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The Importance of ALL Our Nervous System States

Updated: Jul 2

Let's talk nervous system states and how we develop our awareness of what states we are in. Here's a diagram of our various nervous system states:

A graphic of the nervous system states, including the fight, flight, freeze, and safe and social states.

I'd like to introduce a few ideas that I think are really important as we get to know our nervous system:

  • Our nervous system states are neither good nor bad. I think that sometimes our states, like fight, flight, and freeze are seen as pathological - a sign that something is wrong. Yet our nervous system states serve very important functions. As we heal, we are not eliminating our experience of these states, instead, we are learning to be aware of and work with these states.

  • What often feels tricky or difficult about our nervous system states is that they may be responding to stimuli that has become trauma-related. For example, instead of feeling empowered when setting boundaries, our freeze state is activated, making it hard to take action. In this way, our nervous system states can feel troublesome. We may also feel stuck in different nervous system states or find it difficult to return to our window of tolerance or safe and social state. This is a sign of nervous system dysregulation.

  • Let's define nervous system dysregulation. Nervous system dysregulation is an imbalance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic aspects of our nervous system. Rather than moving through our different nervous system states with flexibility with an ability to return to our window of tolerance, we notice feeling stuck in one state or moving in and out of states without a capacity to ground or our window of tolerance is very narrow. We might believe that the goal of regulation is to be in our window of tolerance at all times, but that isn't the case. The true goal of regulation is an ability to navigate all our nervous system states with awareness, understanding, and responsiveness.

Let's get into what our different nervous system states may feel like and their functions:

The Safe and Social state looks like:

  • Curiosity and compassion.

  • Connected and safe.

  • Settled and grounded.

  • Living in the present.

  • Ability to relate and connect to self and others.

  • Digestion and circulation are operating.

  • Resistant to infection.

  • Body is rested and relaxed.

The Fight state looks like:

  • Anger, Irritation, and Frustration - emotional messages around boundaries, integrity, limits, etc.

  • The energy to confront or move towards the problem.

  • Activation of alert and defensive responses.

  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, breathing; clenched jaw and fists.

  • Release of adrenaline.

  • Decreases digestion and insulin activity; blood flow diverted to muscles and limbs.

  • Prioritizing protection and self-advocacy.

  • Dysregulation of the fight response could look like: violent expression, passive aggression, suppression, and shame (anger turned inward).

The Flight state looks like:

  • Fear and worry - emotional messages around assessing our surroundings, caution, staying alert.

  • Activation of alert and defensive responses.

  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, breathing.

  • Release of adrenaline.

  • Decreases digestion and insulin activity; blood flow diverted to muscles and limbs.

  • Prioritizing taking space and assessment of needs.

  • The same physical changes as fight but utilized to flee or run away.

  • Dysregulation of the flight response could look like: chronic cycles of panic and anxiety; "fleeing" oneself, emotions, and needs; fear of intimacy and/or conflict; fragmentation of self.

The Freeze state looks like:

  • Apathy and overwhelm - emotional messages around unhealed wounds, lack of boundaries, pushing past limits.

  • "Deer in the headlights" feeling; playing "dead".

  • Higher pain threshold.

  • Conservation of energy: decreases heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, muscle tone, breathing, sexual responses, immune responses.

  • Lose the ability to attune to others or act socially.

  • Dysregulation of the freeze response could look like: chronic overwhelm, numbness, shutdown, or collapse; resistance to physical or emotional movement; ongoing dissociation, depression, and hopelessness.

We need each of these states as part of a healthy and functioning nervous system.

As we heal, we are working towards:

  • Noticing the cues of our different states.

  • Getting curious about what moves us in and out of different states.

  • Learning to discern our needs and boundaries as we navigate our different states.

  • Practicing ways of being responsive to and caring for our different nervous system states.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Which nervous system do you resonate with today?

  2. Which states do you feel stuck in?

  3. Which states feel the most difficult?

Resources That Could Be Helpful:

  1. Curious about regulating your nervous system? I'd suggest Befriending the Body Written Guide - a guide that teaches about the pillars of somatic healing and includes 20 somatic practices for nervous system regulation. ($5)

  2. Breaking Free From The Cycle Of Stuck - this workbook helps you understand the impacts of trauma and how they contributed to the helplessness and shame. It offers recovery tools and modalities that address the underlying issues to help you move forward. ($12)

  3. Befriending Your Body Somatic Self Care Video Guide - In this guide, I guide you through 16 somatic practices to begin developing a gentle relationship with your body and your nervous system. We work on titration and pendulation to keep the pace slow and steady. (Payment Plans Available)

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4 comentarios

Whenever I start feeling too “fighty”, freeze jumps in and is like “I got this! No need to be angry. Angry bad!” So that’s what I have been trying to work on little by little.

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Sara Aird
Sara Aird
02 jul
Contestando a

So tricky! Our healthy protest does often get intertwined with shame, making it so difficult to access in a way that feels safe. I get that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences 💛💛💛

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