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From quiet and calm to emotional and stubborn… is it a good thing? It could be…

Dec 1, 2022 | Behaviour, Children, Emotions

I know, it is hard to imagine that louder meltdowns or higher levels of sensory seeking are part of the journey towards connectedness. While this is not always the case, this could be true for you or your child.  

Through the lens of the Polyvagal Theory, we can come to learn that the nervous system has a predictable pathway of response. There is in fact, a ladder, a hierarchy of how one’s nervous system grows into a more connected state over time (if properly supported).

The hierarchy includes 3 distinct states: 

> Ventral Vagal Activation: Safe, Social, Engaged 

– “I feel connected to the greater world. I can learn, be curious, grow, and restore.” 

> Sympathetic Activation (Fight or Flight): Mobilized, Frantic, Agitated 

− “I am in danger. I need to run or fight back.” 

> Dorsal Vagal Activation: Numb, Collapsed, Shut down  

– “I can’t cope. I’m collapsed and shut down.” 

By recognizing which state, you or your child are in at a given moment, and how to shift states, you can change your state to feel further connected and safer more of the time. 

 For example: 

  • If you notice your body tensing up (Sympathetic Activation), you may chose to give yourself 3 big squeezes to allow you to move back into a calmer, connected state. 
  • If you notice yourself zoning out (Dorsal Vagal), you may take yourself outside for a brisk walk to move yourself up the ladder and back into a calm, connected state. 

Author: Allison Hunt – Occupational Therapist