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The Nervous System & The Home Environment

What is your home environment communicating to your nervous system?

Brief Overview: The Nervous System at Work

As human beings, we depend on our nervous system for cues of safety. Your nervous system is the main regulatory, monitoring, and communicating system in your body. Through its receptors, which are connected to the central nervous system and function as devices to receive and release signals to facilitate communication between the brain and different parts of the body, our nervous system remains connected with our environment, both internal and external. Although there are various types of receptors throughout our body, our sensory receptors are primarily responsible for responding to different stimuli in our environment. A stimulus is any agent, event, or situation, both internal or external, that elicits a response from an organism (American Psychological Association, 2023).

When stimuli activate sensory receptors, our sensory receptors create electrical signals that carry information about the stimulus to be processed by the nervous system and then transmitted to the brain, two processes known as reception and transduction. These signals to the brain can produce sensations, thoughts, and activate memory and motor functions. At this stage, the process that begins to operate is our interpretation of the sensory signals which can function at a conscious level (perception) or at an unconscious level (neuroception).

“Our brain’s ability to sense and interpret signals from the environment is essential in controlling how our bodies and emotions react and shape our overall feelings of safety and well-being.” – Dr. Stephen Porges

Our interpretation of sensory signals can trigger physiological responses that prepare the body for action. If interpreted as safe, our parasympathetic nervous system operates to make us feel calm and connected. If interpreted as unsafe, our sympathetic nervous system activates the fight-or-flight or freeze response in order to defend from potential danger or dissociate from one’s overwhelming thoughts or feelings.

Neuroception, Trauma, and the Home Environment

As stated above, neuroception is an automatic process within our nervous system that allows us to interpret or evaluate sensory signals without awareness. For individuals who have experienced trauma, neuroception can become altered or dysregulated. Trauma disrupts safety by shifting the traumatized individual’s autonomic nervous system into a state of defense. This piece of information is important to be aware of and understand particularly when looking to create a supportive home environment. Individuals who have experienced trauma can develop heightened sensitivity which can lead to hypervigilance and heightened responses to perceived danger.

For individuals with heightened sensitivity, it can become difficulty to relax and feel safe. For this reason, it is important to understand which design elements to incorporate that foster a sense of tranquility, predictability, and safety in order help restore and heal one’s nervous system. If one continues to incorporate environmental elements that activate defense responses, our home environment may never feel safe for our nervous system. However, if there is congruence between our nervous system and our  home environment it will help cultivate a neuroception of safety.

-Marialejandra Gutierrez

disclaimer: This blog post does not replace therapy. This is an educational resource.


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