So you are curious about the Safe and Sound Protocol but don't quite get it. What is playing through the headphones, and how exactly is it helping?
What's playing through the headphones is...songs! These are songs that you recognize and probably really like! The child version has a lot of Disney content, and the adult version has a lot of Motown. Not bad, right?
But it's not just an expensive Spotify playlist. This music has been adjusted. The frequencies match that of the human voice. The creators of the therapy chose songs that are popular and pleasing but that would not sound super strange with the lower frequencies removed. So that means it sounds kinda tinny with no bass. Maybe not your first choice for a relaxing hour; however, it's a whole lot better than sitting there listening to computer-generated beeps and boops.
Now, what's it doing?
Well, it's important to explain what happens in fight-flight. Imagine that you are an early human in a time and place when it was conceivable to die by tiger. You are built to perceive (or in the case of the nervous system, we can more accurately use the term "neurocept," since it's not actually conscious perception) any cue of danger in the environment. A cue of danger will start a biological process to keep you alive if indeed there is, say, a tiger approaching. This reaction happens in less than 100 milliseconds. You are probably familiar with some of these processes: a dumping of adrenaline into the bloodstream, increased breathing capacity, and an elevated heart rate.
What you might not know is that our hearing changes during the transition into fight-flight. We shut down the capacity to hear higher frequencies in order to expand the ability to hear lower frequencies like...? You guessed it: a tiger growl. (This is why it seems like kids aren't listening to loud, high-pitched admonishment. Because they aren't able to.)
When we are survivors of trauma or live with chronic stress (or experienced restricted movement as infants), we end up hanging out in fight-flight in a state of constant or near-constant activation and hypervigilance. Instead of neurocepting danger, going into fight-flight, getting somewhere safe, and discharging the fight-flight energy until we feel normal again, we stuff it down and hold onto it without completing the cycle of stress. This is commonly known as anxiety.
When hypervigiliance is in charge, guess what happens: we interpret the world as dangerous even if it's not. We actually see human faces and hear human voices as unsafe, further keeping us in this activated state and preventing us from using our resources of co-regulation in order to feel better.
Here is where the Safe and Sound Protocol comes in. When the lower frequencies of hearing are boosted by the fight-flight mechanism over time, the middle ear muscles become physically weak. So even if you do feel better and find relief through therapy or a change in life circumstances, the body is still primed for danger and finds it difficult to hear those calming, positive frequencies of the human voice. These higher frequencies and pitch fluctuations (prosody) inherent in the human voice are the building blocks of a healthy mammalian nervous system; they are our most profound cues of safety as humans.
The Safe and Sound Protocol's special frequencies physically tone the middle ear muscles in one hour a day for five days. At the end of the therapy, the ear can hear and receive the calming tones of the human voice. The auditory aspect of the fight-flight is turned off, sending the message to the entire nervous system that the body can finally rest.