Self-Regulation Strategies (Amanda Marshall, MSSW, Individual and Family Counseling, Catholic Charities of Tennessee)

Posted 04/02/2020

If you feel that you need to speak with a Catholic Charities Counselor, please call 615-352-3087.

Self-regulation is about being in control of our mind, body, and emotions. It is about having the ability to self-regulate means that we can manage our impulses and disruptive emotions in order to focus on big picture goals of who we want to be and what we want to do.

Self-regulation also gives us the capacity to "bounce back" from setbacks, negative thoughts, and disappointments. Here are a few strategies to use to help strengthen your self-regulation skills.

Notice, Name, and Tame

One of the keys to self-regulation is first noticing what you are feeling and what is happening in your body. Sometimes we picture emotions as living in our hearts; but the reality is they exist throughout our bodies. When we are angry our fists might clench or when we are anxious our stomachs may tense. Our emotions also affect our energy level-when we are anxious or angry we may have too much energy and if we are feeling sad or depressed our energy may be low.

Paying attention to what is happening in your body can help us be aware of what you are feeling. The second step is to name what you are feeling. It's important to be aware that often times we have layers of emotions. For example, you may feel angry about your routine being interrupted, but underneath that anger may be fear. These first steps may seem obvious, but it is the key to being able to regulate ourselves. After we have noticed and named, the final step is to "tame" our feelings.

One way to empower ourselves in this step is to realize that we have choices in how we react. When it comes to difficult feelings we can approach, avoid, or attack. Avoidance can involve denying our feelings, isolating ourselves, and a lack of engagement with others. Attacking can lead to lashing out verbally, aggression, and blaming. A healthier response is to approach our feelings-being curious about why we are having these feelings and what is underneath them. When we approach our feelings we can begin seeing alternative solutions.

Coping Skills

One of the keys to self-regulating is having a variety of tools or coping skills that work for you. Some skills will help you increase your energy level and motivate more positive feelings. Others will help you relax and promote peacefulness. There are literally hundreds of different tools you can use, the key is finding what works best for you. Some common skills include deep breathing, spending time in nature, listening to music, exercise, drawing, coloring, painting, yoga, spending time with a pet, talking to a friend, journaling, counting to ten, pushing a wall, and planning a future trip or goal.

Mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help us relax and self-regulate. Mindfulness is an intentional paying attention to the present. I like to describe mindfulness by imagining that your mind is a large mansion with hundreds of rooms. Often times we begin filling up those rooms with our regrets and grief about the past and our worries about the future. Before we know it, we have filled every room up with thoughts of the past or the future, leaving us only a small closet to live in the "now." Mindfulness allows us to go through each room and clear out some space for us to enjoy the present. There are numerous ways to practice this including:

• Mindful meditation
• Mindful eating
• Stroking your hand or arm
• Intentional Breathing
• Loving-kindness Meditation
• STOP technique
• Daily aspirations

Cognitive Reframing
Many times we assume that a situation or another person "made" us feel a certain way. The reality is our thoughts interpret that situation and inspire our feelings. Sometimes our thoughts tell us things which are not true. When faced with a difficult situation, try looking at it from a different perspective and reminding yourself of new possibilities. For example:

INSTEAD OF THINKING: This is never going to end. // TRY THIS: This is taking longer than expected, but it won't last forever.

INSTEAD OF THINKING: I can't do this. // TRY THIS: This is hard, but I can handle it.

INSTEAD OF THINKING: I can't be with my friends. // TRY THIS: I may not be able to spend time with others in person; but I can talk to them on the phone, text, or video call.

Routines and Rituals
By creating routines and rituals in our lives, we build a safe space to practice self-regulation. Parents and teachers often understand the benefit of routines and schedules for children, but the reality is adults need them as well. Routines can include a variety of rituals that we observe each day -from a morning cup of coffee or tea and an afternoon prayer or meditation, to a bedtime routine.

During times when our schedules are thrown off, it becomes even more important to develop and stick to routines. During this unusual time you may need to create whole new routines-coming up with plans to work from home or supervise your children. You can also find ways to adapt your normal routine-perhaps making normal activities, like a fitness class or happy hour with friends, a virtual activity you do over the phone or video.

Practice Self-care
Now, more than ever, self-care is critical. It is important to realize that self-care is not just about escaping or relaxing. Self-care fuels our ability to not only survive, but thrive. As humans, we are complex creatures. As you schedule activities to practice self-care it is essential to pay attention to every part of yourself-physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially. There are endless ways to practice self-care, but here are a few ideas:

Take a walk
Do an online fitness class

Read a book
Learn something new
Do a puzzle (crossword, sudoku, jigsaw)
Research a topic that interests you

Help someone in need
Read scripture or a meaningful text

Call a friend
Write a letter
Create a group (chat, Facebook page, video)
Invite friends to share pictures of their day

If you feel that you need to speak with a Catholic Charities Counselor, please call 615-352-3087.

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