The Second Step: Develop Your Self-Regulation Toolbox.
After we’ve developed our “Healthy Mind Platters” and taken any concrete and practical steps to ensure we’re meeting those seven needs on a roughly regular basis, the second part of the work to help us widen our window of tolerance and increase our own self-regulation abilities – is cultivating and calling upon a wide toolbox of tools when we find ourselves outside of the optimal arousal zone and in the hyper- or hypoarousal states.
This – having a rich, robust, and personalized toolbox – is one way we practice resiliency and rebound when we find ourselves in hyper- or hypo-arousal zones.
We do this work by developing practices, habits, tools, and internalized and externalized resources that help soothe, regulate, redirect, and ground ourselves.
I focus heavily in my work with my therapy clients and online course students to help them cultivate a wide, diverse, rich, and effective multi-sensory toolbox of resources they can use to practice resiliency when outside of their Windows of Tolerance.
While detailing the breadth and specifics of all of these tools is beyond the scope of this essay, I wrote an article way back in 2016 that went a bit viral that has 101 self-care suggestions for a bad day; it’s a great piece to take inspiration from as you build your own toolbox.
Whatever tools resonate with you, I’ll share that when working with my clients, I aim to make sure these tools are both internal and external in nature (meaning tools you can both do without external props or relational resources, and tools and options that include those things), multisensory (meaning that they engage all five senses), and invisible and visible (meaning tools you can use at home when no one’s watching, and tools you can use in the conference room when your boss is presenting and looking at you).
Let’s explore what this can look like.
Actual Examples of “Self-regulation Toolboxes.”
Here’s an example of a multi-sensory self-regulation toolbox I developed with someone that they can do at home if they’re hyperaroused and going into panic, anxiety, anger, and irritation:
Multi-Sensory Hyperarousal Toolbox:
- Practicing box breathing.
- Listening to Native American flute music.
- Putting lavender oil on wrists and temples.
- Holding an ice cube in one hand and letting it melt.
- Looking at a photo of someone they love in a happier, more regulated time.
And here are some tools for someone who is prone to hypoarousal.
Multi-Sensory Hypoarousal Toolbox:
- Take a HIIT ride on the Peloton (or any vigorous exercise).
- Listening to Rage Against the Machine (or any high-energy stimulating music).
- Smelling cinnamon oil or rosemary oil (something sharp and bracing).
- Chewing crunchy hard food like popcorn.
- Watching an action movie or action-packed TV series.
Again, all of these tools in the toolbox are designed to “get the brain back online” (in other words, regulated and the prefrontal cortex accessed again) and get back into the Window of Tolerance.
They are tools that strengthen our ability for self-regulation resiliency when we notice we’re outside of the optimal arousal zone.
Building Your Own MultiSensory Toolboxes.
Let’s take a moment and have you build your own multi-sensory self-regulation toolbox via these prompts:
- What’s a tool you could use that engages your physical body to dispel excess energy when you’re in hyperarousal?
- What’s a tool you could use that engages your physical body to increase energy and blood flow when you’re in hyporarousal?
- What’s a scent that calms you down?
- What’s a scent that activates you and energizes you?
- What’s one food you can eat that feels soothing and calming? (hint: think creamy, cold, sweet, smooth)
- What’s one food you can eat that feels a little more engaging? (hint: think spicey, crunchy, sharp, bitter)
- What’s a kind of music/exact song that just calms you down when you play it?
- What’s a kind of music/exact song that activates you when you listen to it?
- What’s a texture and/or thing you could touch or surround your body with that feels calming and soothing? (hint: think weighted blankets, soothing lotion, sunshine, hot tubs)
- What’s a texture and/or thing you could touch or surround your body with that feels energizing and activating? (hint: think cold plunges, being in the rain, laying in the grass.)
When these tools may not be enough.
Now, I do want to say that if all of what I’ve in today’s essay shared sounds and feels like magical thinking – like you couldn’t even imagine remotely being able to do this, do this consistently, let alone do it well – I want to be frank that there may be variables at play that require you to get additional support in order to regulate your own nervous system and help get you into the Window of Tolerance (or experience it for the first time).
The biggest variable I see that prevents this is when we come from relational trauma histories and have unprocessed trauma in our pasts that is still significantly distressing our nervous systems.
Another variable might be a very unhappy, strained, and brittle marriage that triggers you and your attachment wounds daily.
And yet another variable might be having a child in your home with trauma of their own, undiagnosed neurodivergence, or other variables that create additional strain and stress for you.
In these cases, seeking out a trained mental health professional – whether this is a child therapist, a trauma therapist for you, or a terrific couples counselor to help mend your partnership – may be a proverbial “power tool” you want to employ to support your emotional regulation and well-being at home.
If you live in California or Florida and you suspect you may need additional support – for you, your partner, or your child or teen – please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and my team at Evergreen Counseling, the boutique trauma-informed therapy center I founded in Berkeley, California. We can work with clients all over California and Florida, we have immediate openings, and we’d be honored to support you.
Please reach out to us here, and we’ll schedule a complimentary 20-minute consultation call with you to help get you matched to a therapist who is an ideal fit for you clinically, relationally and logistically.
And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
What tools went into your hyper- and hypoarousal toolboxes? What are the tools, tactics, and tricks you employ to help get back into the Window of Tolerance?
If you feel so inclined, please leave a message in the comments. This blog, this little corner of the internet, receives about 30,000 visitors each month, and our blog comments have become a kind of community where folks with similar paths and journeys find each other, learn from each other, and take hope and inspiration from each other’s shares. So, if you feel so inclined, please feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom and experiences. You never know who you’ll help when you write.
Until next time, please take care of yourself. You’re so worth it.