In our busy and uncertain world, stress and anxiety can seem to be constant companions, and finding a sense of safety and calm can seem elusive. As a consequence of demanding work environments, financial pressures, relationship difficulties, and other ongoing life challenges, many of us are living in a chronic state of stress, which in the long term, impacts negatively on our physical and mental health.
Prolonged exposure to stressors can trigger a cascade of physiological responses, including elevated levels of stress hormones, increased heart rate and blood pressure and dysregulated immune function. Over time, these physiological changes can contribute to a range of symptoms, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a weakened immune system, digestive issues, sleep disturbances, and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Moreover, chronic stress can erode resilience, diminish coping resources, and impair cognitive function, making it harder to effectively manage future stressors.
Fortunately, there is help available in the form of an auditory intervention, called the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), grounded in Dr Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory, which can increase your resilience and help you reconnect to a sense of calm and connectedness.
Polyvagal theory emphasises the key role of the vagus nerve in regulating our autonomic nervous system. According to the theory, the vagus nerve has three distinct branches, each of which plays an important role in regulating responses to stress, social engagement, and safety.
The Dorsal Vagal Complex (DVC) developed the earliest in our evolution and is associated with an immobilisation and shutdown response in the face of extreme threat. When activated, this branch of the vagus nerve can lead to fainting, freezing, or dissociation, as a means of self-preservation in life-threatening situations.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is not exclusively part of the vagus nerve, but is closely intertwined with its functions. The Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for initiating the body’s fight-or-flight response when faced with perceived danger or stress. This branch of the autonomic nervous system mobilises resources to prepare the body for action, increasing heart rate, respiration, and energy expenditure.
The Ventral Vagal Complex (VVC) is the newest and most evolved branch of the vagus nerve and is associated with feelings of safety, social engagement, and relaxation. When activated, this branch of the vagus nerve promotes calmness, connection, and prosocial behaviours. It regulates bodily functions such as heart rate variability, facial expressions, and vocalisations, facilitating social interactions and fostering a sense of wellbeing.
Polyvagal theory suggests that these three branches of the vagus nerve operate hierarchically, with the more evolved VVC serving as a regulatory mechanism for the older DVC and SNS. In situations where social engagement and safety are perceived, the VVC can effectively modulate physiological responses to stress, promoting adaptive behaviours and emotional regulation. However, in the absence of perceived safety, the DVC and SNS may become dominant, leading to states of immobilisation or hyperarousal.
When we are stuck in chronic stress, we become more attuned to cues of danger in the environment, even when the environment itself is safe. Enter the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP).
The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)
Through specially filtered music, the SSP gently stimulates the vagus nerve and targets the neural circuits involved in regulating arousal, attention, and social engagement. By gently modulating these neural pathways, the SSP helps retrain your nervous system to shift from a state of dysregulation and distress to a state of calmness and connectedness. Research has shown that the SSP can lead to significant reductions in anxiety, sensory sensitivities, and emotional reactivity.
The programme is typically delivered over the course of several sessions, at a pace which suits your individual nervous system.
I am a trained and certified SSP provider. If you’re interested in finding out how the Safe and Sound Protocol can help you, please get in touch.