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You don’t get to choose your nervous system state.

I recently received some feedback from a student…

"I felt successful with practicing preventative habits of ease assignments with Teresa’s cohort. However, mid-week I “flipped my lid” in a moment where I was triggered by my deepest values being challenged. I noticed my agitation, however, I could not access play or de-escalate to prevent bringing that energy into the interaction and got very confrontational in my moment of dysregulation. I did recover within the hour and addressed it directly with person whose words impacted me, but I am not proud of my broad range of emotions displayed and the energy I brought into the conversation because my message got lost. I know I should have a “go to” ease key practice, but I also might need to develop a regulation plan as an intervention strategy."

This was a great share and a good example of the power of practicing ease and comfort. We don't get to choose when our nervous systems, or our core values, will feel threatened. Emotions happen. The fact that this student could rebalance and regulate within the hour is an incredible accomplishment! Sometimes I have stewed in dysregulation for days…

I like to think of my nervous system as a cup of water, and sometimes "my cup runneth over" (or my cup boils over!). If I'm paying attention to my breathing, physical comfort, and self-care, then my cup is pretty empty. When my cup is empty, I react less strongly to perceived threats, and I have the space to breathe and catch myself before I "flip my lid."

This is because the majority of sensory information is coming from what is happening inside my body. If I have relaxed the majority of the internal sensory cues, the external sensory cues are not such a big deal. I like reminding myself that I have power over the majority of what discomforts me, because it comes from inside of me. I can raise or lower my internal temperature, so I'm farther away from my boiling point.

This is when I have my rose-colored glasses on; I am less likely to see external events as a threat because I am not actively scanning for threats. Then I can hear someone's off-hand comment as just words that don't make sense to me, as opposed to a personal attack.

When everything is going off track in my day, and I'm "hangry" (and maybe there's a worldwide pandemic happening), then my cup is too full to have balanced self-regulation. Now I have my "poop-colored" glasses on. My system is already primed to see everything around me as a threat, because it is already feeling threatened. I can't often choose what nervous system state I am in, but I can have awareness about it. I can acknowledge that I'm already upset in this moment, before I go into my meeting, or start my work day.

And maybe I can do one thing so my cup is 1% less full. This is where the Ease Keys are so helpful. Maybe I can wag my tail, or relax my jaw for 2 seconds. Or I could take one extra second to set my seat and have better posture before I click the link for the next Zoom meeting. This is when a "go-to" Ease Key, that has been practiced to become a muscle memory, is so vital to my self-regulation plan. It needs to become an automatic habit to activate comfort reflexes, to counteract the specific stress patterns my body goes into most readily.

Self-regulation doesn't mean I won't experience difficult emotions. Stress reflexes will become activated throughout my day. Self-regulation means I can make a choice to pause and become aware of my nervous system before I respond.

I hope this offers a different perspective on self-regulation during challenging situations. To learn more, consider attending one of our online courses.

~ Aubrey Remedy


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