The Polyvagal Traffic Light System:
Our deep emotional responses matter, yet few of us understand enough about this as they vary person-to-person. A key to understanding what makes us tick, is research into our autonomic nervous system (strongly linked to the pain centres of our brain). This post will teach you a simple technique of understanding how you intrinsically, emotionally react, deciphering our in-built traffic light system. Will help you to navigate the sometimes painful roads of life.
According to Polyvagal theorists our autonomic nervous system has 3 modes (2 modes respond to stress and 1 mode for when all is good). Our brain scans the world around us looking for threatening “red” warning signals to react to. When we are in a sea of red, we stop seeing “green” signals of safety, and psychological and often physical pain becomes worse.
Let’s step inside your autonomic nervous system and see a world where every interaction, text, or email has an imaginary flashing traffic light attached to it…..
Red Light = Red Alert!
A red light signifies potential trouble. Whenever emotional reactions are triggered you have seen a red light. Be that a facebook post you disagree with, sad family news, or a lorry pulling out in front of you. Our primitive warning system can potentially be triggered by anything our autonomic nervous system deems as a direct or indirect threat to our life.
Yellow Light: The Ambiguous Color
Yellow signals caution—a confusing message or an unfamiliar face.
Picture a scenario where you receive a message from an unfamiliar sender, inviting you to an event you’ve never attended. Your initial reaction might be a subtle twinge of anxiety or hesitation. That my friend, is the yellow light in action. We label anything yellow that is slightly outside of our norm,
Green Light: The Healing Beacon
Green is the universal “all clear” sign. Its an old friend you know and trust, buying you a coffee, green signs make you feel at ease. They enable you to be you.
When Yellow Becomes Red
Our primitive nervous system constantly evaluates threats and safety, but when facing incomplete information, or we are overly biased our perceptions revert to our default perception based upon recent experiences, genetics, and childhood wiring. Some live in a perpetual state of alertness, seeing red lights everywhere, a common struggle for those with generalized anxiety disorder. Our autonomic nervous system isn’t always accurate, quick to turn yellow into red.
Breaking Free from the Red Tinted Lens
When we solely perceive threats and paint our world red, we imprison ourselves in a personal hell of unnecessary fear and anger. Paintings of hell depict a place filled with perceived threats, akin to our heightened state of red alert.
It’s common for our state of awareness to become outdated, tinted red by past experiences and ancient DNA programming. Embracing multi-color means seeing reality for what it is, identifying true threats, and enjoying the richness of life.
Shedding Light onto Yellow
In a multi-colored life, we anticipate and avoid or modify obstacles, embracing the nuances of our world. Most things marked yellow won’t harm us, and by understanding them, we enrich our existence.
Conclusion: Navigating Life’s Emotional Highways
Life presents us with a spectrum of emotions, from red to yellow to green. The Polyvagal Traffic Light System empowers us to interpret these signals accurately, freeing us from the cycle of seeing only red. By navigating around red signals and reducing our exposure to them, we can alleviate physical pain, opening the door to a more harmonious and vibrant life.