Feeling crappy today? Here’s how to cope
How to ‘self-regulate’
With mental health awareness week, and as we start to release from lockdown, now is a good time to start to learn coping skills. ‘Self-regulation’ is all about the ability to manage how you feel, having a toolbox of skills. Luckily, this is something that can be learned.
These are some techniques that people use to regulate how they feel:
- Mindfulness is probably the better known. Mindfulness is a pause, or time out, during which you simply observe your experience in some way. The easiest way to start, is by focussing on your breath. Often doing this will calm the nervous system down from an activated emotional state. The brain waves literally change here. The more you practice this, the less reactive you will be in everyday life. The good news is that you can access tons of meditations on all different subjects, from 1 minute to very long, for free online.
The following are 2 techniques I use for insomnia:
2. Just as a baby would try to keep itself awake, try keeping your eyes open, and then letting them close. First let your eyes close just a little. Then, open your eyes fully. Then, close your eyes a quarter way. After this, open your eyes. Repeat, gradually increasing the amount you close your eyes, until your eyes close fully, before opening your eyes again. This way of behaving like a baby, may fool your brain into tiredness.
3. Imagine you are receiving a safe full-body massage. Start at your toes and imagine every little detail, and how it would relax you.
4. Breathing. The breath is remarkable. It affects every single system in our bodies, from the physical to the emotional. Most of us are shallow breathing in our upper chests. We’re not supposed to be doing that; that is supposed to be reserved for fight or flight. But we’re often stuck there. Being able to breathe into the rest of your torso is where the relaxation and satisfaction is. You can try humming through your out breath, or speaking more slowly, extending the time it takes to say words. This can be very calming.
5. Creative expression, doing things with your hands, physical movement, listening to music, reading or learning poetry, or being in nature, are all other ways to self-regulate.
6. Attending to a healthy lifestyle is another way to regulate yourself. I’m not just talking about exercise and food. Making sure you have pleasures in your life, that you attend to your relationships and social life, and that you do things to feed your soul or higher self, are also self-regulatory.
7. Have something or someone else to care for, esp if your kids have left home, or you live alone. This can be anything from another person to a Plant. It might sound odd, but I took great pleasure from growing kefir in the first days of social isolation. Not having kids myself, I got a great deal of satisfaction from nurturing any form of life.
8. You can also refocus and evoke a state of mind from a place, person or thing that makes you feel good or safe. Take time to remember the details, especially how it makes you feel.
These are techniques you can put in your toolbox and try, when you recognise feeling in a sensitive or depressed state. The following is a little deeper, and more about addressing the root of the tension.
Bessel van der Kolk said,
“You can fully be in charge of your life, only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions”
Getting in touch with our instincts, drives and needs leads us to treat ourselves with more care, and to experience more satisfaction. It’s the source of inner resource and strength.
- Become aware of your senses. Rather than trying to ignore the stress or discomfort you’re feeling, acknowledge it in your body. Be interested in where it actually is and what it feels like physiologically. Sometimes just staying with a feeling or naming it calms the nervous system and helps it to shift. It is often the fear of the feeling, rather than the feeling itself, that is the difficulty.
- Understanding and bringing compassion to what a feeling wants and meeting that, is next. Your feelings always have a message. Uncomfortable feelings like frustration, irritation, upset, hurt, worry and shame are always pointing to what we care about in life. But also to what needs compassion, and possibly deep healing.
- It sounds counterintuitive, but try to ‘support your defence’. So, if you feel resistant to something (for example, if you want to avoid practising mindfulness) you might need to honour, give full permission to, and understand your block, before you can remove it.
- Often this will be enough to relieve tension. But there are other things you can try, if the tension persists. Exaggeration is one thing you can do to help you shift perspective. Try exaggerating a feeling or state that causes you discomfort. Often this can lead to smiles and laughter. Another thing you can try is redirecting the energy into something that is meaningful to you.
But whichever of the techniques you try, self-regulation is really all about self-acceptance. You will come up with your own coping strategies the more you allow your compassion for who you are, how you feel and what you need. The idea here is that you explore, rather than fix. Because, there is nothing wrong with you.