Relationships 101 Part 5: Self-regulation

If you’ve ever had a conflict you know how uncomfortable and difficult it can feel, physically. You might find yourself saying things you don’t mean or having a hard time thinking straight. You thought the conversation was going one place and then you find yourself yanked into something completely different, dazed and confused about how you got there. Believe it or not, there is a physiological reason for this. Whenever we feel a sense of threat, the body reacts to protect us. We tighten our pelvic floors and squeeze our vagus nerves which then send a signal to the body to engage what's called the Sympathetic Nervous System. The SNS floods the body with cortisol and adrenaline because it thinks your are in physical threat. When we flood with those hormones, the neocortex — the part of our brain that can process information and reason through data — goes offline. All we can really do is fight, flee or freeze. Not surprisingly, this isn’t very helpful in resolving a conflict! In order to do this differently, we need to get very good at “self-regulating,” which means practicing turning this unhelpful response off on command before the part of the brain that remembers how to do it becomes inaccessible. If we practice self regulation when we don’t need it, we literally cut neural paths in our brains making it easier to do when we do need it. There are five techniques for “getting off of your last nerve” that I teach nearly all of my clients. Go to and click on each of the links under “Changing Anxious Chemistry.” Each of these techniques can be effective in helping you think clearly and speak constructively with your partner, especially when things get heated. Stay tuned to this space for more healthy-enough relationship tools! If you are ready to work on a healthier, more vital and fulfilling relationship, fill out the Send a Message form to the right. Let’s talk! ___________ Tiffany Sankofa, MS LCPC is a therapist in practice in Columbia, MD. If you’d like help growing your relationship, go to and contact Tiffany today. It’s time to take your life back!