Self-Assessment is the foundation of building awareness to address your behavior and emotions. The more frequently we check in with ourselves and explore how we feel, the more attuned to our body’s and emotions we will become. Small frequent check-ins throughout the day make it so we can stay up to date with our shifting behavioral states throughout the day, rather than forcing and pushing ourselves to get through the day so we can “relax” at the end of it.
Cueing to check-in
One of the more difficult aspects of checking in is simply remembering to do so. So often we have an internal dialogue in our head that distracts us from the present moment. This is one reason you can have an entire day and get to the end wondering where the day went. The easiest solution is to create some type of sensory cue to help remind you to check in. Everyone responds differently to different cues so you may want to try several and see what you prefer.
Visual Cues: Assigning meaning to an image is one way to aid in self check ins. You can use simple colored dot stickers or fun image stickers, whatever works best for you. Place the stickers in places where you frequent most (doors, cell phone, computer, refrigerator, at your desk, in your car, etc). As you go about your day anytime you see a sticker, take at least 30 seconds to pause and check in with yourself.
Auditory Cues: Self-Assessment is the foundation of building awareness to address your behavior and emotions. The more frequently we check in with ourselves and explore how we feel, the more attuned to our body’s and emotions we will become. Small frequent check-ins throughout the day make it so we can stay up to date with our shifting behavioral states throughout the day, rather than forcing and pushing ourselves to get through the day so we can “relax” at the end of it.
Checking in provides us the opportunity to make observations of how we feel and what our behavioral state is. Questions to ask yourself during a check in:
How do I feel?
How does my body feel?
What am I feeling?
What does my body feel?
Where is my energy level?
These questions are to help you investigate your current state, so answering “fine, good, normal” really doesn’t tell you anything. Get descriptive with it, there are no right or wrong answers. The answers will help you address what you are feeling and regulate appropriately, helping you to move up the ladder.
Checking-in without Judgement
Checking in is a great first step to building awareness and keeping regulated. As you explore your experience it’s important to practice observing your experience without the judgement/shame that so often is associated with our internal thoughts. I think that understanding the polyvagal theory and viewing responses as a natural survival technique helps with this. Understanding why we feel the way we feel takes the pressure off of us to be the perfect version of ourselves that society (and this can include friends and family) pressures us to be.
Down Regulating Responses
Checking in will help keep you current with what you are feeling and what you need to maintain that feeling or help yourself feel better. There are ways to regulate that will be different depending on if you are in a mobilized sympathetic state vs an immobilized shut down, and before you can effectively apply any technique it’s very helpful to make sure you know what you need to help you be where you want to be. Some of the ways to address your state require time, it requires us to slow down. If you are unable to spend the time necessary to really address your state and shift you out you can still take 30 - 60 seconds to focus on the connection your feet have with the ground, close your eyes, and do some kind of breathing to help access your vagus nerve and bring balance to your system. It feels good and your body will give you some kind of sign: a yawn, deeper breathing, and/or a sigh, these are physiological responses that let you know a shift is taking place and you are moving in the right direction.
Regulating out of shut down
If you notice you’re in shut down (low energy, apathy, hopelessness, sadness, despair), one way to regulate is to remove yourself from external stimuli like loud or persistent noises, lights, and movement. Allow yourself time to be undisturbed and not force focus, but simply be and bring your attention to the natural world around you. Nature and visualizations of nature allows the focus to shift from your internal state to the world around you. Nature is Awe-inspiring. When we experience moments of awe, it brings us into the present and can help shift us out of shut-down.
Moving through the sympathetic state
The sympathetic state is one of movement and restless/aggressive energy. The Flight state is expressed through anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, there may be a sense of panic and a dysregulation of the breath. Movement that synchronizes with the breath is helpful for returning to a safer state. Yoga, tai chi, qi gong, rhythmic rocking etc are all ways to move and breathe through a flight state.
The Fight state is characterized by revved up energy, frustration, or aggression. Here movement is also recommended but with boundaries. It can be easy to move recklessly when you are angry, movement allows us to disperse the energy but we want to do so in an intentional way that allows us to shift out of fight and into social engagement. Martial arts or movement with rules/boundaries (i.e rock climbing, running with awareness) are good practices to channel that type of energy.
Connection and Engagement
The goal is to get to a safe and social engaged state. In this state you’re relaxed, your breathing is synchronized, and you are able to connect and be playful with others. Facial expressions return, eye contact is made, and laughter flows freely. When we are at the top of our ladders we are better at communicating, we have more empathy, and we can truly connect with ourselves and others.
In health, Stephanie Devito