State creates story

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According to Polyvagal theory, our nervous system responds to stressors by moving through these different states in a hierarchical manner, with the safe and social  state being the most desirable and adaptive state, and the immobilized  state being the least desirable and most maladaptive state.

Although I must stress when I am talking through the states with clients through the Polyvagal track I focus and explore that sometimes we need to stay and hang out in a particular state – whatever it is in order to feel safe. 

To me as a therapist safe and social may be perceived as more desirable but I do explore with clients the value of perhaps being in a mobilise to immobilise state if we need to.  The  work can become about creating more helpful behaviours whilst staying in that state. 

The theory also suggests that the nervous system is flexible and can adapt to changing circumstances, and that we can learn to regulate our nervous system responses through mindfulness, therapy, and other practices that raise our awareness such as storytelling.

As stories can be told in the third person with fantasy characters – this can often feel safer when working with young people or clients. There is an interactive storytelling board here for you to try. 

When it comes to the claim that “state creates story,” Polyvagal theory suggests that our emotional and social experiences are shaped by the state of our nervous system. For example, when we are in a safe and social, we are more likely to feel safe and connected to others, which can lead to positive social experiences and a sense of well-being.

Conversely, when we are in a mobilised or immobilised state, we are more likely to feel fear, anxiety, or disconnection, which can lead to negative emotional and social experiences.

Overall, Polyvagal theory offers a unique perspective on how the nervous system responds to stress and how this response is related to our emotional and social experiences.

It suggests that by understanding our nervous system responses, we can learn to regulate our emotions and improve our social interactions.

Using the R.U.D process  as a framework spending time recognising and exploring the stories we create can be helpful.

Creative interventions such as paper, figure models, nesting dolls, buttons, stones, cards, doodles, cartoon strip can all be used to  help engage the client bring to the conscious the story they have created. 

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About the author: Yasmin Shaheen-Zaffar

With a passion for improving the emotional wellbeing of young people, adults and parents, she is  the founder and creator of Polyvagal Teen®, she has developed an innovative approach to helping teens recognise and manage stress and anxiety through becoming “Polyvagal Aware”. In addition, Yasmin is also the founder of World Let’s Stop Shouting Day, which aims to promote peaceful communication and reduce conflict and aggression in our daily interactions. Neurosloth™ and The Hearts Whisper®

She also runs a small private practice providing counselling and neurofeedback  to young people and adults in North Yorkshire.

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