There is nothing quite like motherhood to make you feel like you’ve lost control or that you’ve met your limit, right? Often times, motherhood can feel joyful, meaningful, boring, stressful, exhausting….all in one day.
I think ideally we’d all like to feel more joy and meaning than stress and exhaustion though. And, thankfully, there are actual things you can do to make sure you feel more ease and can enjoy the positives more.
In order to understand how to use calming tools for when we “lose our shit”, it’s helpful to understand a little about how our brain is wired. But don’t stress--I’ll keep it simple for you:
#1. You basically have two different brains.
OK, not literally. But there are two different systems in your brain that communicate with each other, but have very different roles. When we get stressed--you know, like when the baby is crying, the phone is ringing, kids are fighting, etc, etc, etc--our brain can respond on what is referred to sometimes (and kind of simplistically) as two separate “types of brains”: the limbic system and cortical system. These are sometimes thought of as the “caveman brain” and the “thinking brain”.
#2. Our Limbic System is our "feeling" brain.
Wikipedia says that “The limbic system supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction. Emotional life is largely housed in the limbic system, and it has a great deal to do with the formation of memories.”
#3. Though our Cortical System is where all our "smarts" are housed, our thoughts sometimes can get in the way.
You could say that the limbic part of our brain houses the “master controls” to our stress response. But, our thoughts (which happen in the cortical part of our brain) cause us the most stress, so of course, our thoughts affect the triggers that are set off in the limbic parts of our brain.
#4. We are very good at turning ON our stress with our thoughts, but really bad at turning OFF our stress through our thoughts.
That’s why it’s so hard to calm down when someone tells you to calm down, and it often only makes you more angry, frustrated, or anxious. This is also why there’s so much talk about positive thinking out there--it’s much easier to keep stress turned off than to turn it off once it’s on.
#5. You can't rationalize your way out of stress in the middle of a high-stress situation.
So if we can’t think ourselves to calm, what does it take? Because our emotions, instincts and sensory processing are housed in the limbic part of our brain, it’s easiest to influence our stress response through our senses and bodily experiences.
#6. There are 5 different ways to impact the Limbic System and you can begin using these ways right away.
In the book, Replenish, author Lisa Byrne (I was fortunate to participate in her year long certification program) talks about five categories of tools that can immediately impact the limbic part of our brain to “turn on” the calm response and “turn off” the stress response. These five things are: aromatics, breath, nature, nervous system and energy work. You don't need something as elaborate as a yoga class or an hour-long soak in the bathtub (although those things definitely don't hurt!). Simple things that soothe or distract (in a good way!) our senses (like a lavender scented candle, stepping outside for a moment, or splashing cold water on your face) are often the fastest way to evoking calm.
#7. These five categories can also be used on your baby or small child when they are in the middle of a meltdown.
You’ve probably noticed that once your toddler crosses from minor tantrum territory into meltdown territory that there’s just no reasoning with them, right? Next time, try calming them by hugging them very tightly to make them feel secure, taking them outside, watching a glitter jar swirl around, or holding a small windchime up for them to see until they calm down. Once they’re calm, you’ll have much better luck talking things out.
Can you see how understanding the limbic system can change how we approach stress? What are some ways you can engage your senses or trigger happy vibes when you’re completely stressed out? I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments!