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Why we need both Rest/Relaxation and Regulation.


Most of my blogs are hosted in my membership - The Baby Village


Parenthood, particularly in the early years with young children or babies, is often characterized by a whirlwind of activity, demands, and responsibilities. And we quickly realise that amidst the chaos, finding moments of respite becomes essential for maintaining one's well-being and sanity.  Yet, within the desire for rest and relaxation, lies a deeper need for regulation - a fundamental shift in the nervous system that fosters resilience, balance, and emotional equilibrium.


So let's explore the crucial distinction between rest/relaxation and regulation, and why it's so useful for mothers and parents to understand these things in order to avoid burnout and maternal depletion.


So what's the difference between Rest and Regulation?

Ok, so!  I've been trying to figure out what's the easiest way to clarify the difference in these things. And in the way I understand it, I'm drawing on a cross-pollination of ideas and experiences of yoga, meditation, counselling, attachment theory, polyvagal theory, my own experiences of motherhood, and all the experiences of motherhood that I've gathered from others along the years. It kind of feels like a complex web of ideas and witnessing of other's experiences, and hey, you might have the desire, time and energy to go and do a deep dive research on all those things. They are fascinating and very helpful subjects for understanding and navigating the human experience.  But what I really want to do in this blog series about Rest, is to boil down all that stuff into some simple and fairly easily actionable practices.  Here goes...  


Rest and relaxation are often equated with moments of physical stillness and mental tranquility - finding an oasis of calm amidst the chaos of daily life. In the context of parenting, it may entail stealing moments of quietude during nap times, sinking into a warm bath after a long day, or indulging in a leisurely cup of tea while the baby sleeps.


While these moments of respite are undeniably precious and necessary for recharging depleted batteries, they primarily address the surface level of physical and psychological effort, offering temporary relief. But they don't often address the deeper layers of physiological and emotional effort that are involved in the intense juggle of parenting.





Rest is any act that gives you a moment to step out of the daily stressors, to top yourself up, whether that be by finding stillness, or socialising or quiet activity or connected fun.


Regulation is a much deeper process that is tapping into the underlying state of the nervous system. Helping it keep returning to a state of resilience and balance, so you feel better able to cope with whatever weather comes your way each day.

The aim is not to stay in a regulated state constantly, but to be able to easily notice when we are dysregulated, and to move back through to a regulation state.  It's not about being/feeling regulated in every moment.  It's about not getting stuck in dysregulation.

That is how the nervous system is designed to work. We flow in and out of different states.  


Stress

Joy 

Fear

Play

Angry

Excited  


But we want to be able to return to safety. To 'Regulated'.





Think of it as ....Building a home.  Every day, you play outside, you work outside, you take care of your kids outside in the world. And the world is made up of a million small acts of weather over time. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it's sunny, sometimes the most beautiful butterflies flitter past, and other times the slugs have eaten your entire lettuce patch and things seem unfair or infuriating.


Life is busy. Often it feels like there's never enough time to do everything, but everyday you get up and you go outside and you work, you play, you raise your kids, you do what needs to be done. Every so often, you sit down on the verandah, and you have a cup of tea (or a gin and tonic ). You might sit by yourself and just breathe quietly, letting your body soften. You might snuggle up in a hammock with your littlies and enjoy a snuggle. You might invite some friends over and chat and laugh loudly. You might paint or draw or dance. This is REST. 


You're taking a period of time to engage in activities that top you up. They make you feel a little better. You feel renewed afterward. They might be active or they might be passive, but they are a form of REST. But here, next to the garden and the verandah, is also your home. It's the place that you want to return to at the end of each day. It's the place where you feel at your calmest, whatever that looks like for you. This is the place you want to be able to return to after a great day or a rubbish day. It contains the steadiest bits of you. It's where you feel safest, and it's where you are your most calm, safe, authentic self. It's also where you are able to reflect and process all the things that have happened outside. This is the state of REGULATION.


In life, we want to be able to return to this home over and over again. We want to be able to go outside and work or play, and then to come inside into this safe haven again. Over and over we go outside, we face the weather, we face the world, and then we want to come home. To safety and calm. Over and over we are stimulated, in comfortable or uncomfortable ways, and then we want to be able to come back home. To REGULATION. 

Rest is an activity. It is something you do.  Regulation is a state within the nervous system. It is the ability to move flexibly between states of arousal in response to stressors and then return to your baseline.

To be able to move easily from states of activation: 

Play  

Fear 

Stress 

Excitement  

Motivation

Anxiety and then back to calm and steadiness again.  


To be able to move easily from states of deactivation: 

Still relaxation

Feeling low 

Sleeping 

Feeling disconnected from ourselves or each other 

Zoning out for relaxation and then back to calm and steadiness again.


You don't need to stay in your Regulation House all day! But you do want to be able to pop in and out throughout your day.  The problem is that in this fast-paced world, and ESPECIALLY when we have babies/children, we often spend more time out in the garden of life than is useful. We are SO busy and we have so much to learn and do and figure out that we don't get to go back into our regulation house often enough. 


And the less we go in, the stiffer the door gets, and the harder it is to go back into the house at all.  If this continues over time, over years, we might find that we never really get to go back in the house at all, and whilst we might try and hang out on the verandah, doing our favourite rest activities, this isn't really enough to compensate for the fact that we're now outside ALL THE TIME. We try to rest, but it feels like there is a bottomless pit of exhaustion that can not be filled.  


This is what we're talking about when we talk about Chronic Stress, Maternal depletion, some forms of Depression, Burnout.  Rest is great. Rest is essential. Rest can help us regulate, but it's not the whole picture.  We also want to make sure we are engaging in improving and maintaining regulation. 


Next Blog: So...How do we support Regulation?

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