Co-regulation is not just about sharing emotions; it’s about sharing the load of emotional states. It’s the foundation upon which we build our ability to self-regulate. – Sukie Baxter
Co-regulation of emotions is a critical biological process experienced by all mammals, including humans. It plays a significant role in our ability to form and maintain social connections, manage stress, and ensure our overall well-being. This process is closely tied to our brain’s wiring for social connection and our ability to pick up on subtle cues from others.
In the care profession, the importance of co-regulation cannot be overstated. Caregivers, whether they are healthcare professionals, therapists, or social workers, often work with individuals who are in vulnerable states of mind or physical health. Co-regulation can help establish a safe and supportive environment, enabling the person receiving care to feel understood, valued, and secure.
It isn’t just a concept but more of a therapeutic superpower. When we interact with someone, our bodies unconsciously pick up on their cues, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and even subtle changes in their autonomic nervous system activity. Through a complex network of biochemical signals, we are able to empathize with others and understand their emotions by simulating their experiences in our own minds.
It is almost like a form of brainwave entrainment wherein our nervous system synchronizes with the emotional and physiological states of others. The beauty of co-regulation lies in its ability to deepen our sense of connection. When we co-regulate with care and empathy, we build bridges of understanding and trust that strengthen relationships.
Physical touch is another way of co-regulating. A comforting hug, or holding hands can help balance individual emotions and stress levels by promoting feelings of safety, comfort, and connection. This tactile interaction can be particularly effective in situations of distress, anxiety, or emotional upheaval.
Active listening, verbal reassurance, being present, emulating deep breaths, and mild distractions are also invaluable skills related to co-regulation. Validation also reduces stress and problem-solving helps our client to regain a sense of control. Equally, maintaining a routine can provide stability and a sense of normalcy, but essentially whatever combinations of co-regulation we choose to include it ultimately involves adapting to what is most effective and comfortable for the person in distress.
In short, engaging in co-regulation with others, helps us manage our own emotional states. If someone around us is calm and relaxed, their state can help us regulate our own stress and anxiety levels. Conversely, if someone is in distress, their emotions can alert us to potential dangers or challenges, triggering a necessary response. This shared emotional experience can enhance our collective ability to respond to threats and protect one another.
This external assistance fosters the acquisition of self-regulation and it’s not just a skill – it’s a lifeline. It’s the cornerstone of creating a safe and healing space for those in need and for those who provide care. The way one self-regulates can set an example for others, creating a positive influence that can contribute to a more emotionally stable and resilient healing environment.
In the world of caregiving, as we lead by example and maintain a level playing field for those we care for, we discover the profound truth that our own well-being flourishes when we witness the improvement in our clients, creating a cycle of mutual support and shared emotional upliftment.