Is anyone else struggling with seeing “coronavirus” and “social distancing” everywhere you look? Yet, I keep seeking out information, memes, news articles, and webinars. I have been reposting tips, articles and resources to my personal and professional social media back to back to back to back… to back. Then, Lisa Dion hosted a webinar called Regulating through the Coronavirus and she articulately said all the things I have been seeking. She reminded me about my nervous system, regulation, and all the concepts I spend all day teaching clients but forget to practice myself. I am here to remind all of you of these things as well, whether you be a helping professional or not. You are a human and we all have nervous systems!
Regulating Your Nervous System
Your nervous system is what coordinates actions and the sensory information that is input by sending it to and from different parts of your body. The nervous system is meant to detect environmental changes that impact your body, as well as communicate with your endocrine system. Your nervous system is getting an onslaught of information, some of it is helpful, some of it is funny, some is scary but all of it, all together is overwhelming. How do you balance staying informed and not obsessing about every detail that is being distributed in the media?
See the graphic that seems all science-y and boring? Notice that your respiratory system is affected by your vagus nerve which is essential in our regulation. What is one of the coronavirus symptoms? Difficulty breathing…. But what if you are struggling because your nervous system is overly activated, and then it becomes more activated because you are convinced that you have the virus. Now you are in a cycle of dysregulation.
Breathe… not the hokey “take a breath and calm down” shallow breath. Breath so deeply it feels like your belly button is touching your spine and exhale as if you are blowing out 30 birthday candles at once. Genuinely BREATHE. I am going to prompt you to do this throughout this blog and these are the breathes I want you to take. Here is a link to 13 breathing techniques if you need to pause and practice. Now, take another breath.
Your response to all of this is normal. As I said earlier, everyone has a nervous system. Everybody is having a response that is based on their perception of the threat they are facing. Your perception and risk level are different than your neighbor, your spouse, your child, your boss and all your perceptions are influencing your nervous system. These heightened levels of uncertainty lead to you losing your connection to yourself. You do not know what to focus on, what to orient yourself to. You do not know what you will encounter today… Will my next client come in with symptoms or be asymptomatic? Will my community experience a natural disaster (ex: earthquake in Utah)? Can I pay my bills? Will we lose our jobs?
This past week I made the decision to start telehealth before my agency decided to do so. I had that luxury of support from my superiors. I am aware that not everyone does. You are making hard decisions of which clients to provide services to. You are figuring out how to do play therapy, or any therapy, and on which platform. How will you bill? Are clients open to this? Again, seeking all the resources and all the trainings to gain support, continuing to overwhelm your nervous system with information. The group I found on Facebook helped normalize my feelings and my questions, as well as gave me wonderful tips so that I felt prepared to make the transition to telehealth. At the end of the day, I did what felt right to me. Listening to my gut and what helped my nervous system feel peace. What is yours saying to you?
Now Let’s Regulate
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you may be asking how you practice your self-regulation habits when you are stuck at home and the world feels like chaos around you. We have lost our structure and sense of routine, so let’s work on getting it back!
Think about what happens when your kid/client has an increase in behavioral problems during school breaks that are just a day or two? Well, we currently have that times 10 right now. There have been a few schedules circulating on-line and it is a really great template. It is not meant to be followed precisely, or to “mom-shame” you. It’s a helpful tool. I found a modifiable version here. There are several resources out there providing free access to their services, sites and activity ideas. I post these regularly on my professional Facebook page.
You need to modify your schedule to include regulation time. This should include a variety of activities, not only free play outside. We know movement is essential to our overall well-being. We are not yet restricted from going outside, so take a walk, go for a run, take your dog for a hike—whatever is part of your normal routine. Just keep your distance from other walkers/hikers/etc. What about those outside chores, such as mowing your lawn, pulling those weeds you never get around to, or just sit outside on your porch/balcony/yard? You can do yoga anywhere. If you are like me and don’t have an active routine, I just walk to my community mailbox, or around my house periodically. I am totally game for the DJs who are streaming their music for our at home dance parties. Spotify playlists have been created so get moving, alone or with a partner or kids, to your favorite music! Is Just Dance still a thing? The point is to be moving.
Another idea is to utilize calming sensory input. Splash cold water on your face, gently and calmly. Weighted items are also great, but if you do not have access you can make yourself into a burrito using a blanket, push on yourself gently and firmly. Push on your arms, your head, your legs. Apply pressure by pushing yourself into the wall or a chair. I did this one and felt tears well up in my eyes. I connected with myself and felt my vulnerability. I felt the reality of what I have been carrying and released it. So now you have this blog!
I cannot fail to mention that you should eat well and get enough sleep. Use these tips to calm your nervous system before bed to ensure your sleep is not just X amount of hours but is quality rest.
Don’t forget to connect with others! We are currently in a wonderful time where technology connects us. While I strongly tout the value of in-person contact, when we cannot achieve this use the wide variety of platforms to connect. Just this week I am attending dinner with a friend using FaceTime, a virtual happy hour with friends from all over the U.S., crafting and participating in my book club virtually.
Synergetic play therapy teaches us about being the external regulator in the playroom. You may also need an external regulator from time to time. You do not need to hide your vulnerability. Admit and share your worry.
Once your cup feels fuller, you can be that external regulator for others. If someone does come to you, client or not, here are some tips: do not try to make it better, be present, do not say it will all be okay, do not distract from it or avoid the feelings. Once you have your inner sense of safety you can support others in finding their own inner sense of safety. Note I said you are helping them find their own sense of safety and not building a reliance on you to regulate them.
Do not forget to breathe. You can do this. We will come out of this time with new lessons, resources, and hopefully stronger nervous systems!
Kamini Verma, LCSW-S, RPT-S is a therapist in Texas who is passionate about assisting children and their families through periods of healing, development and growth. She has 10+ years of experience working with children, adolescents and their families on topics related to healing from trauma and abuse, crisis intervention, creating home stability, adoption, attachment, grief and loss, mindfulness and questions of sexuality. Kamini is a Registered Play Therapist and Trust Based Relational Intervention ® Certified Educator. She enjoys crafting, cookie decorating and spending time with loved ones.