How to Calm a Dysregulated Brain


If we observe enough, we can see that children and animals seem to know something is brewing before most adults do.  This was certainly the case in our home this week.  Prior to all of the collective chaos happening on a more national scale, my kids were already starting to feel it brewing earlier in the week.  This led to several mini meltdowns and micro-chaos moments.

Fortunately, we’ve all been learning some new skills which are helping us to stay centered despite all of the chaos around us.  Studies on the brain show us that when we feel emotionally dysregulated, we need rhythmic, patterned, repetitive, predictable sensory input in order to re-regulate (in other words, switch of the sympathetic nervous system from Fight, Flight, Freeze response and switch on the parasympathetic nervous system or rest and digestion).  The rest and digest is when the body feels safe and is calm.

There are 4 main parts of the brain which get stimulated during a FFF response in the body (the neocortex which is considered the top- where we can be given choices, understand, and access problem-solving skills; the limbic which is next and include connection with others and relationships, then the diencephalon which is movement, and finally at the bottom is the neocortex which requires sensory input.

It helps to know where we are in the brain when we become dysregulated in order to know what we need to bring ourselves back into balance.  It’s easiest to see in children, perhaps.  When they are upset, they will sometimes slam doors or stomp their feet.  If a parent tries to give a hug, they may scream, “Get away from me!”  That’s the first clue that they have dropped lower in the brain than the limbic.  They are not in a place where they can focus on connection or relationship.

If a child doesn’t want to move, they may be stuck in the brainstem and need rhythmic, patterned, repetitive, predictable sensory input.  Working from the brainstem up to the neocortex is also called “Bottom’s Up Regulation” because we are working from the foundation, or the bottom and building on that.  Here is what the skills look like at each level:

Bottom First-
Brainstem- playing classical music, or watching a metronome can be helpful to calm and soothe the brain
Once the brain has calmed a degree, we move up to the

Diencephalon where we can incorporate movement- this is why many people like to “walk” it off when they are dealing with discord.  Walking, swinging, swaying back and forth, jumping on a trampoline can all be helpful here.  Once regulated here, we can move to the

Limbic where we can accept hugs and cuddles, or eye contact.  Here we work to build the relationship.  For example, holding self accountable and apologizing if need be.  Next, we move up to

Neocortex which is where we want to be in order to solve problems and understand the deeper meaning in any given situation.  It is here we can make good choices, listen to reason, and make or accept consequences.

Having this information has helped my family and I tremendously.  I hope it helps you all as well!

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