Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning

Self-Regulation and Your Brain: How to Bounce Back Towards Resiliency

April 11, 2020

Welcome to EPISODE #53 “Self-Regulation and Your Brain: Strategies to Bounce Back Towards Resilience.” During these strange and different times that we are all living these days, we need to have strategies that we are using on a daily basis to navigate through these challenging times, where we are all feeling the pressure, so we can stay focused on regulating ourselves first, and then in turn,  help others around us to stay regulated. You might have had strategies in place before the corona virus pandemic changed our world, but might be noticing that as each day passes, and we recognize more and more stressors and unpredictability facing us, that our baseline is changing, and our resilience levels are not the same.  Since we all have a brain, we will all be experiencing this in some way and I’m sure that like me, you will find this information helpful to build your own resilience levels back up to where we are used to having them, so we can resume our day to day life with a feeling of accomplishment, instead of letting the pressures get the best of us.

But First, what is Self-Regulation and Why is it So Important?

I do recommend going back to EPSIODE 14[i] where we covered self-regulation (one the 6 social and emotional learning competencies that we launched this podcast with) as “the foundational learning skill for future success.” This episode covers self-regulation strategies to help our children as well as for ourselves in the workplace. Just a quick review.

Self-regulation is “the ability to manage your emotions and behavior in accordance with the demands of the situation. It includes being able to resist highly emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, to calm yourself down when you get upset, adjust to a change in expectations and (the ability) to handle frustration”[ii] In other words, it’s the ability to bounce back after a setback or disappointment, and the ability to stay in congruence with your inner value system.  These days, this skill takes practice from all of us, and is one of those crucial life skills that I thought was important to cover on a deeper level.

The ability to control one's behavior, emotions, and thoughts is an integral skill to be taught to young children as well, so they can form and maintain healthy relationships and connections later in life.[iii] As an adult, self-regulation is crucial to develop as we all know that life is full of ups and downs (and it seems like more so these days than usual) but we must be able to make our way through challenging situations before we can reach any level of achievement and success. It’s these challenging times that give us our future strength. We all know people who seem to bounce back after adversity. A calm, regulated leader can make others feel safer but it’s not by chance –it’s because they have learned how to self-regulate and intentionally get themselves back on course. This is a learned skill and if we are modeling and teaching this skill well, it will strengthen our students/children/workplace organizations, communities, culture and world, putting us all on the pathway of resilience where we can handle challenge and adversity. 

What does self-regulation look like in the brain? This episode will dive deeper into what’s actually happening in our brain when we become dysregulated, so we can learn how to recognize when we are in this place, and get ourselves back to a regulated, calm state. 

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Image: Dr. Bruce Perry's Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series” VIDEO 3 on Emotion Contagion https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

If you have listened to the last episode[iv], you will know that I have been learning from Dr. Bruce Perry (who is an American psychiatrist and senior fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, Texas) and his online resources that he has created to help everyone (parents, educators, counselors) to navigate these challenging times with more understanding and he ties the brain into each topic that he covers. I’ve watched his Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series[v]” and have taken notes that have given me ideas to share on this podcast that we can all use right away. If you would like to learn more, please do visit his video series that I have included in the show notes (along with images to explain each concept) and have personally reached out to Dr. Perry to see if I could get him on this podcast in person, but this may take some time due to how busy he is right now doing his best to educate those in his close network (and I did see him working with Oprah yesterday) on best practices during these challenging times. Please do stay tuned, and in the meantime, I’ll share with you some concepts that I think are crucial for us to not just understand but be actively practicing on a day to day basis to keep our resilience buckets full.

When we are regulated, and calm, we will have access to the higher levels of thinking in our brain through our neocortex. We can think, make decisions, and carry out our day to day activities, and have learned strategies to help us to self-regulate when stressors come our way. If you have access to the show notes, you will see a diagram of an upside-down triangle showing that when we are regulated, we have access to our neocortex and can make well thought out decisions. What’s happening now is that so many new stressors are coming our way and hitting us in a manner that many of us are now on our way to dysregulation where we do not have access to our higher-level thinking but become more reactive. 

I noticed this happening to me when I was working with one my kids on their school work this week (not something new but the whole working from home AND home-schooling is now new for many of us) and my daughter wasn’t happy with the fact she now has to do this either, so she was slouched over, trying to answer her math problems, with a bit of an attitude and was not putting in much effort. This pushed my buttons and before I know it, I’m reacting, and we all need to take a break and breathe. I had to stop and think about something I have been thinking about all week after watching Dr. Perry’s video series, that “a regulated, calm adult can regulate a dysregulated, anxious child, BUT a dysregulated adult can NEVER regulate a dysregulated child”[vi] and had to make some changes. In order for any of us to find our way through these times, we need to stop the minute we notice we are heading towards dysregulation and take a break and return when we are calm. “When a young child is made to feel safer (without a parent yelling at them) they will have access to their thinking brain, but if they are nervous, they will feel the power differentiator and lose the ability to use the higher functions of their brain.”[vii]

This was my experience, but it’s also happening to parents all over the country, educators who are being asked to facilitate these new distance learning courses, front line workers in the health care industry who are now being pushed to their breaking points. Now more than ever we need to recognize when we are at the state of dysregulation and implement strategies to get us back to our baseline and build resiliency.

DID YOU KNOW?

“That when we are dealing with a dysregulated person, we can regulate them by the tone of our voice, how we listen to them, non-verbal signals and they will be able to reflect our calm?”[viii]

Now more than ever we need to find strategies to help us to stay calm, and keep our head, because emotions are contagious. We will never make inroads with our children unless we maintain our calm and we want to avoid where Dr. Perry warned us that “for years to come, there will be a vulnerability in the population and their offspring”[ix] if we don’t take control of our emotions in times of stress.

Tips to Stay Regulated, and Avoid the Traps of Dysregulation:

Once you can get yourself to a place that’s calm, by BYPASSING negativity, you can RELAX, REFUEL and REFLECT/THINK[x] where you will have access to your neocortex/thinking part of your brain. If you can build these steps into your daily routine, you will be filling up your resiliency cup and building strength that you can use for years to come.

  1. BYPASS: Negative media like the news and social media. I’m sure you have heard that watching the news is bad for your brain, but have you ever wondered why? It’s the same reason that hanging out with the wrong crowd affects your results. After a prolonged amount of time, you begin to think and act like those you are spending the most time with. The longer we watch the news, or scroll through social media, the more stress we are exposed to, disconnecting us more from our calm, regulated state. Turn it off and just read the headlines if you want to stay on top of what’s happening.
  2. REFLECT: Give yourself some quiet time to think. Take a 3-5-minute break where you step away from your work and take this time to let your mind wander. It’s during these times of rest that flashes of insight can come our way. We can solve problems in this time, generate new ideas and think deeply.

“We don’t learn from our experiences; we learn from reflecting on our experiences.

(John Dewey, 1933).

  1. RELAX: Meditation, music, deep breathing, or mental imagery. Research shows meditation improves health, well-being and our ability to deal with stress) but not everyone has the time to add this into their day, especially not right now when we all have more on our plates. Taking a few minutes, throughout your day to think of something that makes you happy is a quick way to relax and self-regulate.
  2. REFUEL: Find what gives you more energy and make it a priority. When you can get the right amount of sleep, exercise and healthy nutrition, your body should naturally feel refueled. Avoid things that drain your energy and keep things that refuel you on your daily schedule. Did you know that Einstein used to walk 2 hours/day to regulate? 

Dr. Dan Siegel[xi], clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute reminds us that during this bad and threatening moment in time, we can look towards a vision of the future where there might be an improved/better world. Think of where you can be of service to others and improve your current relationships. Use this time to connect to others, learn new skills, improve and be kind to yourself, and to others. There are many places that you can go to learn new science-based approaches that can be applied to improve resiliency in your own life, or in schools and the workplace. I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting our podcast. When we launched this podcast, last June, I had no idea that we would have the interest we have received for this information. Thank you especially to our Canadian listeners who are keeping us in the Top 100 charts for iTunes for the Education: How-to Category[xii] for our United States listeners who have just got us into the top 100 charts for iTunes for the Education: How-to Category[xiii] and for everyone who listens to the episodes, increasing our visibility. We have just hit the Top 10 Social and Emotional Learning Podcasts to follow in 2020.[xiv] I know it’s important and timely, and I do look forward to bringing on new guests to help you to implement practical neuroscience in your daily life. See you next episode.

 

RESOURCES:

Relational Contagion Graphic from Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series” VIDEO 3 on Emotion Contagion https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

 REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #14 “Self-Regulation: The Foundational Learning Skill for Future Success.” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/self-regulation-foundational-learning-skill-for-future/id1469683141?i=1000447299318

[ii] How Can We Help Our Kids with Self-Regulation https://childmind.org/article/can-help-kids-self-regulation/amp/

[iii] How to Practice Self-Regulation https://www.verywellmind.com/how-you-can-practice-self-regulation-4163536

[iv] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #52 “Igniting Your Personal Leadership to Build Resiliency” Inspired by Dr. Bruce Perry https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/igniting-your-personal-leadership-to-build-resiliency/id1469683141?i=1000470528327

[v] Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series” https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

[vi] Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series” VIDEO 5 on Regulation  https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

[vii] Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series” VIDEO 3 on Emotion Contagion https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

[viii] Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series” VIDEO 3 on Emotion Contagion https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

[ix] Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Network Covid-19 “Stress, Distress and Trauma Series” VIDEO 1 on Patterns of Stress: Risk and Resilience https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

[x] Kristie Brandt “Reflective Supervision” Training Friday April 10, 2020  https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources

[xi] Dr. Dan Siegel Friday April 10, 2020 Crowdcast MWE Gathering  https://www.crowdcast.io/drdansiegel https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/clinical-professor-psychiatry-at-ucla-school-medicine/id1469683141?i=1000456048761 and Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #28 "Mindsight: The Basis of Social and Emotional Intelligence"https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/clinical-professor-psychiatry-at-ucla-school-medicine/id1469683141?i=1000456048761

[xii] Apple iTunes Charts for Canada Education: How-To Category  https://chartable.com/teams/neuroscience-meets-social-and-em/dashboard/charts?chart_id=75897&chart_type=itunes&podcast_id=neuroscience-meets-sel-with-andrea-samadi

[xiii] Apple iTunes Charts for USA Education: How-To Category  https://chartable.com/teams/neuroscience-meets-social-and-em/dashboard/charts?chart_id=136377&chart_type=itunes&podcast_id=neuroscience-meets-sel-with-andrea-samadi

[xiv] Top 10 Social and Emotional Learning Podcasts to Follow in 2020 https://blog.feedspot.com/social_emotional_learning_podcasts/

 

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