“Just relax” … Can more unhelpful words ever been spoken?

Imagine this scenario: something serious and uncomfortable has happened at work and you are upset. On some level you are aware that you are not acting like yourself, or maybe someone has pointed this out to you. We all express this upset somehow; some people get really quiet and secluded, others act out to show their upset, and some reach out for support. Now imagine in the midst of your upset someone says: “oh just relax, take 3 deep breaths or something, you’ll be fine….”

Sound familiar?

Even if well intended, the advice to, “just relax” when you are in this state probably feels impossible. It probably feels unattainable, a pipe dream – and you might snap back, “Well, I would just relax if I could …. BUT……” and all the reasons why “relaxation” is inaccessible at the moment will tumble out of you.

Let me assure you – in a state of upset you can’t just relax because your biology mixed with your psychology is not going to allow it until a few specific things happen.

As humans we are a full and complex package. Many systems govern who we are including bodily systems (of particular interest here is the nervous system), psychological, psycho-social, cultural, spiritual, and the list goes on. We are part of many ecosystems. So, admittedly this human package can be a little dense at times.

So, let’s unpack it, lighten the load and experience the opportunity to do the same for another human being in our workplace.

We talk about big emotions and feelings like upset, frustration, and anger. However, we also need to include the emotions our society deems as more positive such as excitement, surprise, or pure happiness. Regardless of how we classify these emotions they can still be BIG. Think about emotions as Energy in Motion (e-motion). Consider that any time humans experiences big e-motions there is the risk of dysregulation.

Try this: Think for a moment about what you feel in your body when you see a child reach towards a hot stove, or something darts out in front of your car while you are driving. You can feel in your body some energy in motion: heart beat speeds up, breath catches in your throat, you feel ready to spring forward and stop the child or slam on the brakes and pull back. The emotion you felt called fear made your body react in a certain way. You went from one state to another in an instant. Energy in motion.

Now, imagine you love surprises, and someone gives you the surprise of your dreams. Of course, you are ecstatic! Think about what you feel: your heartbeat speeds up, breath catches in your throat, you feel ready to jump up and down with pure joy!

Energy in motion.

Big emotions often have us leave a regulated state and move into dysregulation. It matters not if it is for “good” or “bad” circumstances – your body reacts to something (instinct), and how you respond (a skill we can learn) is what matters.

But first, the opposite of a dysregulated state is a regulated state. A regulated state is captured best in one word: safe. If you are physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually safe you will be in a regulated state. When your body and mind are in homeostasis, balance and what some would call their “flow state” you are experiencing regulation.

Now, try this: Think about your favorite person, in your favorite place, with your favorite song playing in the background. The weather is great, your senses are satisfied and you feel complete. Regulated. Feel it in your body, it feels good right? This is optimal.

With the above examples and explorations, you can see and understand that regulation is not relaxation.

Relaxation is something we do or don’t do. Regulation is something we are or aren’t.

Regulation is an integrated way of being in the world and it’s where your passions, creativity, and love come from. It is your best day at work where everything went well, you got a lot accomplished with some creativity, and had a great chat with a co-worker to top it off.

And then something happens: the client cancels the huge contract, your office mate drops the ball on a project, a customer writes a negative review … and you find yourself dysregulated.

It feels like anxiety, hopelessness, anger, sadness, rage simmering under the surface, or giving up. This time though, something is different and you can’t seem to lift your way out of this dysregulated funk.

I’m here to tell you something important: this is normal for human beings.

Sometimes our brains get stuck running the same negative script over and over – there is no shame in this, awareness is important to be able to identify and create a pathway out. If you are conversing or interacting with someone who seems to be stuck in dysregulation it is important for you to know about this next part so you can co-create a path out.

Sometimes, when we cannot move from a dysregulated to a regulated state on our own, we need a higher level of co-regulation and this is an incredibly important concept for leaders who need to connect and collaborate with teams on a regular basis. Co-regulation ideally occurs one person is dysregulated, and the other is regulated. The regulated person then uses their toolbox to assist in regulation with the other person – thereby inviting both parties to be in a regulated state.

As humans, we are designed to do this. Quite clearly, we can think about parents with their babies using a calm voice, gentle eye contact, and safe physical proximity. This too is a concept that travels in both ways, if a caregiver is consistently harsh, punishing, loud, and unpredictable they will spark dysregulation in not only their children but pretty much everyone around them.

Co-regulating also happens when our teams understand how to support each other.

There are big and vulnerable conversations to be had and in part two of this blog we will look at strategies to build this kind of regulated resiliency on our teams.

Regulation is available to us all if we make a commitment to co-regulation.

I often talk and write about how humans can benefit from deeply considering kindness, deeply looking into themselves, and deeply thinking on topics that support shifts for the greater good. However, I don’t know if depth will be the space where we find the most of our self- and co-regulation skills. For this work we need to access the highest parts of who we are, and our highest potential as humans. In finding the height of our vulnerability and the perimeter of our comfort zones, we move forward in determining authentically how we can be safe (regulated) places for each other.

In part two, we’ll dig into self-regulation, strategies, and safety cues