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Creating Safety for your PDA Nervous System

Pathological demand avoidance in adults can initially be confusing and challenging to navigate. One part of you wants to do that thing and another part of you says "no, you can't." You've got two combating control centers. The thing you want to do can be as simple as eating when your stomach is growling or brushing your teeth before bed.

In the Forbes article , Emerging Neurodivergent Identities by Nancy Doyle, Kristy Forbes explains PDA as "a powerful inherent protective factor for a person who requires extreme autonomy and is autodidactic by nature. Anything that compromises the autonomy of that person escalates their anxiety to an extreme state, causing them to appear to be grasping for phenomenal amounts of control over people, places, and things.The truth is, we're complying with a neurobiological response to compensate for the perceived loss of control."

Adults with PDA have a nervous system disability that probably began the moment you were born. Being on high alert much of your life is quite traumatizing. And, taming that trauma beast is not easy but possible.

Before looking at a few ways to calm yourself, let's consider what is happening inside of you during moments of anxiety. The amygdala initiates your body's fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response to real or perceived danger. It often stays activated after the danger has gone. When you are reliving these traumas, your brain and body does not process that the threat is not real. A PDAer has to be very intentional in showing the body and brain how to calm down and move out of the perceived danger zone.

A few ways to help yourself:

Yoga for Trauma

Practicing yoga has lead many to anxiety reduction and trauma recovery. Hannah Siri offers free Trauma Informed Yoga online, including "Seeking Safety / Ventral Vagus Nerve Stimulation." This is a 4-session series. As Hannah explains on her website, "your Ventral Vagus nerve is a piece of your nervous system that allow you to feel safe, at rest, and connect with others." Session one is about feeling safe in your body. Session two is about feeling at home in your body. Session three includes alternative nostril breathing and work on your neck, hips and glutes. Lastly, Session four focuses on loving your body while working on your thoracic spine and internal hip rotation.


You begin by counting to 5. Notice what is going on inside you. It may take a while to make sense of what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing in your body. Coaching can help you get in touch with these parts of you. Or, begin by using techniques found in The Neurodigent-Friendly Workbook of DBT Skills, In this workbook, trans, multiple neurodivergent and disabled author, Sonny Jane Wise, explains their feelings of alexithymia, in which they are "lacking an internal label maker for emotions (and) often have to rely on physical sensations to figure out what (they are) feeling." In the workbook, Sonny Jane give multiple ways to become more in touch with your emotions and feelings.

Let's look at an example: You become startled whenever someone nearby clears their throat. You look at them with some anger. What's your first thought? Maybe you want to get the heck out of there. Or you may think about going up to the person and yelling at them. How is your body responding? Do you feel your heart beating wildly in your chest? Shoulders, neck and jaw tighten? Breathing faster?

Your nervous system is quite stimulated. You are in survival response. You don't want to live in that hellacious feeling. Think back to the physical sensations. This to yourself: Jaw, please untighten. Throat, let's relax soon. Shoulders, come down out of my ears! Notice each sensation and ask it to relax.

Giving yourself options

Instead of "I've got to go back into that meeting right now," you can ask yourself whether you want to take some deep breaths and enjoy a few bites out of your apple first.

Or, ask yourself, what feels better, eating dinner in front of the television or at the dining table?

Or find out if your "control centers" would rather take a long bath or a quick shower tonight OR brush your teeth tonight or just rinse your mouth and do a really good job brushing in the morning. Or, Or, Or...options, options, options. The PDA control center is more agreeable to moving forward when you create a low demand environment of options.

We've given you and your PDA three options, yoga, counting and calming yourself, and low demand choices. If you've found other ways to do what you want to do, please share them!

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