How is your self regulation these days? So many parents (and children) are really struggling to stay calm in the chaos that is life these days. We are all having a difficult time in one way or another because we are experiencing long term toxic stress. It isn’t meant to be this way - together all of the time, mostly in our homes. The feelings of powerlessness create so much anxiety and fear. When we are feeling powerless and fearful, it’s so much harder to access your prefrontal cortex where you have all of your coping skills and tools stored. Most of you reading this have read parenting books, articles, taken workshops, done coaching, and practiced successfully how to regulate your own emotions. You have those tools - it is just difficult to access them when you are triggered.
Our emotional backpacks are all so full these days. Picture in your mind’s eye you’re wearing an imaginary backpack. Got it? Alright, now everything you’re struggling with, feeling, and on your mind is dumped into that emotional backpack. For most of us, it feels impossible to really process all of our feelings these days and we are full of uncertainty. I’m hearing a lot of parents tell me they are ruminating on questions no one has the answers to these days (yet) and those questions weigh down our backpack. We are all weary and carrying a heavy load. Your children are too.
To improve our self-regulation, we have to do some work on ourselves when we aren’t triggered. Preventative maintenance is key - for all of us. The same way that Special Time and roughhousing improve and solidify connection with our children decreasing challenges and increasing cooperation works for us. We have to practice our own preventative maintenance which can be different for everyone although many things are proven by science to help everyone - even those of us who are suspicious and like to exclaim, “I tried that and it didn’t work for ME!” We have to address our overflowing emotional backpacks if we are going to be able to really show up for our children. Let’s talk about ways to empty them!
If you attend or have ever attended my Free Weekly Virtual Support Group on Tuesday nights, this first suggestion won’t be a surprise. Every week before the group ends, I tell everyone, “GO TO BED!” We end around 9 p.m. which is a totally appropriate time to go to sleep. Most parents are staying up far too late in normal times because we want and need that time alone. I get that. I was binging another BBC show this last week and my sleep (and self regulation) suffered. But I caught myself after two nights and got back on track. You can too. Sleep is essential for our ability to stop, drop our agendas and breathe.
Meditate. I know. I know. You can’t do it. Your mind is too busy. You can’t find any quiet. I hear all of this. Many people have found it helpful when I remind them the goal is not to have a quiet mind and even people who have practiced meditation for thirty years don’t have a quiet mind when they sit and breathe. The goal is to notice - to be mindful. Oh there’s my mind again. Back to the breath. You can start with two minutes of sitting and breathing once a day. There are guided meditations galore available as well - many free!
Laugh. I know these days are filled with so much difficulty, stress, and loss. We are all grieving. We are without so much and it’s all true. Our isolation, our feelings about being stuck together, not knowing when things will change, our fears they will never change, missing our “regular” lives. Yet, when we can find a way and reason to laugh, we reduce our cortisol levels, the stress hormone, and when we laugh with someone else, we both get an oxytocin burst, the bonding hormone. Laugh with your kids by roughhousing, being silly, doing a dance party, and trying out one of the many silly games I suggest. Email me for tips. Laugh by yourself and your partner by watching funny movies or shows, stand-up comedy specials, or one of the many compilations of hilarious tweets people collect on the internet.
Get outside and move your body. Just going for a ten minute walk every day can make your feel better and reduce stress. I bought a bicycle towards the beginning of the pandemic and was reminded by how much I love riding bikes because of that feeling of freedom as I go flying down a hill with the wind on my face. Where is your happy place outside?
Lastly, and this may be the most important for many of us, find silence. The sensory input these days is off the charts. If you are working from home and your children are doing distance learning, there’s just so much noise. It just is. It feels impossible to be able to stay on top of everything (it is impossible - what will you let go of for today?) and finding a moment of peace is hard-won. You have to be intentional and create that silence. Many of my clients are sitting in their cars in their driveways alone. Some are sending their families out for a walk while they stay home on their own with no noise. How will you cultivate some silence for yourself?
There are five very do-able ways to improve your self regulation right now. Which will you choose to do this week? I would love for you to tell me. Reach out. You are not alone. Promise.