Living in Survival ModeLiving in the West is like having to go through a gauntlet was the view of Malidoma Somme, having lived in both his native West African and the USA. There is an information overload, fast paced life and consistent trials and tribulations that bombard our souls as we adjust to living under a system that has oppression of women and people of colour woven into its fabric. A system that suggests that if we adjust who we are, chase the clock by studying hard, getting good grades, working harder, getting the mortgage, partner, kids, friends, holidays, pay the bills, get the latest clothes, shoes, gadgets, look our best at all times and then hand over a significant portion of our earnings in bills and taxes (energy) to the creators of the system – we may just have done enough to find that illusive happiness and possibly some peace (our natural state of being). Instead, we may find ourselves feeling, amongst other things, constantly stressed, highly anxious and as though we have neglected ourselves.
Imbalanced Living – Polyvagal theory
The polyvagal theory speaks about how we store stress within the body and suggests that there are three states autonomic nervous system states?? that we experience and may move between moment to moment:
Ventral Vagal – during this state we feel safe, are able to relate and connect to and empathise with others, and are also present to experience. In this state, we are fully aligned ourselves.
Sympathetic Activation (SA)– this is a state of mobilisation implicated when we are seeking to take action on something such as motivating us to deal with any threat by going into fight or flight. This state is also correlated with tension, anxiety and feeling chaotic or frenzied.
Dorsal Vagal Shut Down (DVSH) – this is a state of immobilisation which shows up as collapse or freeze. It is correlated with feelings of lethargy, despondency, lack of motivation, hopelessness, shame, feeling incapable or as though lacking agency.
The layers of stress that we experience(as mentioned above: environmental, family, cultural etc) puts us in sympathetic activation, which takes us out of alignment with ourselves. Overtime this can be detrimental to our health, and our bodies will use the DVSH to modulate our system by putting a lid on things to prevent an explosion. This means that a person can appear calm outwardly until their inner experience bursts through such as with an anger outburst.
Self PreservationBeing in Sympathetic or Dorsal Vagal Shut Down is an act of self preservation and a state of survival. Being in these dysregulated states impacts on the amount of energy you have access to and can impair your mental cognition and ability to connect to and relate to others. The lack of internal instability we experience from constantly being in a state of survival can leave us feeling insecure (unsafe) and inadequate, both considered to be common root causes of anxiety.
The antidote to tackling anxiety at its core is to come back into alignment/balance within ourselves.
Take some time to monitor your internal experience and get use to identifying which state you are in at any given moment.
You can the use the following exercises to support you in returning to a state of realignment (i.e. the Ventral State):
Meditation – consider incorporating some form of mediation into your usual routine.
Learn effective breathing techniques – practice these a few times daily. There are some included below. Exhaling activates our internal rest and relaxation response and is probably one of the simplest ways of entering the ventral state.
Ultimately, we are creators and can with practice determine how we interact with the stressors that we encounter in our lives. It’s about us reclaiming our power, our sense of peace, our ability to be able to control and narrate the story of our lives going forward and disempowering the anxieties which do not serve us in the process.
If you require assistance in managing your anxiety or if they are result of personal trauma that you require support with, do get in contact.
Breathing TechniquesWhen we are stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and we generally tend to breath from the chest area. Whist doing the breathing techniques below, consciously take deep breaths that cause your stomach area to protrude, also known as ‘belly breathing’.
Hand on abdomen techniquePlace one hand on your abdomen (just around your navel) and now focus attention on that area. Just allow yourself to breath in and out, becoming aware as your hand raises up slightly with each inhaled and falls as you breath outward. As you inhale, maybe allow a short pause, before releasing the breath in an exhale. Perhaps allow a warm comfortable feeling to pass all the way down your body each time you exhale. You might want to place your other hand on your chest and imagine the chest muscles relaxing so that the hand hardly moves at all.
Coloured Vapour Technique
With this breathing technique, allow yourself to go within and become aware of any tension that you might be holding in your body. Take some time to give your tension a colour and with each exhale that you release, imagine that you are breathing out vapour the colour of your tension. As you continue to breath out the vapour, you might become aware of how much more relaxed you begin to feel as you allow the vapour (and your tension) to drift away. Just drifting away until you begin to feel more calm and relaxed.