• Sarah Wilkinson

Getting to know your Autonomic Nervous System

See what state yours is in currently.


The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) works largely unconsciously to regulate our organs and systems of the body, it is in control of our fight/flight response. The vagus nerve is a very important nerve that is part of the ANS and effects our breathing, blood pressure, eating, digestion and emotional states amongst other things. It is the longest nerve in the ANS, running from the brain through the chest and down into the abdomen, ending at the anus and is responsible for the brain / gut connection. It is the body's major parasympathetic nerve.


There are two branches in the vagus nerve - the dorsal (rear) and ventral (frontal). The former spreads from the diaphragm down the back of the body to the anus. It develops as we are gestating in the womb and has the core primitive function of freeze and dissociation in response to the flight/fight mechanism of the sympathetic system not working effectively. One example would be a crying baby left so long that it just gives up because it's flight/fight response was to no avail. Another would be if someone were physically attacked and could not escape the perpetrator they would end up numbing out and going into shock as a coping mechanism.


The latter ventral branch spreads from the head down the front of the chest area to the diaphragm. This is responsible for rest, digest, safety, responsiveness and sociability. When in good shape this can bring a person back to a state of calm and regulation very quickly after a traumatic experience. The ventral vagus nerve develops throughout childhood so is very much influenced by primary care givers and the living environment.



In a healthy person the flight/fight response is a short lived experience with the body returning to equilibrium - a state of safety and connection shortly after a shocking and traumatic event. However, many people have a poorly developed ventral vagus nerve due to childhood experiences and their flight/fight response is the norm for them to exist in regardless of whether they are experiencing acute trauma or not. It has become a chronic and detrimental to their overall health and well-being on the planet.


Signs that you are in a healthy state of ventral vagus nerve activation

  • You feel empowered

  • You feel happy and safe

  • You see the bigger picture

  • You see the world as your friend

  • You are sociable and engaged

  • You know when and how to rest

  • You have a healthy body - immune system, digestion etc

Signs that you are in sympathetic system activation (flight/fight)

  • You are overwhelmed

  • You feel anxious

  • You get irritated easily

  • You get frantic about things

  • You are nearly always on the go

  • You have digestive issues and inflammation in the body

  • You have compromised immunity

  • You suffer from insomnia

  • You get migraines

  • The world feels dangerous

  • Life is going against you

Signs that you are in dorsal vagal nerve activation

  • You feel alone

  • You get very low in mood

  • The world is a dark place to be

  • You feel numb and shut down

  • There seems no way out

If you want to improve your ventral vagus nerve function then check out my Self Soothing YouTube video. You can also apply for One to One sessions with me for further support here.


Recent Posts

See All