Are you stuck on an emotional rollercoaster?

We have been reading the book ‘How to do the work’ by Dr Nicole Lepera aka @the.holistic.psychologist in our members book club.
As part of the 75 soft challenge we are reading 10 pages a day which I have been fitting in before I go to sleep, loving it!

Dr Lepera highlights how childhood trauma can be influenced by having parents who don’t know how to regulate their emotions, which I resonated with.

Growing up with my grandmother, I had a confusing relationship with my mother and father.
Sometimes they would take me on lavish holidays yet I lived in Salvation Army housing with my grandmother and other times they would tell me how special I was yet they continued to cancel plans to visit me.
 My relationship with them was inconsistent and looking back now these were symptoms of not being able to self-regulate their emotions. I know my parents loved me but the
decisions they made were based on stress responses and these behavioural patterns would be passed onto me.

Even until recently theories suggested that stress was an on and off button like a light switch. We have been taught coping mechanisms at school and work based on being able to turn our stress on and off.
 Except the stress response is more complex than that which is why therapists should be educating their clients on the Polyvagal theory. 

How many times have you gone to therapy and talked about all this heavy stuff and then afterwards you are left feeling really overwhelmed?
Even though you got everything off your chest, you feel more worse than good because you haven’t been taught how to regulate your emotions.

I am going to explain the polyvagal theory simply because once you know it, you can start to understand your symptoms of stress and learn to manage it.

Basically, you have a big nerve that connects your brain to all the main organs in your body and it is called the vagal nerve. This nerve effects a variety of different functions but the main one I want to chat about today is how it manages three stress responses.

Ventral Vagal – It’s the state of social engagement. You find it easy to connect and relate to other people. It’s your balanced and present state. It can trigger feelings such as  joy, fun, contentment etc.

Sympathetic Activation – It’s the state of mobilisation. You want to run or take immediate action. It can trigger anxiety, frenzy, worry and you can find it really hard to focus. 

Dorsal Vagal Shutdown – It’s a state of demobilisation. You want to dissociate and hide. It can make you feel lethargic, detached, hopeless or shameful.

I think we can all imagine times when we are in the sympathetic system. I just have to remember the morning after a night out. Waking up in a panic, not wanting to check my phone but also trying to remember everything I did last night.  I wouldn’t focus on anything else but trying to re-collect the night.

Then as the days go on, I start to fall into a spiral of self-hatred and shame because your body can’t stay in the sympathetic system for long. Your body is always trying to search for an equilibrium which is why the Dorsal Vagal will take over. Except this system is only putting a cap over your stress, it’s like a pressure cooker ready to explode at any minute.

When we don’t know how to self-regulate or even have awareness of our stress, we struggle to get back to our ventral vagal, our balanced state of mind. Over-time our bodies adapt to functioning between the sympathetic and dorsal system which is why we crave chaotic lives.

Even society tries to condition us to live on this emotional rollercoaster. You only have to watch a movie and you are addicted to watching the drama the characters create. The love that is so intense that they can’t be together. Or the classic cliff hanger where the person is boarding the plane and only then does the partner feel the need to come running and express their love. Yes we know it’s corny but we love the drama!

It took me taking a couple years off alcohol to understand my love for drama and how it’s affected my nervous system. I didn’t have a chance to mange my emotions when I was drinking because alcohol was enhancing the highs and lows. Living like that wasn’t sustainable yet it had always been my normal.

Therefore sobriety is hard because you have to learn to live differently. The chaos starts to disappear and the emotional rollercoaster begins to slow down.
It can feel uncomfortable but it also feels so freeing because you no longer feel trapped in a vicious cycle. You no longer have to be reactive to problems you create, which can be exhausting.

Although it doesn’t mean you won’t still have cravings for chaos. Have you thought about those times when you feel bored, everything is going really well but you just feel like getting wasted. Next time this happens, try to be aware of what you are actually after? Are you wanting alcohol or are you craving the familiar feelings of chaos and drama?

If you are wanting to learn more about your nervous system and how to regulate your emotions, book in a chat and we can start planning your recovery.

Love Mel xxx