One of the most important skills we can learn is self soothing when under stress or in the midst of conflict. Our fight or flight system works perfectly to keep us safe from actual danger and threats but it is also given to sending us false alarms. Consider what happens in your body and mind when you are having an argument with your partner, children or when your boss has been riding you to meet that deadline.
Our sympathetic nervous system mobilises our resources to get ready to run or attack. Our body gets flooded with cortisol and other stress hormones, our muscles tense in readiness and our mind literally has trouble accessing its executive functioning – the seat of rational thinking. You don’t need the prefrontal cortex when your job is to stay alive! Trouble is there is no REAL threat but our responses are driven by the PERCEIVED THREAT, often causing further tension, problems and difficulties.
In order to get our mind to function rationally again, so we can respond in a helpful way, we need to learn to access our rest and restore system (the parasympathetic nervous system). This takes practice but each time you feel your body flooded with strong emotions practice these three critical steps.
1. Notice you have been triggered and slow your response. No judgement – just notice.
2. Notice how shallow your breathing has become and consciously fill your lungs all the way to your belly.
3. Consciously tell yourself to let go of any tension in the body as best you can on the out breath.
4. Notice what you are telling yourself (usually something negative about the situation) and consciously tell yourself. “I’m OK – there is no threat. the first step is to calm down so I can deal with this.”
With practice you’ll be more relaxed and able to deal with your strong emotions in no time.