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  • Fairlie Winship

Self regulation and your Brain

When we experience uncomfortable feelings frequently, intensely, or in a long-lasting way, they can become overwhelming and can even result in ‘over reactions’ or outbursts. This applies to us all to a greater or lesser extent though it can feel intensified for those who are neurodiverse or highly sensitive.

The struggle to self-soothe and calm down to ‘get over’ things can be huge and cause further suffering. This is the capacity to self regulate. In order to better understand this it is worth taking a look at what happens in our brain in such moments, and breaking down this brain information into simple and manageable terms. When we are upset in some way, our emotional brain will always overpower our problem solving brain: it is as though the emotion takes over all thinking and determines what happens next, causing us to become impossible to reason with or to activate our usual logical thinking or problem solving skills. Maybe we lash out, maybe we disengage, or maybe we really, really try but we just feel numb? Its useful to pause and think about your own pattern of response to this situation, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed by emotion?

The ability to self soothe in order to regulate our emotional brain and bring our problem solving brain back online is a wonderful skill, and one which takes some self awareness to develop. There are many ways to self soothe, and again its worth considering what works for you? The more awareness that you bring to this process the more accessible your self regulation becomes. Below are a few ideas, though there are of course many, many more, and the better you know what works for you, the more effective you will become at self regulating, so I would invite you to take a few moments to deeply consider this for yourself.

1.Replacing the emotion: When we focus on future-oriented prosocial emotions, we amplify and strengthen the qualities we need to more easily self regulate. We are not asking to shut down the uncomfortable emotions that have momentarily overpowered us, we are rather swamping them in more comfortable emotions that help to counterbalance them and find connection again; emotions that help to build persistence, cooperation, and empathy: Gratitude, pride, and compassion.

2.Brain gym: a multitude of great exercises that can be done using both sides of the body to build communication between the 2 hemispheres of the brain. (I will do another blog on this soon!)

3.Get moving: shifting your focus from the internal to the external by getting active and moving your body

4.Grounding: using your senses to engage with the outside world, feeling the ground below your feet, the air as you breathe in and the oxygen flowing into your body, the colours and the sounds as you take in the environment around you

5.Distraction: drinking a glass of water, watching TV, talking to a friend, imagining your happiest place, reading a book

There are many more ways to self soothe and bring our problem solving brain back online. Can you take a few moments now to consider what these are for you? And if you would like to expand your self soothing repertoire, perhaps try one of these other ideas and see how it feels.

Remember, playful curiosity is your friend!

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