I spent a lot of time last year working from home, seeing clients online via tele-health. Personally, this was a great opportunity for me as I could still be around Rosa and Michael while continuing to work. And, as I worked, I began to notice a pattern of finishing a stressful session with a client, coming downstairs and starting to feel more calm and relaxed as soon as I saw Rosa's giant smile and her crawling to me for a hug. Similarly, I have known for ages that after a bad day at work; coming home to Michael and spending time with him is one of the more relaxing and soothing things that I can do. There is something special - and soothing - about being in the company of people that you love; something that is hard to find elsewhere.
Polyvagal Theory can help us to understand the science behind this. Simply put, the vagus nerve is a cranial nerve (meaning it starts in your head) that is involved in helping to regulate your emotions (including fear) and build social connection. We know that the two primary systems which are designed to protect us are the fight - or - flight system (think running away or fighting when scared) and the immobilisation system (think a Lizard freezing when scared). The fight or flight system requires the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, while the immobolisation requires the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system - via the vagus nerve. In other words, while the fight or flight system triggers adrenaline and hyperawareness; the vagus nerve essentially shuts down our defense system - to an almost extreme level.
But what does that have to do with relationships. You see the opposite of connection is the defensive system. I mean, how can you connect or build a relationship with someone when you are hyperaware and on guard? When you are like this, you are often easily irritable, jumpy, fidgety and often all over the place with your mood. While it is helpful for when you are scared or in danger (think being chased by a lion; or getting yelled at by a stranger); it isn't a helpful way of living your life because of the toll it takes on your body. And completely shutting down isn't helpful either. This often looks like depression - being stuck in bed all day, not eating, maybe sleeping a little too much; socially isolated but again, you cannot live this way because of the toll it has on you.
So, a second pathway was developed to help calm ourselves down. This pathway is the social pathway, which helps us to manage our physiology state. By reading the facial and emotional cues from others, by seeking comfort and support; increasing social interactions such as play and intimacy, we again activate the parasympathetic nervous system and essentially calm down. Pretty amazing huh?
And the most awesome thing about this is that - through God - we have someone that we can turn to at anytime for comfort, support and relaxation. I love the verse 1 John 1:10 - 13. It says,
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. - 1 John 1:10 - 13
Think about it, by receiving God we get to be his children. That level of intimacy and connection is inspiring. While I know seeing Rosa makes me relaxed, I am even more confident that when she she sees me, she feels safe and secure and loved. I only need to think about how she turns to me in times of distress, how hugging her can calm her down when she is upset and how she falls asleep in my arms without worry when she is tired to know this is true.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. - Matthew 11:28 - 30
So this week, I encourage you to turn to both your friends, family and God when you are feeling distressed and exhausted. Instead of retreating, shutting down or isolating; seek emotional and physical connection. Pray, read the bible, sing worships songs. Turn to God to relax and refresh.
- Written by Ashleigh Crosilla.