Are you highly sensitive? Or perhaps you have….
The lowdown on stress and Sympathetic/Para sympathetic here.
Want to know more about how this works?
The Nervous System
Consisting of the brain, spinal cord, and a complex network of neurons, the nervous system is responsible for all involuntary nerve action, monitoring and coordinating internal organ function and responding to changes in the external environment. There are two distinct parts: the central nervous system (CNS) is the primary control center for the body and is comprised of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) runs from your spinal cord to your appendages (arms, legs, hands and feet) and consists of a network of nerves that connects the rest of the body to the CNS.
The two systems work together to collect and process information from inside the body and from the environment outside it, and then initiates instructions to the rest of the body, making it respond. In general, the brain is the destination for information gathered by the rest of the nervous system. Once data arrives, the brain sorts and files it before sending out any necessary actions.
The brain is divided into many different sections, including the cerebrum and brain stem. These parts handle pieces of the brain’s overall workload, including storing and retrieving memory and making body movements smooth. Although the brain is the control center, its job would be impossible without the spinal cord, which is the major conduit for information traveling between brain and body. Peripheral system nerves branch from either the brain stem or the spinal cord. Each nerve is connected to a particular area of the torso or limbs and is responsible for communication to and from those regions.
The PNS can also be further divided into the somatic and autonomic systems. The somatic system involves parts of the body a person can command at will, and the autonomic system helps run involuntary functions such as pumping blood.
Information conveyed through the nervous system moves along networks of cells called neurons. These neurons only send information one way. Those transmitting to the brain are sensory (input) neurons; those that transmit from the brain are known as motor (output) neurons.
The CNS gives rise to the PNS. The ANS is under control of CNS and is also part of the PNS, although these nerves stay within the torso and effect organs and soft tissues and do not leave to effect appendages. The ANS is concerned with control of involuntary bodily functions, and it is divided into two parts: The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. It regulates the function of salivary, gastric, sweat and adrenal glands; smooth muscle tissue that makes up the organs and the heart.
Fright or Flight response in the sympathetic nervous system gives vasoconstriction of the part that is supplied, rise in blood pressure, erection of hairs, gooseflesh, pupillary dilation, secretion of small quantities of thick saliva, depression of gastrointestinal activity and acceleration of the heart. These activities occur in emergencies such as fright and are associated with the expenditure of energy as a response to the need to flee, fight or be frightened. Experienced as “intuition” or “gut feeling.” I call this body wisdom.
Neurobiology of fear & the stress response
Your body is hard-wired to respond to fear and stress in ways to protect you against danger. When you encounter a perceived threat your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off a response in your body known as “fight-flight-freeze” response. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, the limbic system of the brain prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
When the stress response becomes the norm
The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, the heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities: saliva returns, the gut settles, the breath deepens, the heart rate slows.
But when stressors (real or perceived) are always present or when you constantly feel in danger or fearful – or the nervous system has adapted to long-term stress, the “fight-flight-freeze” response stays on. The long-term activation of the stress-response — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This heightened state of arousal and overstimulation can show up in many forms, and puts you at increased risk of numerous long-term stress related health problems.
Survival and Fear Reflexes
The psoas plays a major role in our survival, and in the recovery of trauma. “Serving as a bridge, it connects the physical to the emotional and the spiritual to the ordinary. It is quite normal when working with the muscle to not only bring a wealth of unresolved fear to the forefront of the client’s consciousness, but ultimately to provide a portal into instinctive wisdom as well” (Liz Koch). When we are in danger, or when we fall, the instinctive psoas prepares us for running, kicking, reaching, curling or rolling – to either flee, attack or protect.
“As a species, humans are encoded with the ability to protect themselves. When survival is at stake, the psoas propels the body to hit the ground running. When startled, it ignites preparation of the extensor muscles to reach out (grab hold) or run. When standing one’s ground, the psoas provides a person with powerful core leg and arm kicks — a dynamic force in the face of the enemy. But when danger overwhelms or is chronic, rather than spring into action or move away, the body freezes. A mouse in the clutches of a cat plays dead. No longer squirming, the cat may get distracted providing a moment for the mouse to dart away. “Playing dead” is a heightened survival response.
The fear of falling is also an instinctual reflex. When a person falls off a roof, out of tree, is thrown from a horse or propelled forward in a car crash, the psoas is activated. A major flexor muscle, and an essential part of the instinctive fear reflex, the psoas pulls the extremities together into a fetal pose, creating an enclosure, a sense of safety and protection for the soft, vulnerable parts of the body: Genitals, belly organs, lungs, heart and face. Curled, the spine gives the necessary resilience and strength against the imminent blow.” Liz Koch
Trauma – Oxford Dictionary
- a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis.
- physical injury.
The definition of trauma does not identify types of trauma or traumatic events. Instead it defines the actual experience of trauma – in particular the elements that influence the perception of trauma. By either definition, the perception of or subjective appraisal of danger or trauma varies by age and stage of development. For young children, one of the most potent trauma variables can be witnessing the threat to a caregiver. (Scheeringa and Zeanah, 2001).
Trauma doesn’t need to be something huge, dramatic or violent, like a car accident or natural disaster – which are known as “hard” traumas. It could simply be a fall we took or a fright we’ve forgotten. Prolonged “soft” trauma is more ambiguous and therefore can be difficult to recognise. Perhaps there was a lack of safety growing up, so as a child one was always in their stress response, and as an adult there is now a hyper-sensitivity or vigilance, anxiety and sleep disturbance – yet no “trauma” can be recalled or pinpointed. This illustrates the adaptability of our systems, and that essentially we have all experienced trauma of one kind or another, and if it is unresolved may be showing up as a disruption in ones nervous system function.
The Cycle of Trauma
Without resolution, trauma can be an overwhelming experience that may have our system stuck in the fight-flight-freeze survival response. Peter Levine explains: “Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.” In his Somatic Experiencing work, Peter teaches that trauma is not caused by the event itself, but rather develops through the failure of the body, psyche, and nervous system to process adverse events.
Internationally-known trauma recovery therapist David Berceli explains that every human being in every culture expresses unresolved trauma through a biological process. “The body is a living organism designed to resolve even the most tragic of life’s experiences. Its primary need after a traumatic experience is the restoration of safety.” Safety is the first step when releasing trauma. Once instinctually safe, the body naturally begins to discharge stored energy. With deeper levels of safety, the body spontaneously releases deeper levels of holding. Without resolution, repetitive behavior is the only means for the encoding to attempt to release the trauma. “The urge to repeat the trauma through re-enactment is so severe and compulsive because the drive to complete this discharge of excess energy is so vital for the body’s healthy functioning,” Berceli says. “It must restore itself to its healthiest possible state to assure the survival of our species.”
The inability to feel is known as the “opioid” state of trauma. This is often short-lived biological survival mechanism which occurs in the case of hard trauma and shock. This state serves to numb the person when injured so they can continue to function. This can serve our survival in the height of trauma, such as acute physical injury, however, when trauma is unresolved or long-term, this can result in apathy and somatic or sensory amnesia.
Disassociation or numbing can also result from trauma. The trauma can become so intense that disconnecting from sensation becomes the only way of enduring the contact. Survivors of sexual assault may disassociate or “leave the body” as a way to cope – during and after the incident. With this new understanding of trauma – it is no surprise that many people are living with varying degrees of sensory or somatic “amnesia” – where there is little of no sensation or awareness – other than strong sensations. This can be cumulative and not necessarily a result of hard trauma.
Release, resiliency and resolution
Trauma and chronic stress eventually begin to take their toll on the nervous system, depleting our cognitive, physical and emotional reserves. Without resolve, symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, agitation, digestive disorders, chronic pain, fatigue, depression and other more serious stress related illnesses are amongst those experienced. The body of work we are exploring in this course cultivates sensory awareness, whilst deeply nourishing the nervous system. Because the Psoas is our fear reflex it holds and communicates our fears, and much of our stress and trauma. So the deep release work tends to elicit or reveal what is actually already in the body and Psoas. This is why there is such an emphasis on creating safety and acceptance as a foundation to this work. If we can establish inner-safety, and welcome all that arises in our experience, we are more likely to allow the body to release rather than ‘holding’ on, blocking ourselves or becoming fearful.
Slowing down to activate the parasympathetic (relaxation) response in combination with mindfulness, activating the fluid-body and playful inquiry, creates the perfect conditions for safety and self-regulation. Releasing and conditioning the Psoas offers a deep ‘shedding’, to fast-track ‘letting go’ of trauma, long-held stress and tension patterns. We are literally training our systems ‘let go’ and complete the stress activation cycle.
As life continues to bring unplanned challenges and a myriad of small and large stressors and traumas – this work offers us a profound array of tools and practices to discharge, release and resolve stress in our daily lives. By successfully and regularly completing the stress activation cycle and returning to balance following stress or trauma, we begin to create resiliency in body and mind.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation such as the reproductive system, digestion and growth processes. When the stress response is active the eyes become alert, the mouth becomes dry, breathing becomes shallow, the bladder may empty, sweat increases, the gut tenses – preparing the body to fight or flee.
Stress related illness include: