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131. COVID-19 Anxiety, Cultivating Safeness, and Polyvagal Theory with Stephen Porges

Stress and anxiety levels are high right now due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In this episode, Dr. Stephen Porges offers us a model of our physiology of threat and strategies to boost feelings of safeness, especially with COVID-19 anxiety. Through the lens of Polyvagal theory, Dr. Porges and Diana explore what it means to be human in the face of infectious disease, trauma, and global uncertainty.

“To be able to be supportive to those who are around us if they’re feeling anxious or uncomfortable, we can’t just say to them, ‘forget it, it’s not important.’ Polyvagal Theory says our goal, our responsibility, is to support those around us so that they feel safer.”

Dr. Stephen Porges

Listen and Learn:

  • How Debbie and Diana are responding to current their own COVID-19 anxiety.
  • What “prosocial distancing” is, and how you can participate.
  • Debbie and Diana’s tips for refocusing on values, improving mental health, and maintaining social connection.
  • How the Vagus Nerve regulates our response to stress.
  • The heart-face connection and its role in feeling safe.
  • Why your eyes and voice matter in co-regulating others. 
  • How the Polyvagal Theory informs our current understanding of trauma and treatment.
  • The benefits of chanting, singing, and breathing together!
Photo of Dr. Stephen Porges
Stephen Porges

About Dr. Stephen Porges

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium. He is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland.  He served as president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award. He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across several disciplines including anesthesiology, biomedical engineering, critical care medicine, ergonomics, exercise physiology, gerontology, neurology, neuroscience, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, psychology, psychometrics, space medicine, and substance abuse. In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of the physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders. He is the author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton, 2011), The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, (Norton, 2017) and co-editor of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton, 2018).  He is the creator of a music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol ™, which currently is used by more than 1400 therapists to improve spontaneous social engagement, to reduce hearing sensitivities, and to improve language processing, state regulation, and spontaneous social engagement.

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2 comments
  • Hi Diana,
    Great interview! I use the Polyvagal Framework, HRV & ACT to retune my patients’ (integrated) nervous system with much success. I’ve been using ACT & Mindfulness Meditation for a while, but it wasn’t until I started teaching patients about Polyvagal (Polyvagal-Informed) that the “shame” of chronic pain—it enhanced my ACT outcomes. Thanks, again, for a great podcast.

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Episode 131