Does self-care ever seem a little too woo-woo for you?
There are a million different experts, blogs, and tips in the sea of self-care information there. It’s easy to fall into the wellness cliché quicksand. What’s more: a lot of what gives self-care is magic is intuition. Our ability to intuitively seek out what will help us feel better. But that doesn’t mean science doesn’t have a say.
Here at Ritual Care, we use an integrative self-care approach that blends body, spirit and brain science. And the biological understanding of how our self-care works comes from a brilliant model called the Polyvagal Theory.
Polyvagal Theory was created by Stephen Porges. He introduced me to the theory 20 years, when I had the good, blind luck of having him as a thesis advisor in college. I’m not a clinician, scientist, or academic expert, but I continue to be an enthusiastic student of these incredible concepts. Over the years, I’ve used Polyvagal Theory to help support my “self-care as a stress management tool” approach to wellness for moms (and to fulfill my neuroscience nerd craving).
Excitingly, since Dr. Porges developed Polyvagal Theory, it has skyrocketed in popularity and application. In just the last 10 years, clinicians, social workers, teachers and other professionals have begun to understand how the theory helps us help others help themselves (!).
If you’re new to the theory, here are basic, overarching themes on how it influences our self-care here.
- We can practice regulating the nervous system. In essence, Polyvagal Theory is a way for us to understand how our nervous systems work, in response to stressors that tend to disregulate us on a daily basis.
- Our vagus nerve is amazing. The vagus is our 10th cranial nerve, and the lead player in our parasympathetic nervous system, with not one, but two notable functions: responsible for both calming the body down and, in an extreme state, for our immobilization in response to stress.
- We’re always adapting our behaviors for survival (even when our actual survival may not be threatened). It is a model that shows how our nervous systems respond to stress.
- We can learn to notice, respect, and learn to move out of survival mode and back to safety when we’re ready.
- We use communication and connection with others to return to a more balanced state (often referred to as “social engagement”). Polyvagal Theory isn’t a mandatory, self-sustaining, do-it-yourself model. Social engagement is one of the most interesting and exciting features of our biological stress response system.
For mothers, the theory is a wildly useful tool. It helps us understand the biology of what’s bothering us. And, through therapist Deb Dana’s Polyvagal ladder model, it also allows a mama to identify the state of her nervous system when she’s stressed — and provides insight to help her bring it back in balance.
In our Ritual Care practice, we can use the brain science of Polyvagal Theory, together with intuitive healing and bodywork, like ingredients in a farm-to-table meal. There is no set menu. There are no exact measurements. Instead, there’s a combination of quality components, creativity and skill. You add the different ingredients to give us the nourishment and satisfaction that you crave. When you need to adjust a bit, you do. And, of course, just like eating, taking care of yourself isn’t a one-time-only deal — you keep coming back to the table and nurturing your need, over and over again.
For a brief summary of Polyvagal Theory, stress, and motherhood, check out our Polyvagal Page.
To learn more about how brain science shows up in mom life, see our Science + Self-Care topics section.