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By Trisha Mendoza MSW, RSW

Many people enrol in our Foundations program looking for Self-Reg strategies that can positively address challenging child behaviour. But the first big “aha moment” often has to do with the importance of personal Self-Reg. That insight is illustrated quite nicely in this post by Trisha Mendoza, a learner in our Facilitator’s program.

I completed my Foundations course with the MEHRIT Centre in 2022. I was thrilled when my school board allowed me to take the Facilitator’s Program this year and thought of the limitless possibilities that this could bring to my career, both for my work at the board as a Behavioural Consultant specializing in Self-Regulation and as a Psychotherapist in private practice.

There were many changes at the beginning of the school year. My self-regulation team transferred to a different department (from Early Years to Special Education), which meant a new supervisor, a new focus and a new department structure. The team welcomed a new member who had years of experience in a JK/SK classroom, but had not yet been introduced in-depth to the work of the MEHRIT Centre. The challenges in the schools remained the same this year: student “behaviours”, stressed out staff members, feelings of helplessness when folks couldn’t find solutions to solve whatever was on their plates at the moment. I was experiencing challenges on a personal level as well: managing a private practice on top of working full time (usually 13-hour days, at times 3 days a week), plus the demands of my relationships and an aging parent with some health concerns…Clearly, it was a good time to start the Facilitator’s Program (insert eye roll here).

It took a few weeks to get back into the flow of things with the coursework. I had competing demands from the school board and was only able to complete the modules in a piecemeal fashion over the course of the week. This time around it was less about learning about the concepts and more about applying these concepts and how we would go about bringing this learning to others.

I found myself in my cubicle, with the videos playing on one screen while simultaneously working on other tasks on my two other screens. Feeling scattered, I often re-watched the videos multiple times, sometimes taking notes, sometimes knitting as a way to self-regulate, but never entirely capturing the message (ergo, the re-watching of the videos). Sometimes colleagues would come by for a consultation, many times there were emails coming in along with requests for video calls.

I found myself sitting for long stretches, eating whatever snacks I could get my hands on, overstressed, overtired, admittedly sometimes pretty crunchy as well. Lunchtime with my colleagues was a welcome break. Time to joke and laugh together, talk about things entirely unrelated to work or help a friend learn to knit on her own. But the afternoon often lent itself to long stretches in front of the screens with me unable to put my thoughts into words in order to complete the tasks for the modules. What is “misbehaviour” and what is “stress behaviour” in my current situation?

And Then Comes My ‘Aha!’ Moment…

I Reframe My Own Behaviour In Relation To This Course

The assignment was “Show what you know” about Reframing. What I know is that I can see (and feel) the difference when my Blue Brain is ‘online’. I can think clearly, share my thoughts in a meaningful way, manage my time well and invest in people and conversations that matter to me. Conversely, when my Red Brain is running the show I am overtired, I eat sugary or salty snacks and drink lots of caffeine to “push through.” I’m hypersensitive to Limbic Resonance and become snappy with others. My body gets cold. I get headaches. I can go from hypo-alert to hyper-alert. Folks, I am in Allostatic Overload and my limbic system is ringing like a fire alarm.

Reframing Illustrations of Trisha's Blue Brain which works smoothly in combination with other pieces of a cog vs Trisha's Red Brain which is like a building on fire with a 'fire exit' sign and a red alarm. In between both photos is an illustration of the triune brain (Blue - neocortex, red - limbic system and grey - subcortical sub-structure of the brain) with a neuroaxis overlaid on top to represent the progression between the 3 subsections of the brain.

So What Now?

Reframing my own experience through a Self-Reg lens helped me reflect on where I am on the Thayer Matrix, as well as the others I interact with on a daily basis. I’ve learned that I’m unable to return to a state of calm and alert when I’m overstressed and don’t have the opportunity to restore my energy and reduce my tension level. Thus, I end up caught in a stress cycle on the right side of the matrix. I also recognize that I’m using maladaptive coping strategies throughout my day, which results in a further depletion of my energy reserves. Something’s gotta give here…

Thayer Matrix - 4 Quadrants representing the combinations of High and Low Energy and Tension Together - Adapted by The MEHRIT Centre from Robert E. Thayer (1996), The Origin of Everyday Moods: Managing Energy, Tension, and Stress. Used to help reframe misbehaviours that may be due to low energy and high tension as stress behaviours

I looked at my situation and asked myself what stressors are coming into play across all of the domains?

  • Biological: too much screen time, feeling cold, lack of sleep, hunger, sitting for too long, too much caffeine and sugary/salty foods, fluorescent lighting in the office. Too much time indoors, lack of exercise, headaches, allergies, long days between the school board and my private practice work without breaks, traveling to and from different schools.
  • Emotion: deadlines, guilt, helplessness, being available for therapy clients who are in struggle, worrying about my elderly parent, conflict in relationships, needing to always be “on” at work and with clients.
  • Cognitive: competing demands with the school board, private practice and personal life, expectations (personal and professional). Difficulty concentrating and retaining information, needing to shift quickly and repeatedly between the coursework, a work task and preparing for sessions with clients. Prioritizing projects, adjusting to the functioning of a new department, orientation of a new team member, virtual meetings, going back and forth from French to English during my work day.
  • Social: limited social engagement with colleagues during the work day, small talk, multiple conversations going on at the same time, nuances of being “social” during virtual meetings, “drop in” visits to my cubicle.
  • Prosocial: compromising my time to help another person, being present to listen to the struggle of my clients during therapy sessions. Feelings of unfairness, limbic reactions of others, compassion fatigue, feeling the stress of others, empathy and sympathy while working with different staff members.
Graphic illustrating the 5 domains of Self-Reg: biological, emotion, social, pro social and cognitive.

So What Has This Taught Me?

I will work on reframing my day by asking myself “Why” and “Why now?”, decrease my stressors whenever possible, and take the time to restore my energy and reduce my tension. When I reach for the ice cream sandwich or the extra coffee, I will be curious about my level of stress. When I sense fatigue and a brain block coming on, I will take that as my cue to get up and move a bit, perhaps get some water or say hi to a colleague. I will try to make time for physical activity, but also be kind with myself if, one day, getting to calm means tending to my house plants, reading a book or going to bed early instead. If my work day has been particularly difficult, I will reduce my client hours while acknowledging that I cannot be a good therapist to them if I am not managing my energy and tension well.

Self-Reg is a process that we can share with others, but also a self-reflective tool which allows us to treat ourselves with a little more grace and kindness.

Follow in Trisha’s Reframing Footsteps

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