How to Practice Self-Regulation in the Here-and-Now
At Counselling Twickenham you can learn how to take the steps towards self-regulating emotion states and physical sensations by carrying out experiments for outside therapy ('homework'). It is very important to go through this process of collaborating with me as your counsellor, developing your own techniques and owning the practice that you will develop after you leave counselling. This makes for an independent and versatile client who can learn self-awareness and continue the long-term practices learned in counselling in a sustainable way. I use a step-by-step approach to self-regulation. You can do this by building on the last article from the previous page. You need to also be aware that the brain and body are integrated within the same living organism that is you. Everything that you sense or feel in the body is perceived by the brain, which feeds into your psychology. Psychology and physiology are therefore interdependent. Much of the practice involved taking care of internal states, emotions and physical sensations. Not just psychological states.
Pausing – consciously try to pause in the here-and-now before you react. And during the pause you may choose to:
- (i) take a step back from the situation that confronts you in the present moment
- (ii) take a breath or two to send a signal to your brain you are not about to panic
Noticing – become more consciously aware of your feelings, physical sensations and fantasies by noticing as they occur in the moment:
- (i) notice the monitor the flow of sensations and feeling states in your body. For example, your heart rate, breathing, body temperature, irritation, muscle tremors, perspiration, dry mouth, levels of tension or relaxation etc.
- (ii) notice the levels of intensity in your emotions, as they ebb and flow. This means being as observant and objective as possible, without trying to judge them as negative or positive experiences
Identifying Triggers & Patterns – there are sensations and stimuli that act as triggers to certain psychological and physiological responses:
- (i )identify the internal triggers (stimuli) - which set off your triggers and the quality of those physical sensations as you are experiencing in the present moment. Other internal stimuli might be negative thoughts of the past, daydreams, and catastrophizing fantasies about the future
- (ii) identify the external triggers (stimuli) - in your environment which set off your triggers and the quality of those external sensations as you are experiencing them in the present moment e.g. shouting, aggressive interactions, work levels and deadlines, loneliness and isolation
- (iii) identify the patterns of these triggers – i.e. what types of internal/external stimuli are more likely to set off particular emotions. For example, loud shouting usually causes pain, sensitivity & high anxiety, or sitting for long periods looking at a computer screen causes tension, stiffness, restlessness and frustration. This helps us to become more self-aware, more accepting or tolerant of our emotional states and to stop unhelpful behaviour, while keeping calmer under pressure.
Taking Action – we may then decide which actions to take that will alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, addiction and trauma or even panic attacks.
- (i) mindfulness of breathing– calmness and relaxation, deactivating ‘fight and flight’
- (ii) sensory/motor movement- stretching muscles, aerobic exercising, walking, swimming, rehydrating, massaging, resting etc. Identify which part or region of the body needs to be attended to and take appropriate action to relieve the stressed area
- (iii) channelling– redirecting certain emotions into other aspects of your experience – using the energy of intense anger and frustration as a way of speaking up for yourself, putting in a boundary, saying no to other people’s demands, being more competitive in sport, completing a project
- (iv) production not consumption– it is very important to believe we can carry out a service or make a product/object which is of use to ourselves and others. This is a way of providing us with a sense of purpose and self-sufficiency, so we are not continually reliant on consuming more and more things which do not seem to fill the void in our lives. Making and producing things – cooking, baking, gardening, carpentry, making models, sewing, ceramic – gives us a sense of completion, reward and fulfilment
- (v) creating– practising a very basic form of creativity like drawing, painting, craft etc. allows us to use the part of our brains concerned with inspiring a sense of wonder, awe and mystery in our lives. This kind of practice allows us to focus on our five senses rather than negative anxious thinking
- (vi) contributing– try to contribute to a team, sport or voluntary service like the scouts where you can feel like a productive member of a team, earn a sense of belonging, create a new identity and feel like you have contributed to the lives of others in some way
This practice of self-regulating sensations and emotional states is also used at Counselling Twickenham, as a way of helping you gain self-awareness and a sustainable solution to anxiety, stress, depression and conflicted relationships.