This blog is no mere blog! It's actually a learning module from my Building Safety challenge. I provide 30 days of steps to help build the strength of your ventral vagal safety system. (It's kinda important.) Read more about the safety system in my Polyvagal 101 and join the challenge when you're ready!
By now you know about the autonomic nervous system. If not, read 1 Page Lessons number 2 and also read up on the Polyvagal Ladder. As we lose access to our safety system, having a "safety anchor" can be helpful in self-regulating. And by that I mean grounding yourself back into the present moment.
It's something that keeps you tethered to your safety system and to the present moment. Something that has safety, calm and connection at its core. It could be a movement, a hobby, a person, a spiritual practice, a memory or an object or something else. Just like a ship anchored to the bed of the sea, your safety anchors keep you from drifting too far away from ventral vagal safety.
The safety anchor would be used in times where you notice yourself leaving your safety state. When there's a bit too much flight/fight energy happening. Like if you feel anxiety or aggression dominating your thoughts, feelings and interactions. That'd be a great time to use one and increase the influence of your safety state in the moment.
Safety anchors could also be used to work your way up your polyvagal ladder from shutdown. They can be ways to remind your body that you’re safe and it’s okay to come out of hiding.
A safety anchor is going to be different for every single person. There is no one safety anchor that's the same for everyone, though there are some things that could predictably be more helpful than others, such as deep breathing or muscle relaxation. But even then, these things look different based on what state someone is in. Overall, a safety anchor is highly individualized.
Let's create an imaginary safety anchor right now. And btw, this is a process that is repeated throughout my Building Safety challenge. For this, it has to be imaginary. Not a memory. Although that would work as well, but not for this anchor in particular.
Imagine a place you could go to where you would feel safe. Calm. Connected. In the present moment. There is no limit to this. Nothing will stop you from getting there. Where would this place be? What would it look like? What colors do you see? Is there any movement? Is anyone or anything else there that is alive? What are your senses telling you? What do you feel internally? Where do those feelings live in your body?
Your place of safety probably would look different than mine or one of my clients'. A client of mine today said they imagined a waterfall with rocks and trees. They were alone with nothing else around that was alive and could feel the water spray on their face in the breeze. This is an image that the client could cultivate and return to when needed or before needed.
The images are going to be different person to person and so will the feelings. And this is across safety anchors. The feelings will be connected to the ventral vagal state of safety. But the individual experiences of safety will differ. You may experience various feelings, like these:
calm or peace or serenity or relaxed
flow or clarity or motivation
connected or togetherness or wholeness
safety or ease
joy or happiness or appreciation
And more. Depends on the person's capacity for feeling these things. Before you dismiss your personal capacity to feel these things, I'd invite you to become more curious. I have found this very useful with my clients who think these feelings are not capable. Having someone lead them through it in therapy is a big plus, but that's not the point. The point is that we all have it within us to access these feelings and that includes you. It's difficult, but possible.
Ideally, the safety anchors are things that you visit often and outside the context of a crisis moment. The benefit is not just in the moment where it's needed, but also in building the capacity to notice and be with those feelings of safety. You may not be getting much time in these states. So getting there through an anchor is a great option.
But you have to practice it. Set the intention to practice an anchor daily. This is just one example. I've got more of this series you can learn about. In the challenge, these are the actual lessons, but there is also a daily walkthrough of steps to take in building safety using these anchors.
The goal with the daily anchor practice is to build the strength of the vagal brake. This is essential in getting unstuck and dealing with the more difficult stuff we all have inside of us. As the flight/fight energy emerges and attempts to discharge, your vagal brake is going to be important in tolerating and being with that energy.
This is the foundational knowledge you will need for what's coming in the steps of the next 29 days if you take the challenge. I have six other lessons as well, none of which are currently available from me anywhere else. These are all pieces of being anchored in the present moment that come up in therapy frequently: