Nervous System, Self- and Co-Regulation, and Self-Compassion (Regulating)
Our ability to regulate our nervous system and impact others’ nervous systems is vital in reaching an important goal. Nowack (2017) asserts that social support and emotional regulation are as crucial as our cognitive processes in developing new habits. Our brain and entire distributed nervous system is an example of a complex system. A complex system is nonlinear – something small can create significant ripple effects (Regine & Lewin, 2000). All the parts of a complex system interact, and out of that emerges something greater than those parts. This is because the whole includes (at least) those parts AND how they relate to each other. So, in our complex brains, considerable relating or regulating is happening, most of it beyond our awareness, and some that we can impact through awareness. Through the conscious use of breath, language, attention, and other tools, we can influence our bodies’ regulation circuits. We can learn to calm ourselves when overstimulated or agitated. We can also learn how to activate ourselves when we are too low in energy. Thus, we can call up emotions and motivational pathways that serve and support us and our goals (Porges, 2007; Porges, 2017). By consciously self-regulating, we can shift ourselves into a physiological state that supports our new choices and behaviors. Our brains also have considerable wiring and processes geared for relating, so we often co-regulate each other without realizing it (Butler & Randall, 2012). This co-regulating happens in pairs and also in groups. When we connect with compassion and optimistic hopes for each other, we are making great use of our social brains and coregulation.
Self-regulation and Goal Achievement
One of the critical brain areas for self-regulation is the prefrontal cortex, where different sub-regions communicate with, inhibit, and integrate other areas of the brain. For example, when we breathe rhythmically or focus on our hearts, we help these higher brain regions coordinate and calm (inhibit) lower areas (Hanson & Mendius, 2009; Porges, 2001). The regulation of limbic regions, such as the amygdala – an almond-shaped center found in both hemispheres that alerts us to emotionally significant stimuli – can help us identify and experience our emotions in healthier ways. We can move anxiety toward excited readiness (shifting arousal down), or we might need to shift from bored and distracted to playfully engaged (shifting arousal up). Learning how to “turn on” the circuits that can calm or energize us to shift our level of alertness to fit our task at hand is another top-down skill we can practice. Research by (Schöne et al., 2018) suggested that mindful breath awareness meditation can enhance our ability to pay attention. In a review of the neurobiology of mindfulness and emotion processing and self-regulation, Sayers, Creswell, and Taren (2015) strongly suggested that mindfulness practices do indeed change the neurobiological systems through which we process emotions.Download Article 1K Club