What Feels Scary to Me, May Not Feel Scary to You

This article has been making the rounds. It articulates fairly simply and clearly the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and its responses to threats that can lead to depression. A friend asked me my thoughts on the article and my response turned into a blog post which I’ll share with you as well. This is the info I share with my clients and the article was a nice opportunity to clarify further. You may want to click the link to read the article, then return here for my thoughts.

The thing that is hardest for most people to understand is that EVERY HUMAN, EVERY NERVOUS SYSTEM is different and detects threats differently.

Something that is scary for you is not necessarily scary for me.

Shame can begin with this misunderstanding. Parents or people, in general, tell their kids (or other adults) to “get over it”, “it’s not that scary”, “you are over-reacting”, “stop crying”, etc. about things, people, experiences that THEY think are not scary. But to the child or individual being told not to react, the thing, person, the experience they are reacting to IS SCARY.

Each INDIVIDUAL nervous system is deciding what is safe or threatening. We NEED to HONOR each HUMAN and their nervous system responses. (PS: in my regular life, I fail at this a lot) The tricky part is that our nervous systems are pinging off of each other all the time. So, someone else’s response to an event may trigger your own nervous system response.

All of this is happening UNCONSCIOUSLY. When we begin to understand all of this, we can learn to unwind unconscious patterns, grow our capacity, and shift our automatic responses.

The brain plays a part in how we react, but really it is a WHOLE BODY experience of detection (called Neuroception by Dr. Stephen Porges) that is determining whether or not a particular body will feel anxious, scared (fight/flight), or so very threatened that the body resorts to the collapse response (freeze). It is common for kids who grow up in homes with dysfunction or in homes where their little nervous system is threatened – for whatever reason (this is so VERY key) – to go into a collapse response because that is ultimately the way they survive. The thing is that these nervous system responses to threats can happen even in very good, loving homes.

It all boils down to how EACH PARTICULAR nervous system deals with what it perceives as safety and threat.

The body adapts to scary, difficult situations in order to survive. Adaptations become patterns of survival or self-protective responses. I always encourage clients to look at their patterns as gifts of support that kept them moving forward at a difficult period of their life. Sometimes the patterns we develop become problematic and we want to change them. If one of the adaptations is a pattern of collapse, it can lead to what looks like depression. Long term collapse is not good for our health. Adaptive patterns, which can look like anxiety or depression, or other mental health issues like ADHD etc. – can be difficult to unwind. It’s also important to be ready and have a willingness to want to unwind these patterns.

With good support that includes a somatic approach, life can get better, more comfortable, and less difficult.

The earlier we start supporting people and teaching parents (and really everyone) about Autonomic Nervous System responses and PolyVagal Theory, the better we all will be. Thanks for reading and please reach out with any questions or for support.

Original Article Link: We’ve Got Depression All Wrong. It’s Trying to Save Us.