaths. Breathing in for a smaller count and breathing out for a longer count will activate the ventral vagal system.
  • Do some humming or singing.
  • Connect, connect, connect with people – on video call if possible. Making eye contact will help activate the ventral vagal.
  • Try to limit your negative thoughts. Negative thoughts will activate the dorsal vagal again as you re-experience that sense of danger.
  • Mobilise. Left foot right foot. Even if on the spot. This will help our left and right brain hemispheres work together again.

Yoga and meditation are also fantastic for this. Let’s consciously activate the ventral vagal. And, to help us further out of this stuck state, let’s get both brain hemispheres talking to each other again. We will feel so much better if we do.

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