Thursday, December 6, 2012

Self-Regulate? Yes, You Can! Continued.....

What did you learn over the past week?!  Did you try some self-regulation techniques? Last week I wrote  about ways to regulate the mind and body, adjusting to internal and external stimuli with awareness and skill.  Self-regulation is being aware of the nervous system, thoughts, and physical reactions enough that you can make adjustments and take some control.  It is knowing what triggers reactions in the mind and body enough to control the reactions, cope with them, and/or turn them up or down.  Whatever reaction is triggered in your body or mind, you are aware and ready with a skill or tool to react in response.

One topic covered in the last blog was meditation, which teaches us to control the mind.  It can be in many forms, so don't assume you know what meditation is until you start trying all the variety of forms.  Another topic from last time was breathing.  Breathing is an involuntary physical function that we have some voluntary control over.  So, it is especially powerful in helping us to control our physical reactions.  Learning to control the relaxation response can involve the breath and other techniques as well and teaches us to shut down stress reactions.

This week, let's move on to other techniques with the exact same goal in mind.  Grounding techniques are great self-regulators.  These are strategies we use to detach from the mind and the physical reactions we are having.  Once the detachment is created, there is a clarity and a relief that then allows for better coping mechanisms to be used.  It can be done anytime, any place, anywhere.  It is very "present moment" which is similar in that way to mindfulness (discussed in the last blog).  It is also similar to relaxation in the response the body often has.

Grounding can be physical or mental.  Some mental grounding techniques are to look around the space you are in and describe.  Describe the shapes, the colors, the smells, etc.  You can also play a categories game similar to the car game some families play on long trips.  Think of a song for each letter of the alphabet.  Come up with a list of every car you can think of or food or TV show.  Think of some mundane activity you do and walk yourself through a step by step process of that activity.  Create a safe and present moment state:  I am _____.  I am here at ______.  Sitting on the _______.  The date is ________.   And, go on until all the details of the present moment are covered and you feel better.  Read something backwards - there's no meaning, no interpretation, just an activity to focus on and get the mind busy elsewhere.  Count or say the alphabet, slowly, or backwards.  Create a mantra or affirmation and repeat it to yourself over and over.

Physical grounding brings the body into awareness.  Run water over your hands or take a shower or bath and just be aware of the feel of water on the skin.  Squeeze something - a squishy ball or the arms of the chair and feel the tension, then let it go.  Press you feet firmly into the floor and feel a connection to the ground.  Rub a stone or soft fabric.  Jump up and down!  Do some yoga.  Walk mindfully, noticing each and every step.  Once you are focused on the physical sensation, your awareness on the body allows you to change and control the reaction the body is having.

While a walk or yoga practice can be used as a grounding technique when needed, they, and other exercise, can be powerful self-regulators.  30 or more minutes of exercise 3-5 days a week alleviates anxiety and stress, helps with depression symptoms, and creates a physical awareness and sense of well-being that can aid in self-regulation tremendously.  See the "Let's Get Physical" blog.

Begin to think about yourself as that furnace or faucet and regulate the temperature throughout the day.  Take the techniques from previous blogs and insert them into your daily life.  Make some techniques something you do every day, no matter what you feel.  The routine is like maintenance.  You are keeping the system in good running condition with a regular routine.  Make some techniques the ones you use when needed.  These are the quick and easy grounding or breathing techniques typically.  Make them a habit.  Every time I feel stress, I take 5 long, slow breaths, for example.  Finally, make some techniques what you use after the fact.  Let's face it, sometimes life is hard and stressful.  We get through it and use a self-regulator to help move the mind and the body moving forward.  Some of techniques might work for more than one, some might overlap.  Try to have 5 or more go-to self-regulators, gradually building your skills and your routines to include the most effective techniques until it is a habit.  Your awareness grows, your coping improves, and your daily life becomes do-able, easy even until you realize that you are happy and joyful most of the time on most days!

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