Who Is Your Safe Person?
Recently I learned that thinking about a person that makes you feel safe can activate the para-sympathetic nervous system (PSNS). The PSNS is the part of your physiology which calms you down after your sympathetic nervous system “revs up your engine” in the form of anxiety. This feels ground-breaking for me! It feels both simple yet very complex. I am excited to examine it more.
I’ve never been much for parties. I had social anxiety at a young age, and it still somewhat persist today. Yet as long as I have 1 good friend present, I am fine. I will stick by this person throughout the night and it really helps me. Stephen Porges has discovered that thinking about a person that makes you feel safe when you’re having anxiety can help you calm down. Mammals have brain structures that recognize faces. It is built into us to be able to recognize family and friends. This is also true of people.
I find this to be true in my job as a School Counselor. When a student comes into my office dysregulated, distressed, and crying- nothing helps more than just talking in a soothing voice and using softened facial expressions. Literally, a friendly face helps them de-escalate. I believe that this is part of what helps therapy work. You develop a relationship with a caring person, and the relationship helps buffer you against negative psychological factors.
I like the idea of using this new information as a hack or tool. I will be trying it when I experience anxiety at work this week. Who I will be imagining when I feel distressed? It would not be either of my parents for various reasons. It would not even be my partner. We haven’t been together long enough. For me, I believe it would be a trusted friend. Seeing her face in my mind sounds like something I could learn to appreciate. I feel comforted- like she has my back. This makes me feel safe. So I ask you, dear reader. Who is your safe person?
- Russ Rhodes