The Polyvagal Theory
What is Polyvagal Theory?
Polyvagal Theory was introduced by behavioral neuroscientist, Dr. Stephen Porges, in 1994. Polyvagal Theory provides a revolutionary map of the nervous system, describing the underlying basis for our behavior and feelings. The theory proposes that much of our cognitive and emotional intelligence stems from our physical state.
Our body has an innate sense of when we are safe and when we are not, and our body responds accordingly by speeding up our heart rate and stress levels if we feel unsafe and have the need to fight or flee; slowing down heart rate and higher brain functions when we are scared to death (“freezing”); or relaxing us and increasing our ability to engage socially and think creatively when we feel safe and appreciated.
This internal ‘barometer’ is known as our autonomic nervous system, and Polyvagal Theory sheds new light as to exactly how it works on both individual and social levels.
Chronic stress or trauma can prevent our autonomic nervous system from functioning in a healthy way, signaling danger when there is none and keeping us stuck in a state of survival. Social gatherings can be frightening and a simple interaction at school can become threatening. Living in prolonged states of survival often leads to unhealthy adaptive behaviors and significantly increased risks for chronic diseases.
What does it mean to be Polyvagal-Informed?
Simply put— it’s acknowledging that we move through our daily lives as complete human beings and, in response, creating environments that support and care for our innate need for safety.
Awareness and understanding through training and education on the Polyvagal Theory, and changes in policies, practices, and environments, can not only increase resilience for many people, it can be healing.
Polyvagal-Informed is not a check list of quick fixes; it’s showing people better ways of being together, safe from judgment and ridicule.