VIDEO: Accessing Self-Compassion in a Pandemic

What Polyvagal Theory Can Teach Us about Navigating Tough Times

At its most basic level, human communication is one nervous system responding to another, searching for signals that it’s safe to connect and flooding us with distress responses when it’s not.

Right now, with many families and partners needing to quarantine together, good communication, self-regulation, and self-compassion are a lot trickier to harness. When you’re quarreling with a cohabitating partner, parent, or sibling, what can you do to help yourself calm down, then begin the repair process?

According to therapist Deb Dana, Polyvagal Theory teaches us that the solution lies in good planning. Here, she breaks down what the science says about managing clashes with our loved ones and reclaiming self-compassion, and discusses the importance of creating a guide to help us see these tough times through.

The polyvagal perspective, Dana writes in her Networker article, can inform and deepen any clinical approach. “I think of it as a kind of moment-to-moment awareness of the ongoing biological reactions of self and others that deeply influence the quality of the therapist–client relationship—and ultimately, a client’s fundamental sense of safety in the world,” she explains. “It’s an element of mindfulness; ideally, it’s a tool for healing.”

Deb Dana

Deb Dana, LCSW is a clinician and consultant specializing in working with complex trauma. She’s a consultant to the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium in the Kinsey Institute and clinical advisor to Khiron Clinics. She developed the Rhythm of Regulation Clinical Training Series and lectures internationally on ways Polyvagal Theory informs work with trauma survivors. Deb is the author of The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation, Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 Client-Centered Practices, co-editor with Stephen Porges of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies, and creator of the Polyvagal Flip Chart.


Zachary Taylor

Zach Taylor, MA, LPC, is the Director of Psychotherapy Networker. He oversees the award-winning magazine—frequently interviewing the field’s top experts—and stepped up to be among the hosts of the annual Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, which is the largest and longest running annual gathering of psychotherapists in the world. In addition, he manages CE trainings and programs for PESI, Inc., Networker’s parent company. Prior to joining Psychotherapy Networker, he spent 10 years in practice specializing in anxiety and panic disorders. His mission is to support psychotherapy professionals and develop future trainers and trainings to improve outcomes for their clients. He currently lives in Eau Claire, WI.