How the People Around You Impact Your Nervous System
One of the most potent influences on your nervous system is the people around you. Your relationships and your interactions with your community, impact on your emotions, thoughts, and physiology in either nourishing or depleting ways.
Healthy connection and co-regulation are biologically essential to feel at home inside yourself. When it’s missing from your life you may carry distress in the nervous system. Without a healthy connection, you may leave the present and go into the defensive sympathetic mobilisation, or you disappear into dorsal vagal shutdown and disconnection. Segregation, marginalisation, lack of social support, loneliness and poverty can all trigger survival responses.
Although there’s a lot of talk about how biological and psychological factors impact our nervous system, social factors are equally important and can cause dysregulation. Left unchecked they can lead to anxiety, depression, PTSD, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, inflammation, compromised immune functioning or gut disorders.
Belonging and nourishing relationships where you feel truly seen, felt, and heard are perhaps the biggest influences on the quality and length of your life. Nourishing relationships can help shift your nervous system back to a state of safety, especially after experiencing trauma. This can happen with the people you’re closest to, health professionals and those moments of connection with people in your community. In this state of safety and belonging, rest, recovery and repair of the mind-body system take place.
Co-regulation happens when you attune to another person and allow your internal state to shift and come to resonate with their internal world. It happens via the social engagement system, mirror neurons and resonant circuits in the brain and body. The need for connection and support doesn’t make you needy, co-dependent, too emotional or too sensitive. Biologically it’s essential. Even with healthy self-regulation your nervous system still longs for co-regulation.
When you’re facing adversity, attunement from a regulated person quickly brings you from survival mode into a calm, regulated state where you feel safe and secure. Not only does this improve your emotional health, but it also supports recovery and repair of the brain and body. It happens via powerful chemical processes, especially the release of the hormone oxytocin, and changes to the immune system that reduce inflammation.
You’re not wired to flourish on your own, or in systems that marginalise you. Research shows that supportive social networks not only improve your psychological well-being, but they can also prevent the incidence of disease. Strengthening your own relational web and being able to support another person in their web, is what makes you resilient and builds healthy communities. It’s in a regulated state we are our healthiest and do our best learning and working.
Although you may isolate yourself in difficult times, co-regulation can help you find your way home again. Shifting from the state of longing to belonging improves emotional and physical health. Even brief interactions can have a lasting effect. Reflect on who helps you feel a sense of belonging. Perhaps it’s a friend, partner, teacher, doctor, therapist, or pet.