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Coming Out of Lockdown

By Lauren Salani, LCSW, BCB

After a year of quarantine, it may not be so easy for people to resume their normal lives because of the way our nervous system has evolved to react to threat. Our nervous system’s function, above all, is to keep us safe and alive. It is always on surveillance, always learning, and always reacting according to previous experiences. If our threat detection system remembers danger lurking at a subconscious level from the experience of being quarantined, then it could take time for comfort in daily activities outside of lockdown to resume. As it should be, we have all just suffered the ravages of a global pandemic.

According to researcher, Stephen W. Porges, individuals who have experienced a life threat have their neural reactions re-tuned towards a defensive bias and they may lose resilience to return to a state of safety. In his model of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), Porges maps the nervous system as being on a ladder from low to high on the spinal cord. In reaction to threat, we would see the activation of the lowest rung on the ladder as creating a state of safety by being shut down, hiding, like a turtle pulling in his head, collapsed and immobilized. Moving up the ladder brings stimulation of the fight or flight, mobilization, isolation and danger to find safety. The top of the ladder, brings feelings of safety and connection. As nerve connections travel to the heart, facial muscles, eyes, mouth and ears, we seek to soothe and be soothed, to talk and listen, we are compassionate. This is our social engagement system. It has evolved because connectedness is a biological imperative.

If you are aware, you may notice that you experience these states at some level everyday or you may feel predominately shutdown or anxious. For many, at this point in the pandemic, it may feel unsafe when asked to resume our lives. The nervous system has learned that is safer to stay apart from others. Learning to befriend and understand your nervous system will help you manage your emotions.

Visualize where you are on the ladder, set small goals for reentry into the outside world. When you do decide to go out, use your curiosity to seek out signs of safety and hope along the way through mobilization. Notice nature, hear friendly voices, see colorful happy face-masks, bottles of hand sanitizer, smiling eyes and soft friendly voices that listen to and acknowledge your concerns as you do theirs. Know that you are keeping yourself as safe as possible reconnecting to others in a meaningful way. Small, safe as possible steps, while looking for signs of safety and hope will help you to go out and reconnect with people again. You will retrain your nervous system that, with adequate precautions, it is safe enough to reconnect with your world.

Lauren A. Salani, LCSW, BCB Stress Relief Services Atlantic Executive Center 107 Monmouth Road, Suite 104 West Long Branch, NJ 732.542.2638 If you are having trouble with the after-effects of the Covid-19 quarantine, you may call my office for assistance. Your safety, your experience of connectedness, calm, and relaxation have already been attended to in my office.


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