self-regulation strategies

Your Self-Regulation Guide: Stop Reacting, Start Commanding

A Story About Self-Regulation

The key to self-regulation is controlling our breath and finding a distraction. However, how breathing is incorporated into your strategy for self-regulation varies based on each individual. Let me give you an example of one of my students Bella. Bella went to a very competitive college, one of the top colleges in the US. She was super smart but had terrible test anxiety that would petrify her before an exam. I started my sessions with her much like many of my other students that have performance anxiety; I asked her “What is self-regulation?” She had a bit of a hard time, but she ended up with the answer “My ability to control my emotions under stress.” I, then, challenged her to think about self-regulation as her ability to recognize what is within her control and what is out of her control.

So, this is what I had Bella do to practice self control. I had her practice deep breathing with me. I had Bella breathe 4 counts in. I would count slowly for her “1,2,3,4.” Then, I asked her to hold it at the top for two counts. Lastly, I told her to exhale completely. This time counting backwards: “4,3,2,1.” During each deep breath, I asked Bella to focus on all of the hard work she did and recognize the parts of her body that relaxed as she acknowledged it. We proceeded to practice this strategy for self-regulation at the beginning of each of our sessions right before planning out her week. Each time, Bella noted that her chest felt lighter and her shoulders looser. However, what surprised me was what Bella shared with me after one of her finals.

The day of one of Bella’s big finals, I got a call from her “Yi, this breathing thing isn’t working man, I am freaking out. What other strategies for self-regulation do you have?” In the least condescending tone, I asked “What is self-regulation?” Bella responded with a very annoyed tone “My ability to recognize what is within my control and what is not…” Awesome, so you are probably having a very hard time focusing on what is in your control right? I want you to really breathe and find something to distract your mind so that you can focus on your breath. I counted for her, and after a while, she said “Okay, I got this, thanks!” So, what happened to help Bella find the self regulation strategy that worked for her? Hopefully by now, it is clear that it wasn’t just breathing. Bella had to find a way to ground herself that is specific to her.

During our next session, I asked Bella how she did on her exam. She got a 94 when the average was only a 74. For those that don’t go to a highly competitive STEM school, this is really good. So Bella, how did you practice self control? Well, I did the breathing you told me to do. I tried to focus on what was within my control, but I couldn’t get my head out of the gutter with the what if’s. I kept thinking what if I studied this more or that more. What if I went to sleep earlier or worked out or drank more coffee or less coffee. My mind was racing and I just couldn’t ground myself. My breath was way off count, and I was hyperventilating. Then, I found myself counting my steps as I breathed. Surprisingly, counting my steps and focusing on my breath is pretty hard. Because I was so distracted, I was able to ground myself. Bella finally was able to discover the two components to any strategy for self regulation: her breath and her distraction.

Your Self-Regulation Guide: Stop Reacting, Start Commanding

So you might be asking yourself, is the guide to self-regulation really that simple: breathe and distract yourself? Yes, however, the simple things are often the hardest. When we are in a state of anxiety, stress, or hyperventilation, how do we simply just ground ourselves enough to breathe? For anyone that has had a panic attack, this is actually quite an impossible task. This is why it is important to practice self control. When there is an exam, work project, major social occasion, etc that you know will cause unnecessary stress and anxiety, practice breathing and distract yourself. A distraction can be something as simple as focusing on your steps or tapping your fingers. The key is to take deep long breaths. This key part of self-regulation is often forgotten or near impossible to do. This is why it is important to start the process before a state of anxiety or stress overwhelms you.

Other Helpful Ways to Practice Self Control

Self regulation is often one of the key executive functions I work with my clients on because it is such a great metric to use. How do we know if we are planning well, managing our time, and setting realistic expectations? If we are breaking down less, having less panic attacks, and overcoming the impossible without losing ourselves then we are doing well with our executive functions. This means that once we have figured out the strategies for self regulation that work for us, we are able to more effectively meet our own expectations. So beyond breathing and distracting ourselves, we also want to make sure we are practicing our core executive functions.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Regardless if you are calling your parents, significant other, best friend, or coach before a major anxiety inducing event, what is most important is that you have someone to keep you accountable to your self-regulation tools. What I find really funny is that whenever Bella calls her parents, her parents always ask “What would Yi ask you to do?” Then Bella channels my self-regulation advice and says “Breathe, distract, and focus on how hard I worked.” I hope this was helpful! You got this and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help figuring out your strategies for self-regulation.

Struggling to tap into your highest potential can be a daunting experience, but we’re here to guide you through it. Are you prepared to master self-control? Our tailor-made self-regulation techniques are just a consultation away. Embark on a transformative journey – book your exclusive one-on-one session now!

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