The Power of Self-Regulation and Co-Regulation: A Personal Journey and Lessons for Professionals


The importance of self-regulation of the nervous system cannot be overstated. As professionals, we often find ourselves in high-stress environments that challenge our emotional balance. Learning to self-regulate can lead to better decision-making, improved mental health, and enhanced professional effectiveness. But what happens when we fail to self-regulate? I learned this the hard way.

The Unexpected Incident

In the midst of a busy day moving into a new apartment, I received a distressing text message from a dear friend. She was battling severe health issues and informed me that her condition had deteriorated significantly. The news was devastating, and it triggered an unexpected response in me. Just minutes after reading her message, I felt a sharp, sudden pain in my foot, seemingly out of nowhere.

For the last few months, as her health was deteriorating, we communicated regularly. Every time she was in pain and had another health scare she would text me and ask for Reiki. An hour or two later she would text me back: “The Reiki helped. I feel much better.”

This time was different.

The Realization

The track was already outside the building that morning when we got the key. With not enough time to process being in our new apartment I was tired and a bit lost.

By the time the movers left, I couldn’t walk. The pain was too strong. I laid down and shifted my awareness inward.

Upon reflection, I realized that this pain was not due to a physical injury. Instead, it was a manifestation of the emotional distress I felt after reading my friend’s message. As an empath, I had taken on her pain, feeling worse while she felt better.

This is a common pattern among empaths, but it’s not healthy or sustainable. In this vulnerable state, I had failed to properly regulate my emotions, leading to a physical manifestation of distress.

My realization was confirmed when I called my friend a little later and she said: “The Reiki you sent today worked like a miracle. My leg is no longer painful. It’s the first time in days that I’ve been able to eat and walk. I feel so much better!”

The Importance of Self-Regulation

Self-regulation refers to our ability to manage our own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in in alignment with our well-being. It involves controlling our behavior, redirecting negative impulses, and acting in alignment with our deepest values. This process is intentional and comes from within the individual.

In the context of my situation, I had failed to self-regulate. Instead of processing the news and dealing with my emotions, I had suppressed them. This suppression led to a physical symptom—a sharp pain in my foot.

The Role of Co-Regulation

In contrast to self-regulation, co-regulation involves another individual, like a therapist, coach, or even a supportive friend or family member, helping you understand and manage your responses In my case, my husband provided this support, giving me the space I needed to heal, and my two team members – Dawn and Rachel – sent me remote Reiki per my request.

Through phone conversations with my friend, the support of my husband and my team members I was able to reclaim my energy and return some of the energy I took on. This process allowed me to begin healing, highlighting the power of co-regulation.

Why We Need to Self-Regulate Our Nervous System

Self-regulation of the nervous system is pivotal for our overall well-being and ability to effectively respond to stress. It’s a biological process that helps us maintain balance in our bodies and minds. When confronted with stressors, our bodies instinctively switch to ‘fight or flight’ mode, activating the sympathetic nervous system.

This results in increased heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels. While this response can be lifesaving in dangerous situations, chronic activation can lead to health problems like hypertension, anxiety, and fatigue. Self-regulation allows us to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as ‘rest and digest’, facilitating recovery and restoration after stress. By learning to self-regulate, we can better manage our stress responses, promoting healthier and more balanced lives.

As a therapist, coach, or healing art professional, self-regulation of your nervous system is crucial for your practice. Working in high-stress environments and dealing with clients who may be under emotional or physical stress can take a toll on you. Without self-regulation, you run the risk of experiencing burnout – emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress.

Self-regulation helps build emotional resilience, allowing you to better cope with the emotional ups and downs that come with your work. With a well-regulated nervous system, you can think more clearly and make sound judgments about a client’s treatment. This clarity helps you stay present and empathetic with your clients, even when dealing with challenging situations.

When you are calm and centered, you can better empathize with your clients and fully understand their experiences and emotions, which is crucial for effective treatment. Additionally, your self-regulation can prevent countertransference, where you might unconsciously start to take on the client’s emotions. Appropriate emotional boundaries maintained through self-regulation can prevent this from happening.

Lastly, your sustained energy levels brought about by self-regulation ensure that you can consistently deliver high-quality care to your clients.

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