Maybe you know what it’s like to feel unable to control your emotions. You’re walking along having a fine day when all of a sudden you hear a siren or a car backfires and you hit the deck or hide in the bushes.
Or, you’re feeling completely at ease in a conversation with someone and then all of a sudden a huge wave of anger courses through you and you react with vicious words and vehement aggression.
What’s happening in these instances? Your brain is processing information that makes it feel in danger, which causes it to send messages to your body, which activates your sympathetic nervous system that leads you to respond in either fight, flight or freeze.
Bottomline: Typical of anyone with post-trauma symptoms you’re having trouble regulating your emotions.
Not to worry, there are ways to counteract this.
The Impact of Heart Rate Variability
Increasing your heart rate variability (HRV) can play a key role in optimizing your emotional regulation processes. HRV refers to the beat-to-beat alterations in heart rate. The higher your HRV the more flexible and adaptable your system is. The lower your HRV the less adaptable and flexible it is. All of this impacts your vagus nerve function. The vagus nerve is a long cranial nerve that reaches all the way from the brain to the internal organs in your chest, abdomen and pelvis. The vagus nerve actually transports a variety of signals to and from the brain and accounts for your instinctive body responses. The more happy your vagus nerve is the more emotionally regulated you are.
So, how do you keep the vagus nerve satisfied and your HRV high?
Meditation – 5 minutes of focusing on your breath
Breathwork – 2 minutes of inhaling through your nose and exhaling as if through a straw(the goal is to get down to 4 – 6 breaths per minute)
Cardio exercise – especially interval training.
TRE (Tension and Trauma Release Exercise) – learn this natural and easy tool to unwind your body and calm the nervous system.
The most important thing for your nervous system is to feel a sense of safety. Implementing these practices can increase that feeling in many physiological ways that lead to better emotional regulation.
The Impact of Non-Judgment
When you are in a state of non-judgement you enter a place where your nervous system does not fire up defense systems. Some ways to facilitate this state:
Self-compassion – evidence supports the fact that when you treat yourself with kindness in the face of your perceived failures and shortcomings you can actually put your brain more into a state of safety.
Releasing judgments – the more critical and negative you are – of yourself and others – the more you put your brain in defence mode. Becoming aware of your tendency to judge, and practicing letting that go, can help you feel more calm.
Interoception – this is the process of paying attention to what is happening in your body. Learning to be aware of the present moment and a sense of safety allows your brain to imprint and absorb it. TRE (Tension and Trauma Release Exercise) is a wonderful, natural and easy tool to learn interoception, other modalities that increase interoception are mindfulness and yoga.
The most important concept to understand here is that
1) self-criticism recruits the body’s defences, and
2) you have the ability to impact your physiological experience.
You can help yourself heal by both being kind and patient to yourself and developing your physiological flexibility. Both of these help your brain and body learn the message of safety, which will translate into your own increased ability to regulate your emotions.