Managing our own high emotions

I have been asked to say more about ‘affect regulation‘. This is a safe experiment that can promote greater calmness. It’s my view this should be taught in schools; it appears Mindfulness practices have taken off in some quarters, but what about a much simpler and more immediate set of strategies? These are available – at our finger tips.

Maybe the label puts folk off. Affect Regulation sounds rather mysterious and complicated. Indeed, it can be; lengthy and dense texts have been written with Affect Regulation in the title. In the complexity of it all, the topic seems to have become surrounded by mystery. Even so, at one level it is simple and can be implemented, in practice, within seconds.

Why do we need Affect Regulation?

As stated elsewhere, our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) can get out of hand: when it does, we can jump out of our Window of Tolerance to implement extreme ‘solutions’ such as catastrophising and chaos. These ’emergency’ responses can have a place; initiating the anger that might get us going. However, this needs to be a temporary and brief reaction.

When our less smart and older sibling, underneath the Cerebral Cortex – and the amygdala in particular – senses a TRIGGER – a risk or some danger – it reacts instantly to prepare us to defend ourselves and/or to escape.

The immediate release of adrenaline helps us to focus and act with unusual rapidity. However, that only works for a short while and unless the danger is addressed and resolved, our bodies start to react badly. Our ability to respond becomes impaired.

Here are some of the things that happen. Are they familiar to you?

… we become clumsy, giddy, disorientated, less able to reason and even our vision can become impaired. We want to get to the toilet sharpish. We feel badly about ourselves and our lack of decisiveness.

Now, why should our bodies promote such a seemingly unhelpful set of responses? It would appear that our bodies share a complication that has faced Microsoft Windows. Our nervous system consists of a number elements that do not always communicate smoothly with one another. There have been a number of ‘add-ons’ to the system over many millions of years. The diagram below, illustrates how antagonistic elements in our autonomic nervous system can help us stay balanced OR get out of control.

Controlled breathing helps us engage balancing act and can slow the arguementative communications within the autonomic nervous system.

With a following wind, controlled breathing can give us the micro-second we need to simply STOP, LOOK and LISTEN (do you remember how you were taught to cross roads!). This can work by helping us start something else. Controlled breathing can lead us to regain an awareness of other choices available to us and provide just enough time to form options and make judgments about other ways to act.

We do not need a lot of time to act just that little bit differently.

For a user-friendly account of the neural connectedness involved here, viksit a YouTube presentation by Dan Siegel talking about the hand model of the head-brain.

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How to …. nudge

How to do safe experiments

Designing a safe experiment