“Without ongoing opportunities for people to be anchored in systems of safety and to appropriately exercise the neural circuits of activation and inhibition, the ability of their autonomic nervous systems to engage, disengage, and reengage efficiently is impaired.” - Deb Dana in The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy
I’m reading a book about the polyvagal theory, which looks at the vagus nerve and the role it plays in our ability to efficiently engage, disengage, and reengage life.
One way this plays out is when we wake up and go to sleep. We open our eyes and begin to engage the world. Some mornings we don’t feel like engaging the world. Instead we want to stay in bed and do nothing all day. Sometimes we don’t make it to the end of the day before we want to disengage. Or maybe we can never really disengage.
Some of us use substances to help with this process. Coffee and energy drinks help us engage. Alcohol and over-eating help us disengage. Or maybe we use SSRIs and opioids.
Many of us ping-pong between anxiety and depression. Between heightened-concern and listless apathy.
Efficient cycles of engagement support a satisfying life. Inefficiencies create challenges for us. Too much activation or engagement creates chronic stress, tension, and anxiousness. Too much inhibition or disengagement creates depression, emptiness, and collapse.
A place to start working with this is to bring more awareness to the state of your nervous system throughout the day. Start to track your breathing (short, shallow, in-the-chest? slow, deep, in-the-belly?). See if you can notice when you engage, disengage, and reengage.