The Ventral Vagal System
The ventral vagal system is the social engagement system
Enter the ventral vagus. It centers in the upper part of the body–diaphragm, throat, lungs, neck, eyes. That’s why cues like deep breaths, eye contact, humming, and smiling send messages to the brain that things are safe and that we can relax. It also activates the prefrontal cortex or the “upstairs brain” (Siegler).
What happens during stress?
When we are stressed, we can’t get to the prefrontal cortex or upstairs brain. until the handle the alarms and “fires” of the downstairs (our limbic system). Calm those, and then we can climb the stairs and think clearly. Thank you, ventral vagus.
What do ventral vagal responses look like?
If you want an example of how the ventral vagal system feels when activated, think about snuggling with your pet or hanging out with best friends or reconnecting with nature. You feel at home and safe, refreshed, and connected to who you are and even to any spiritual beliefs you may have.
Once you know what it feels like, you can even activate your ventral vagus through imagination. Imagining your pet in front of you or doing a calming meditation can help you feel as if you’re really experiencing it (because imagination is real to the brain).