One of the most important concepts I’ve learned for both myself and for my kids is about self-regulation. Never heard of self-regulation before? It’s okay, neither had I until last year. It’s the ability to have some control or influence over your emotions.
When you’re not in control, that’s called dysregulation. We see dysregulated kids all the time – the tantrums in the grocery store, that time I had to carry my kid under my arm out of Heritage Park (!), when they can’t control their impulses and the things they say. Kids are prone for dysregulation, because they need to learn it from adults.
That’s where the challenge comes in – we’ve all seen dysregulated people, and we become dysregulated ourselves. Ever seen an episode of the Real Housewives? Or my new personal favourite, Below Deck? Ever seen Donald Trump’s Twitter feed? Those are prime examples of dysregulated individuals!
What about your own life? You’re probably not flipping tables or losing your shit on Twitter. But maybe you yell at your kids, or you say something you regret to your co-worker, or you flip out at your loved on. Maybe you find yourself unable to manage your anxiety and the emotions that come with it – that is rife right now with COVID-19.
Dysregulation also swings the other way. Think of regulation as a pendulum and regulation is when you’re resting at the bottom. Dysregulation is high highs and low lows, it’s just that we tend to only associate dysregulation with the lows and not when we’re over excited and stimulated by the fun or thrilling.
Now, I often refer to regulation as a reset. You’re going back to regulated, to neutral, hitting the reset button.
Whenever you’re going through immensely stressful times (divorce, loss of a loved one, new job, illness, COVID, etc.) you’re likely to get dysregulated frequently throughout the course of a day. That’s why hitting reset (and knowing what works to reset you personally) is so important).
So let’s talk about 3 foundations.
The first one is an acronym called P.L.E.A.S.E.
PL – treat physical illness
E – Eat healthy foods
A – Avoid mood-altering drugs (drugs in general)
S – Sleep! If you need more resources on sleep check out these 10 tips to sleep better for adults
E – Exercise
This one really is the foundation. If one or multiple of these are out of sync, you’ll easily get dysregualted. As a mom of two, I can tell you that my maternity leaves were FULL of dysregulation, primarily because I was sleep deprived! Give me a full night of sleep and I feel like I can take on the world. And then we’ve all been hangry before, right? It makes it harder for us to control our emotions if we’re starving OR if we’re hyped up on sugar and caffeine. So these truly are foundations and they’d be my first stop if you’re needing to reset.
Ask yourself, am I hungry, am I tired, am I jittery and I need to move my body, or am I in pain? If the answer is yes, take some action to fulfill your basic needs in order to reset. It’s amazing what a nap, 10 minutes of movement or a bit of protein can do for your mood.
Resetting Challenging Thoughts
Have you ever been just living your life and then a particular thought or idea grabs hold of your monkey mind and just won’t let go? Like someone makes an offhand comment and it pushes you into disaster thinking? Psychologically it’s a survival thing – we’re looking at how to prevent disaster, so we over analyze. The problem is that we’re usually not trying to prevent physical disaster, but instead it’s like what does that colleague think about me, or is my spouse being a jerk and it means they don’t love me, or my kid said one horrible thing and it means I’m a horrible parent and they’ll be ruined forever and end up strung out on drugs in jail.
You get what I’m saying!
Here’s what to do in those moments. It’s called Notice – Shift – Rewire.
First you have to NOTICE that the thoughts are happening in the first place. Become aware and pick out the thought that is causing you to spiral.
Next we need you to SHIFT those thoughts. There are two ways to go about this. One you can shift to the present moment. You can do that by focusing in on a specific object, or activating your senses. Get outside for a quick second and close your eyes. Feel the sunlight through your eyelids. Listen to the sounds on the street. Feel the air on your face. Really ground into the present.
Another way to SHIFT those thoughts is to focus on what you are grateful for. I remember a trip I took with my kids last January. It felt like everything was going wrong. Talk about dysregulated. My son was losing his mind multiple times a day, tantrum after tantrum, and I was in tears a lot. After a few days of this, I finally said to myself, what would I say to a client as a coach (it’s a lot harder to coach yourself through these moments, so please recognize when I ask you to do these things, I know it’s not easy – I know all the things, and I still struggle in the moment to do them as well). So I said to myself, what are ten things I’m grateful for today. And I could always come up with ten things. And it would help shift my focus from the drama or the frustration into what I was not seeing while both my son and I were dysregulated.
Then you have to REWIRE. This part takes time and practice. Psychologist Donald Hebb is famous for having stated that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” So what that means is your default when stressed is to go into that spiral thinking. So instead, what we have to do is rewire that response.
What is a mantra or a thought pattern that instead serves you? So take 2020 for example. I hear a LOT of people talking about how 2020 is a write off. And I absolutely refuse to see it that way. 2020 has many challenges at bay, our intended direction has changed for sure, but it’s not a write off. I instead prefer to re-envision it and think of it as a challenge. If you want to hear more about how you can also re-envision and rewire 2020, listen to the end of the episode and I’ll share about the second round of a small group coaching program that will launch on April 19th. The first group sold out in three days, and it’s going really so far, so if you want to make 2020 count, listen to the end of the episode for more info.
Back to a thought pattern that serves you. What does that look like for you? Say you’re in the mind swell of feeling like COVID is the worst thing ever to have happened. Instead could you shift to, this is a challenge that I’m going to overcome and it’s going to make me one resilient mother trucker!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by parenting, can you shift into, this will teach me to be a more patient parent?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed in general, can you shift into the “I’m taking this one day at a time” mindset?
Or is there a quote that resonates with you? I’m hearing the following quotes a lot right now.
Ships are safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for.
And… we’re wired to do hard things.
Maybe one of those becomes your mindset or mantra that you rewire to. And how do you remind yourself to rewire? Find an anchor. Find something that is in your line of sight to constantly pull you back to that mantra.
One of the things that Brendan Burchard does is that every time he walks through a doorway, he says his mantra “bring the joy.” Can you use a doorway? Perhaps it’s every time you shower, or take the stairs or check your phone? Do you have a piece of jewelry that reminds you what you’re aiming for? Do you set a screensaver on your phone and computer with a reminder? Is there a post-it note in your line of sight that reminds you of your vision?
An anchor can help snap you back into the phrase you want to rewire your brain for, and with enough repetition, you’ll start to wire the neurons in your brain for this new default setting. It takes time and dedication, but this is a reset worth working on.
Finally, the value of your breath is immense. I know we’ve talked about this before, so if I sound like a broken record, excuse me, but when you’re stressed you’re breathing in your throat, very shallow. You need to direct more oxygen into your brain to the prefrontal cortex which is where critical thinking and problem solving happens.
To do that you need to do deep belly breaths. So set a timer for two minutes, heck even one minute will do, and take big inhales and exhales. It will make a world of a difference. Again, I have toddlers that tantrum, so you will frequently find me turning my back in the kitchen or hiding in the bathroom to take 1-2 minutes of deep breaths so that I can self-regulate before I say or do something that isn’t in my best interests as a parent.
Okay, so to sum up, resetting is critical to self-regulation. Remember the P.L.E.A.S.E. acronym to ensure your foundations are covered, then move into notice-shift-rewire, and finally make sure you’re breathing deeply so that you’ve got the ability to be more mindful in the moment.
How this shows up for you moment to moment, day to day will be different depending on what you need to reset, but these foundations will help keep you on track.
For more information on how to sign up for the Don’t Just Survive – Thrive Group Coaching program, email me firstname.lastname@example.org