Cues of Danger (2/6)

Autonomic nervous system

Autonomic nervous system is the part of our nervous system that automatically runs things like our heart beat and breathing. The autonomic nervous system has two main parts- the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls those things during ordinary situations and the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body for stressful or emergency situations.

Many people refer to the sympathetic nervous system as fight or flight.

The sympathetic nervous system mobilizes the body to protect itself through action. When activated, it increases your heart rate, widens your airways, causes your body to release stored energy, increases muscle strength, palms to sweat, pupils to dilate, and your hair to stand on end. It slows down systems that are less important during an emergency, such as digestion, urination, and reproduction. It turns off your higher cortical functions and your verbal centers of your brain. It turns off social engagement.

Presenter: Deb Dana

When you are in sympathetic nervous system response you might feel:

  • anxious
  • panicked
  • alarmed
  • hypervigilant
  • sense of unease and impending danger
  • sense of separation or feeling cut off from others
  • disconnected from self, others, world, spirit
  • may enter into “deer in the headlights” freeze

Think about a time when you felt a sense of unease and ready to fight or run away. What happens in your body when you feel this way? What things do you do? How do you feel? What thoughts do you have? What happens to your sleep? Eating? Substance use? Compulsive addictive behaviors? What color would describe this state for you? If you were to call this something else, what would you call it (for example, sunny, stormy, foggy)? Complete the sentences- I am… The world is…

What does my nervous system need in this moment to find the way home to feeling safe and social and anchor there?

Head here to learn about how I help clients who have had bad shit happen or head here to learn about how I help clients feel safer.


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