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How to Overcome Dorsal Vagal Shutdown

CBT Tips for Coping with dorsal vagal shutdown
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The dorsal vagal shutdown, a stress response that is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system and has an impact on both physical health and mental well-being when it occurs too frequently, is increasingly common. In this article we seek to uncover why this is so by taking a closer look at what exactly the dorsal vagal shutdown entails as well as how one can identify its signs in order to restore balance back into their own nerve systems.

What is Dorsal Vagal Shutdown?

An illustration showing the nervous system and highlighting the dorsal vagal nerve, which is responsible for controlling the body's rest and digest response. This image helps in understanding dorsal vagal shutdown and why we might be experiencing this now.The ANS is the automatic nervous system that keeps our physiological processes in balance, regulating internal functions according to polyvagal theory and dictating how we interact with our environment. Dorsal vagal shutdown is a type of stress response initiated by the parasympathetic nervous system resulting in reduced heart rate, blood pressure dip, sometimes culminating into fainting episodes.

When trauma occurs it triggers fight or flight mode which can lead to conditions like PTSD or depression as well as long-term anxiety issues – somatic exercises target dorsal vagal shutdown and evoke ventral vagal response so one has tools on hand for managing their health through this understanding of complex activities taking place within the body’s nervous systems.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System

The parasympathetic nervous system is linked to both the brain and spinal cord. An important part of the ANS, it works to conserve energy while inducing relaxation in times of stress. This response has a balancing effect with that from its counterpart – the sympathetic nervous system. Which provokes flight or fight reactions when faced with a challenge.

Crucial for maintaining well-being on many levels, there’s also another major component within this neural setup: ventral vagal social engagement state – characterised by openness, joyfulness, mindfulness and compassion as some key traits along with enhanced ability to relate socially and restfully plus improved digestion metabolism circulation & immunity activation capability just so name few benefits.

Centered around stimuli sent out through cervicovagal nerve fibers connected up into ventral areas located in medulla oblongata/brainstem regions (of either aforementioned cranial organs), said nerves serve an integral role providing balance between these two states currently mentioned letting body’s reaction towards external influences become more regulated thus better enabling one staying healthy at psychological physical mental level alike even during stressful situations

The Role of the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve, a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system and longest amongst the cranial nerves, connects to many parts in our body. It is divided into two -the ventral vagal part and the dorsal vagal portion – both having different duties. With one playing an important role in triggering what we term as ‘dorsal vagal shutdown’ when faced with dangerous situations which cause us to become paralyzed or collapse due to its age old activation linked through our own bodies’ functioning.

Trauma has resulted in trauma induced changes within our autonomic responses such as those related to fight/flight mode & feeling safe while being surrounded by others – leading up eventually towards experiences that involve heightened alertness at all times accompanied Along from this also occurs increase chances for occurrence of ‘Vagal Shutdown’ on either side (this regarding separately for same).

Why Are We Experiencing Dorsal Vagal Shutdown Now?

A person experiencing chronic stress, with a distressed facial expressionIn our hurried, stress-filled society nowadays, unresolved trauma and lingering tension are not uncommon, which increases the risk of experiencing dorsal vagal shutdown. When exposed to prolonged pressure, their nervous system remains in an ongoing state of “fight or flight”, rendering them susceptible to a complete decline in activity known as dorsal vagal shutdown.

Continually viewing life from a fearful perspective can take its toll on both mental and physical health. Disrupting productivity at work or school, damaging relationships with others and compromising personal recreation activities – all things that require us having insight into why chronic strain leads to this kind of phenomenon occurring within the nervous system (vagal/dorsal) so we know how better circumvent it.

Chronic Stress and Its Impact on the Nervous System

Chronic stress is an ongoing state of mental, physical and emotional strain caused by exposure to a troubling situation. This kind of stress alters the autonomic nervous system, which leads to sympathetic activation resulting in over-activation of the sympathetic nerves while under-activating parasympathetic ones. Dorsal vagal shutdown can cause people to suffer from dizziness, fatigue, depression or irritability among other things.

To counter these effects, self-regulation techniques should be adopted like forming support networks for assistance and adopting strategies that will help manage levels of distress better, such as nourishing your dorsal vagal nerve more often, etc. If one takes this into consideration, it helps balance out all three components within our nervous system – namely autonomous (sympathetic/parasympathetic) systems & also dorsal vagalshutdown due to offering much needed relief during difficult times associated with chronic tension.

Trauma and Its Effects on the Autonomic Nervous System

Traumatic events can lead to enduring physical, mental, and emotional repercussions. It may alter an individual’s ability to recognize safety cues while causing involuntary reactions when they are faced with a stimuli connected to danger. This increases the possibility of dorsal vagal shutdown. It is not unusual for those affected by trauma to be unable to have their environment as secure, even if it really is safe (which then increases the risk of ventral vagal disengagement), thus making attending traumas aftermaths crucial so we can rebalance our nervous system accordingly.

Recognizing the Signs of Dorsal Vagal Shutdown

A person experiencing physical symptoms of dorsal vagal shutdown, such as extreme fatigueUnderstanding how to recognize the signs of dorsal vagal shutdown is essential for avoiding long-term mental health issues. Knowing its physical and emotional indications can be instrumental in helping someone identify when their nervous system is shutting down, allowing them to take action towards restoring equilibrium with this type of vagal shutdown.

Physical Symptoms

Individuals who experience dorsal vagal shutdown may suffer from physical symptoms like extreme fatigue, a lack of energy and being unable to think clearly. More serious cases can result in their heart rate dropping drastically, which could lead to difficulty breathing as well as disorientation or dizziness.

Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms

Dorsal vagal shutdown may present itself as an array of emotional and behavioral symptoms, including a feeling of helplessness, nervousness when around others or being in social situations, extreme tiredness coupled with crankiness/irritability that often changes without warning. A decrease in trust for oneself and those who surround them can be noted too along with disconnecting from their feelings (dissociation).

Interpersonal Symptoms

Interpersonal symptoms associated with dorsal vagal shutdown can be profoundly challenging. Individuals experiencing this state often feel mistrustful and suspicious of others, maintaining a safe emotional distance as a protective mechanism. They may also grapple with feelings of disconnection from their social environment, leading to sensations of derealization, where the world around them appears unreal or distorted.

Many report a profound sense of detachment, as if they are operating on autopilot or merely observing life as though they were a passive observer in a movie. These symptoms can hinder one’s ability to engage in meaningful and authentic social interactions, making it crucial to address and seek support for dorsal vagal activation to restore a healthy sense of connection and trust in relationships.

Strategies for Rebalancing the Nervous System

A person practicing self-regulation techniques, such as deep breathing and body awarenessIf signs of dorsal vagal shutdown are observed in yourself or someone else, you can take steps to restore balance within the autonomic nervous system. Self-regulation techniques and creating a support network can serve as great resources towards reducing symptoms related to dorsal vagal shutdown while also helping maintain overall wellbeing.

Self-Regulation Techniques

During difficult times, it is essential to use self-regulation techniques to restore balance in the autonomic nervous system. Such practices may include deep breaths, singing or humming. All of which will help increase vagal tone and uplift one’s mental state. As these activities can activate the ventral branch of the vagus nerve that encourages leisurely responses, they become beneficial for building a sounder relationship with stress levels as well as helping maintain an overall resilient central nervous system. Daily engagement with 4-7-8 breathing (inhaling for 4 seconds holding breath 7 seconds exhaling 8 sec) or box breathing exercises could also aid those seeking respite from distress while aiding emotional regulation capabilities over time.

Establishing a Support Network

For those dealing with dorsal vagal shutdown, rebalancing the nervous system is made possible through a reliable support network. This can include emotional and practical help from family members or friends, being part of a supportive group setting and receiving professional guidance if needed. To ensure that these links offer safety and trustworthiness, one should be aware of any red flags in order to promote successful anxiety management. Consequently, this will enable effective stress relief as well as establishing meaningful connections within their existing environment for improved overall wellness.

Preventing Dorsal Vagal Shutdown in the Future

A person engaging in stress management strategies, such as physical exercise and healthy eatingMaintaining a healthy lifestyle and properly managing stress can help lessen the chance of having an occurrence of dorsal vagal shutdown. Individuals should be utilizing effective strategies to manage their stress, as well as establishing supportive relationships with others in order to secure overall wellness and reduce the risks associated with experiencing such a form of vagal shutdown.

Stress Management Strategies

By incorporating mindful meditation and physical activity into one’s daily habits, a stronger autonomic nervous system can be built that is better able to combat against dorsal vagal shutdown. This ensures an overall more resilient nervous system that has the capability to weather life’s hardships in a healthier way.

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

Having a healthy lifestyle that consists of nourishing meals, sufficient sleep and strong social bonds will help sustain overall good health as well as reduce the chances of enduring dorsal vagal shutdown. Taking care to prioritize these elements is essential for establishing a nervous system which can endure any difficulties while having great flexibility when it comes to adapting to life’s issues.


In order to promote mental and physical wellbeing in these demanding times, it is important that we understand the impact of dorsal vagal shutdown. Self-regulation techniques, as well as a strong support system and healthy lifestyle choices can help restore balance within our nervous systems while preventing future instances from arising. Ultimately, prioritizing our health should be made a priority so that we may foster resilience and enjoy happier futures!

Our San Francisco therapists specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focus on evidence-based treatments to help people overcome dorsal vagal shutdown. We offer individual therapy, group therapy, teletherapy, online courses, and workshops.

Frequently Asked Questions

Evidence-based therapy involves interventions that are scientifically proven to be effective for particular issues. In this approach, a strong partnership based on trust and collaboration is formed between you and your therapist. Within this supportive and unbiased environment, you can freely express yourself without fear of judgment. Over a series of sessions, you and your therapist will work together to address obstacles and set goals aimed at personal growth and fulfillment. This method ensures that the techniques and strategies used are not only supportive but also empirically validated to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.

The Bay Area CBT Center provides therapy services for everyone, from children to adults, and welcomes individuals, couples, and groups. We help with various concerns like anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, and behavior challenges. We value diversity and cultural differences, offering personalized and culturally sensitive care to each client.

Studies show that the bond between you and your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a key factor in treatment success. This alliance is characterized by the strength of your relationship and how well you both agree on treatment goals. Research indicates that individuals with a solid therapeutic alliance experience better treatment outcomes including greater productivity at work, more satisfying relationships, improved stress management, and decreased engagement in risky behaviors.

You can expect a 15-30 minute phone call with our care coordinator, who is extensively trained in ensuring the perfect match for you. During this conversation, our matching expert will collaborate with you to understand your therapy needs, preferences, and scheduling availability. This discussion builds upon the information you provided during sign-up and offers an opportunity for you to address any personal questions or concerns you may have about therapy or our services at The Bay Area CBT Center. Following your conversation, we’ll pair you with the therapist who best aligns with your needs, goals, and preferences.

At your matching appointment, we will match you with a therapist specifically chosen for you and schedule your first session. Depending on your availability, you can expect to meet your therapist anywhere from one day to a week after this appointment.

Our approach to therapy includes a flexible hybrid model, blending both online and face-to-face sessions. This option is perfect for clients situated close to our clinics in the Bay Area who prefer the flexibility of choosing between virtual consultations or meeting their therapist in person. Our aim with hybrid care is to ensure every client is matched with the ideal therapist and therapy environment, be it from the convenience of your own home or in one of our clinics.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we accept PPO insurance plans that allow you to use out-of-network providers. This means if your insurance plan is a PPO and it includes mental health benefits, you could get back some or all of the money you pay for our services, depending on what your insurance company allows. When you see one of our therapists, they’ll give you a superbill. You can send this superbill to your insurance company to ask for reimbursement. If you’re not sure if your insurance covers services from providers not in their network, it’s a good idea to give them a call and check.

You may be eligible to have 60-80% of your costs covered by out-of-network benefits.

Also, if you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), you can usually use it to pay for individual counseling sessions. It’s wise to double-check with your FSA provider or talk to your accountant to make sure that counseling sessions are considered an allowed expense.

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