Adult caregivers such as parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors play an essential role in shaping and supporting self-regulation development from birth to young adulthood. This process is called co-regulation. Human nervous systems need to connect to other nervous systems to experience both physical and psychological well-being.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) both sends and searches for cues of safety and danger. We are constantly on the lookout and sending out our current state of being. Our work is to build awareness of our own ANS state and to cultivate cues of safety for our own bodies and for those around us. When we send cues of safety, we invite those around us to connect and co-regulate.
The human social engagement system is a neurobiological network that is accessed when we feel safe. Signals of safety are sent through various body cues of the social engagement system. Possible cues of safety include: intonation of the voice without words (ex: ahhh, mmm, ohhh), nodding of the head while listening, relaxed face with a slight smile, and warmer, higher use of melodic voice when speaking (think soothing sounds of a lullaby).
Tips to Find Your Safe and Social Anchors:
- WHO: Identify a person (or animal) that when you are around them or think of them, they bring a sense of welcomeness into your system.
- WHAT: Find a simple practice you can do that brings you towards a place of feeling safe. This could be looking out the window at nature, taking a deep breath, or wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket.
- WHERE: Where is a place that brings you a sense of calm. A nearby park, the ocean, maybe just thinking about this place brings ease to you.
- Commit to turning to these when you notice yourself moving away from a regulated state.
- In addition, the Safe and Sound Protocol, an altered music program that stimulates and tones the cranial nerves of the social engagement system, may be supportive for you and your family to deepen in your sense of safety and connection. Reach out to your therapist to find out more.
Author: Allison Hunt, Occupational Therapist