Updated: Jun 6
Can you recall a time when you were in a heated discussion with a co-worker, boss, roommate, or partner and your emotions got the best of you? Once everyone has parted ways you play the scene again in your head and think of the things you could have said or done to come out on top. Another example is forgetting everything you studied for a test or being speechless during a big presentation. Unfortunately, at the time, you may have been unregulated because of your stress response.
Self-regulation is our ability to be intentional in our thoughts, behaviors, and action and take corrective action so we don’t encounter that experience again. Poor regulation is when we lack self-awareness or impulse control, or our behavior doesn’t align with our values. Mental illness can also play a part in not being able to self-regulate.
In simple terms, the human brain has evolved. Our early brain, often referred to as our lizard brain, was designed to keep us alive. It regulates our body temperature, heart rate, and our 5 senses, and ties the current experience to a previous experience to determine how to react. This part of the brain also activates our flight, fight, freeze, fawn, and response. The lizard brain serves a purpose when we feel like we are being attacked or standing in harm's way. I will delve into this in my upcoming trauma series
Our new brain, the cortex, gets overwhelmed during these stressful times. The cortex is responsible for thinking, logic, time, and creativity. Once we start to become regulated and feel safe, this part of the brain turns back on. This is why you come up with comments you wish you would have said during the heat of the moment.
So, how do we self-regulate?
- breathing techniques
- reframe the situation
- practice mindfulness
- set boundaries
- stress management
In what situations do you think self-regulation would be most important for you?