What is Self-Regulation?


Self- Regulation is how we manage stress.” – Dr. Stuart Shanker

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Whether it’s been adjusting to life changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as lining up for 30 minutes to get into Costco, dealing with the illness of a loved one, or simply finding the motivation to get up in the morning, stress is something we all encounter on a daily basis, regardless of our age. Even babies experience all sorts of stress, beginning in their mother’s womb and even more so when they are born into the world.

Dr. Stuart Shanker, Founder and Visionary of The MEHRIT Centre defines stress as: anything that requires our internal system to burn energy in order to maintain some sort of internal balance. What he means by internal system is our autonomic nervous system (ANS). Stress has a physiological affect on our bodies, can be both positive and negative and vary from person to person (See: Stress & Stressors). When we talk about stress, we must also talk about how we manage it. This is called: self-regulation.


Dr. Stuart Shanker defines self-regulation simply as: how we manage stress. This is where our autonomic nervous system comes into play. Our autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating many of the functions, organs and muscles in our body. Some of the functions it is responsible for regulating include our:

  • Heart and breathing rate 💓
  • Blood flow 🩸
  • Body temperature 🌡
  • Digestion 🍴

The autonomic nervous system is is made up of two parts: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) (i.e., accelerator) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) (i.e., brakes).

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

  • Is responsible for the energy used from stress
  • Is connected to our fight-or-flight stress response systems
    • Helps to keep us safe from threat/danger
  • Is responsible for our quick action and is fueled by adrenaline
    • Is what gets you up in the morning when your alarm goes off
  • Physiological responses (particularly when in danger) include:
    • Pupils: dilates, to take in more light
    • Heart rate: accelerates, pumping more blood throughout the body
    • Digestive system: decreases activity
    • Liver: stimulates glucose production + release (for immediate energy) 
    • Adrenal glands: stimulates adrenaline + cortisol production (the hormones that provide the muscles with oxygen and energy to react to danger)

Scenario #1

Imagine your smoke detector goes off while you’re sleeping. Your SNS activates, your heart rate increases and adrenaline fuels your body for action so quickly you don’t even realize it’s happening.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

  • Is responsible for rest, digest and recovery (from the energy used from stress)
  • Physiological responses (after experiencing danger/threat) include:
    • Pupils: constricts
    • Heart rate: slows down
    • Digestive system: stimulates activity
    • Liver: stimulates bile release (a fluid that helps with digestion)

Scenario #1 (con’t)

You realize your alarm detector malfunctioned. Your PNS activates, calming you down and restoring your body back in balance. When both of the SNS and PNS are in balance, you are in what’s called homeostasis. It’s important that the SNS doesn’t remain activated for prolonged periods (i.e., remaining in excessive states of stress). This can cause an over production of cortisol (a long-term stress response hormone) that can impact brain function and overall health. Alternatively, you don’t want to become and remain lethargic and withdrawn (i.e., remaining in a constant parasympathetic state, such as not wanting to get out of bed in the morning). Stress in healthy doses and degrees is a natural part of our healthy development, growth and resiliency, and as human beings, our ability to manage it effectively is what allows us to thrive.

See: Stress & Stressors to learn more about them.

More on Self-Regulation

See: Self-Regulation Resources

Got questions? Contact Me


This website is provided only for informational purposes and not intended to be used to replace professional advice, treatment or professional care. Always speak to your physician, healthcare provider or pediatrician if you have concerns about your own health or the health of a child.

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