Understanding Reactions to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Understanding Reactions to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from the Polyvagal Theory and the Oxytocin Hypothesis

With Stephen W. Porges, PhD and Sue Carter, PhD

Recorded Saturday 18 July 2020

The spread of the SARSCov2 virus presents an unprecedented event that rapidly introduced widespread life threat, economic de-stabilization, and social isolation. The human nervous system is tuned to detect safety and danger, integrating body and brain responses via the autonomic nervous system. Polyvagal Theory provides a perspective to understand the impact of the pandemic on mental and physical health.

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FULL PROGRAMME

Stephen Porges
The COVID-19 Pandemic is a Paradoxical Challenge to Our Nervous System: A Polyvagal Perspective
In this time of deep disruptions to daily life we are confronted with challenges that are foreign to our neurobiological programs of behaviors and feelings. For us to comply with the requirements for social distancing and adhering to stay-at-home orders, we have to acknowledge and constrain the powerful bio-behavior pull of our essential need for human connection. While we want to anchor in an autonomic state of calmness and social engagement, our nervous system may be challenged by the Covid-19 crisis and not comply with our benevolent intentions to connect, support, and be present with others. Instead, the pervasiveness of the crisis dominants our awareness and triggers our nervous system into states of defense that may oscillate between a mobilized physiology consistent our hypervigilance and dissociative withdrawal and malaise. Polyvagal Theory informs us of the adaptive function of these shifts in autonomic state and the emergent emotional feelings that accompany these physiological changes. Although we may want to co-regulate with others, social distancing and isolation prevent us from adhering to our instinctive drive to calm through safe proximal relationships. During this crisis, our physiological state, our emotion, and our nervous system may not be contained by our benevolent intentions and we may be mobilized into sympathetic states leading to fight and flight behaviors, anger and anxiety, or dorsal vagal states leading to despair, disconnection, and collapse. Stephen Porges will discuss how our body reacts to both the threat of infection and the loss of social support. The consequences of these reactions on mental and physical health will be discussed. Methods will be suggested to mitigate the pandemic triggered destabilization of the nervous system that are manifest in behavioral, emotional, and neurophysiological systems.

Discussion

Sue Carter
Oxytocin and Human Evolution: Part 1
The Role of Oxytocin in Birth, Social Attachment and Affective Relationships and Overcoming Fear and Trauma

Oxytocin pathways, which include the neuropeptide oxytocin, the related peptide vasopressin, and their receptors, are at the center of physiological and genetic systems that permitted the evolution of the human nervous system and allowed the expression of contemporary human sociality. In general, oxytocin acts to allow the high levels of social sensitivity and attunement necessary for human sociality and for rearing a human child. Under optimal conditions oxytocin may create an emotional sense of safety. This session will explain how oxytocin dynamically moderates the autonomic nervous system and effects of oxytocin on vagal pathways, as well as the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of this peptide, and help to explain the pervasive adaptive consequences of love, trust, and social behavior for emotional and physical health.

Discussion

Stephen Porges
The Emergence of Polyvagal Informed Technologies and Therapies
This presentation will focus on how Polyvagal Theory provides a plausible model to explain how and why intonation of voice and vocal music can support mental and physical health and enhance function during compromised states associated with illness, chronic stress, and trauma. From a clinical perspective this session will emphasize the importance of our face, voice, and heart in negotiating states that enable trust and intimacy. A Polyvagal Informed therapy, the Safe and Sound Protocol™ will be described, which is targeted at improving auditory processing and reducing hypersensitivity to sounds by “exercising” the neural regulation of the middle ear muscles and improving the regulation of autonomic state via the Social Engagement System.

Discussion

Sue Carter
Oxytocin and Human Evolution: Part 2
How Do Love and Fear Tune the Oxytocin System – Helping the Mammalian Body to Manage Stress and Trauma?
Oxytocin pathways, which include the neuropeptide oxytocin, the related peptide vasopressin, and their receptors, are at the center of physiological and genetic systems that permitted the evolution of the human nervous system and allowed the expression of contemporary human sociality. In general, oxytocin acts to allow the high levels of social sensitivity and attunement necessary for human sociality and for rearing a human child. Under optimal conditions oxytocin may create an emotional sense of safety. This session will explain how oxytocin dynamically moderates the autonomic nervous system and effects of oxytocin on vagal pathways, as well as the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of this peptide, and help to explain the pervasive adaptive consequences of love, trust, and social behavior for emotional and physical health.
Part II will provide an opportunity to discuss the dependence of autonomic regulation on oxytocin in the establishment of social bonds and in the regulation of stress responses in social contexts and focus on how oxytocin and vasopressin act as “neuromodulators” within the theoretical context of the Polyvagal Theory.

Discussion – Q&A

End

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SCHEDULE

Stephen Porges
The COVID-19 Pandemic is a Paradoxical
Discussion

Sue Carter
Oxytocin and Human Evolution: Part 1
The Role of Oxytocin in Birth, Social Attachment and Affective Relationships and Overcoming Fear and Trauma

Discussion

Stephen Porges
The Emergence of Polyvagal Informed Technologies and Therapies

Discussion

Sue Carter
Oxytocin and Human Evolution: Part 2

Discussion – Q&A

End