What exactly does a "regulated nervous system" mean?
Many people think that it means feeling as calm as possible, as often as possible. And while that is partly correct, there's more to it than that.
Regulation really means that all parts of our autonomic nervous system are responding appropriately to our environment. It means it is accurately sensing safety or danger and eliciting appropriate bodily responses.
For people with trauma, it is common for the ventral vagal part of the system (responsible for safety and connection) to be the least dominant, while the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the dorsal vagal (freeze) systems run the show much of the time. This is why it may be hard to feel safe, calm, connected and joyful, even when there is no threat in the environment.
However, in a well regulated nervous system, the ventral vagal system is strong and dominant much of the time, which allows us to feel at ease and connected to the world around us when the environment is safe. But the dorsal vagal and sympathetic systems also kick in and become dominant when appropriate, so that we can rest and sleep (dorsal vagal) and set boundaries or get to safety (sympathetic) when we need to. All parts of the system need to be appropriately responsive in order for us to live our best lives.
To learn more about the relationship of the nervous system and persistent pain, and how I incorporate nervous system regulation into my work with clients, check out my article entitled: "Struggling with persistent pain? The solution may lie in your nervous system."
As always, I am happy to respond to any questions you may have, so feel free reach out. :)
With love and understanding,
Joanna Hermano is a Trauma-Informed Physiotherapist and Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner-in-Training with a special interest in persistent pain.