Have you ever wondered why, despite the advanced technologies that offer an endless amount of coping techniques in the form of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, that chronic stress, boredom, and depression are still on the rise?
As humans, we naturally shield ourselves from pain (distress) and seek ways to increase pleasure (relaxed state) in our lives. It seems that we are losing our ability to relax even though we are constantly trying new ways to combat stress and look for relief.
I have been coaching and counseling for more than a decade to help my clients adopt new ways of coping with stress.
As I work with more people on this matter, I realize that cultivating an individualized self-regulation capacity is the best coping strategy to stress response.
Stress doesn’t discriminate. In my practice, I have worked with elementary school students, university students, parents, young leaders, and senior executives from different backgrounds and nationalities.
Although triggers differ individually, the way stress impacts our mental, emotional, physical, and relational wellbeing is shared across all cultures.
The stress response is an unconscious reaction of the autonomic nervous system to an internal or external threat. Chronic activation of stress is one of the worst enemies to our overall well-being, happiness, and sense of flow.
Individuals who have the ability to self-regulate can delay gratification and suppress stress reactions to become mindful of consequences or alternative, more appropriate responses. Self-regulation can also describe the constructive ways to manage and release stress, including how we cope with sadness, joy, challenges, anger, worries, and fear.
Self-regulation refers to the brain’s upper cortex-executive- function, which judges how to respond to a stimulus. It describes the capacity to control our impulses and soothe and calm our body’s reactions to stress and pressure. It can modulate cognitive, affective, sensory, and somatic reactions that impact our functioning, including emotions, bodily responses, and perception.
Soothing the Brain and Body
While our self-regulation ability helps us develop mindful strategies in response to stress when triggered, it also improves our physical and mental health in the long term.
The bad news is that some of us are more prone to stress and therefore have to work more on self-regulation than others. The good news is that self-regulation can be taught, learned, and developed in time.
These five self-coaching strategies improve self-regulation capacity:
Understand what triggers stress:
Knowing one’s stress triggers is helpful as it will give the person a sense of control. Observing the self when there is a perceived threat and how one responds to it develops self-awareness.
What might trigger stress can be specific words, specific characters, images, and experiences.
When we perceive these triggers as threats, our brain moves into survival mode and chooses one of these automatic responses: fight, flight, freeze.
Unfortunately, none of these responses represent our best strengths.
Practicing science-based motor relaxation techniques has considerable success in reducing hyperarousal, including measurable physiological responses, such as heart rate and sympathetic nervous system reactions.
Don’t take it personally:
When it comes to self-regulation in interpersonal relationships, taking what the other person is saying or not and insinuating their actions as our own are not the best stress management strategy.
Instead, we need to remind ourselves that what we hear and observe is not ours.
Adopt a strengths-based approach:
Becoming aware of individual strengths is very helpful in enhancing self-regulation.
Adopting a strengths-based approach to life and practicing them every day through work, relationships, and interests improves the person’s sense of optimism and confidence.
Practice one of these regularly:
Intentional applications of yoga, meditation, and expressive or visual arts support relaxation.
When combined with other relaxation techniques like breathing, they assist self-regulation, and for this reason, they are often used in therapy to help reducing stress responses.
There is no one straightforward strategy that helps with self-regulation and stress management.
As we have learnt so much from the Science of Positive Psychology this century, one can develop self-regulation through a combination of efforts such as intentional applications of relaxation and stress-management techniques, self-awareness, and finally adopting an optimistic-strengths-based approach to life.