The “safe” ventral vagal dominant state

Some call it “Safe and Social” …

Others call it “Calm and Connected” …

Whatever we call it, it refers to the “regulated” state we are in when our autonomic nervous system senses safety, and our ventral vagal nerve complex, which helps us to engage socially with other people, is “switched on”.

As you can see from the graphic, we can enjoy a broad range of experiences within the landscape of our inner safe state, with the defining feature being an overriding sense that “Everything is okay”, or that “I’ve got this”.

When there is more sympathetic activation, we are more active. The combination of sympathetic and ventral vagal engagement gives us the energy we need to play, dance, exercise, work, create, and access healthy aggression.

When there is more dorsal vagal engagement, we can rest. The combination of dorsal vagal and ventral vagal engagement enables us to relax, cuddle, breastfeed, meditate, be intimate, and digest our food.

While the descriptions of this state focus on the “social” or “connected” side of things, that’s because in this state we appear friendly and welcoming, and we’re capable of connecting with other people.

The ventral vagal connects to muscles in our throat, face and head, giving us rhythmic intonation in our voice, an expressive face, and other capacities that support being sociable, such as being able to listen well and empathise.

However, in this state we are equally connected with ourselves. We feel more present and aware of our own bodily sensations, sensory, and emotional experiences. We may also feel a greater connection to nature or the universe.

The ventral vagal also sends nerves to our heart and lungs, keeping our heart rate and breathing rate within a moderate range, so that we feel relatively calm and grounded. But that doesn’t mean that we need to remain completely zen-like.

We can experience variety in our emotions, feeling excited, sad, even angry, or apprehensive, while at the same time bringing a kind of grounded presence to those emotions, so that we can stay connected with ourselves.

In this safe state, we can also feel inspired and experience creative flow, what is sometimes referred to as being “in the zone”. And if we’re working, we’re alert and able to concentrate, with a sense of “whistling while we work”.

While Fight, Flight, Fawn, Freeze and Flop are associated with the stress responses, the F’s that might be associated with this safe state are Food, Friend, Fun, and Flow.

(Note: Not all of these things will feel safe to all people.)

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