What we always know of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), is that there’s 2 pathways – Parasympathetic system (aka rest and digest) and Sympathetic system (aka fight or flight).
Stephen Porges then popularized Polyvagal theory and he stated that Parasympathetic system is further divided into 2 more pathways – Dorsal Vagus (Freeze, shutdown) and Ventral Vagus (Social engagement, Safety).
Given this, fight or flight isn’t inherently bad in this sense, we need this to survive. But we want to be able to get out this state after the “danger/threat” is over.
Being in a too parasympathetic state (dorsal – shutdown/freeze) for long may not be good for us as humans as well , as we tend to dissociate feelings and emotions, helpless and tend to stay away from people. In fact, some rats when chased by its predators activate its dorsal vagus to feint death so that it won’t get eaten.
One of the ways how Humans and other mammals survive till now is through social engagement. This gives us play, community, support, warmth, and the ability to feel for others.
So now, we understand there are actually 3 main pathways. And I want to show you a different perspective and share you with there’s actually 5 states of our Autonomic Nervous System (including 2 hybrid states) we can be in :
- Ventral = Social Engagement/Safety
- Sympathetic = Mobilization with fear
- Dorsal = Immobilization with fear
- Social Engagement + Sympathetic = Mobilization without fear (Play, community, healthy competition)
- Social Engagement + Dorsal = Immobilization without fear (Sex, Reproduction)
So what’s the reason why I posted this? Glad you asked.
While we are in this COVID-19 situation, the key is not to just manage your stress only, but also have the ability to feel safe.
So the question is “Who/what allows me to feel safe?”