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  • Writer's pictureChristina Cunningham Spinler

Our bodies are wired for protection

Anxiety is a natural response that our body uses to protect us from danger. However, sometimes it can become overwhelming and difficult to manage. Therefore, it is essential to have a basic understanding of how our body functions to normalize what is happening and reduce self-shaming. Instead of feeling like something is wrong with us or that we are broken, learning about our body's physiological responses can help us manage our anxiety.

By understanding how our body and brain work, we can learn how to regulate our emotions and improve our communication with others. This knowledge can help us identify our triggers and develop effective coping mechanisms. Learning about neuropsychology and emotional regulation can also help us better understand ourselves and others, leading to more empathy and compassion in our interactions.

The limbic system is a complex network of structures in the brain that are involved in processing emotions, memories, and motivation. According to Polyvagal Theory, which was developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the limbic system plays a crucial role in regulating our nervous system and our responses to stress.

Polyvagal Theory proposes that there are three branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS): the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), and the social engagement system (SES). The SNS is responsible for the "fight or flight" response, while the PNS is responsible for the "rest and digest" response. The SES is a newer evolutionary branch of the ANS that regulates social interactions and communication.

The limbic system connects to the ANS via the vagus nerve, which is the main nerve that regulates the PNS. The vagus nerve has two branches: the ventral vagus, which is responsible for the social engagement system, and the dorsal vagus, which is responsible for the immobilization response (also known as "freeze").

The limbic system can impact the ANS in several ways. For example, when we perceive a threat, the amygdala (a part of the limbic system) sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which activates the SNS, leading to the fight or flight response. However, if the threat is not severe, the social engagement system may become activated instead, leading to social interaction and communication.

The limbic system can also impact our overall emotional state and our ability to regulate our responses to stress. For example, if we are in a state of chronic stress, the limbic system may become overactive, leading to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. By using techniques such as mindfulness and relaxation, we can activate the social engagement system and regulate our emotional responses to stress, promoting overall well-being.

So, the limbic system plays a critical role in regulating our nervous system and our responses to stress, as described by Polyvagal Theory. By understanding how the limbic system functions, we can learn to regulate our emotional responses effectively and promote overall health and well-being.

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