As a nutritionist specialising in addiction and behaviour change, if I were to put on finger on one little thing everyone could do to get through their day better,"wholer" (feeling more whole and less torn apart), it would be practicing the art of "self regulation".
Self regulation is the fine art of tuning in and giving yourself a moment to regulate and unwind or de-stress. It's like pushing a reset button on your brain and noticing: "Hey, I'm alive, that was unpleasant, though I'm going to be ok, and once I take a moment to regroup I will be able to get myself through this."
It's common knowledge stress is at the centre of a lot of disease, discomfort or disillusionment, and most of us are acutely aware of a barrage or daily hassles and stressors that knock us off our path or get in the way of our best intentions.
There are many consequences to stress, physiologically and neurologically. There are cognitive, emotional, psychological, behavioural and relationship consequences associated with a stressed brain. Stress changes the way we interact with the world, see the world and ourselves and the way we make decisions.
Yet very few people create the time throughout their day to reset themselves after feeling stressed, and like a silent assassin it creeps up on us in the most disturbing way.
How do we self regulate?
Take a moment.
Now before you say "mindfulness", it is, and it isn't. While mindfulness is one way to calm yourself, for anyone who is truly in the throws of a stress melt down, they will not be able to go there easily without self regulating first.
1. Stop, take a deep breath in, count to 4, exhale for 6 and then check in.
2. Ask yourself "How am I feeling?" Then lable a feeling.
3. Acknowledge the feeling. "Yip, for who I am and what's going on right now, I can understand why I am having this feeling."
Why it works: When you are stressed, your limbic system (emotional centre of your brain and information filter) is flagging that you are under threat. We are emotional beings, that's the way we are wired, but when we feeling stressed or threatened and emotion is high, logic is low. When you are stressed or under a "limbic hijack" it makes it really difficult to access or use your pre-frontal cortex for decisions. You start thinking with a different part of your brain, instead, autopilot and quick decisions concerned with saving your life or trying to change how you feel (changing state) are the primary motive. The act of "labelling" sends attention and resources to your pre-frontal cortex, the "thinking reasonable rational" part of your brain best at making good decisions. This basically allows you to get perspective, and "think again".
Once you've taken a quick brain break, you have gained a moment to compose yourself and consider your next move or move on.
It's a good idea to practice "self regulation" often.
Stay tuned for more neuroscience tips...