How I Got Through Some of My Lowest Days in Lockdown (Repost)

Early Childhood, Health & Lifestyle, Self-Regulation

With the stress of the holiday season mostly behind us, I figured what better time than now to repost this article that I wrote during the height of the 2020 global pandemic, when the whole world was under a great deal of stress. With the new year approaching, my hope is that this article might be helpful to readers with understanding how to navigate through times of stress.

Originally published July 2020

I never for a second thought I’d be writing about the days I struggled through during lockdown, with all that I know about the human brain, body, its response to stress and stress management. But, here I am and here you are reading this.

A little over a year ago, I came across The MEHRIT Centre, an organization focused on grounding learning and living in self-regulation. I completed two courses with them and I share many of their resources throughout the self-regulation sections of this website. One of their many useful resources is the Thayer-Matrix. I discovered the Thayer-Matrix last year (2019), but it wasn’t until recently when I revisited its connection to motivation.

Being in Lockdown

Around mid-May 2020, as I was nearing the end of the school year, there were days when my motivation was so low that I found myself mentally checking out from online teaching. I had missed being in the classroom and with my students. Prior to school closures in March 2020, I was spending many hours at school each day, so working from home was quite the adjustment for me. As the school year progressed through online learning, I struggled with transitioning into a new routine and there were days when I didn’t even feel like getting out of bed.

Now let me explain what the Thayer-Matrix is.

The Thayer-Matrix

The Thayer-Matrix was created by Robert E. Thayer, an American psychologist known for his work on the connection between mood, energy, tension and stress which is reflected in his energy/tension (Thayer-Matrix) model (see image below).

(The information and examples provided below are entirely my interpretation of how I’ve applied this model to my own experience, what I’ve learned, and how I understand it.)

High-Energy/Low-Tension (HE/LT)

When our energy is high and tension (i.e., stress) is low, we are in a High-Energy/Low-Tension state. In this state we might tend to feel:

  • Well-rested and energized
  • Calm and relaxed
  • Ready to start the day ahead

An example of this state might be waking up on a day-off, or while on vacation, feeling well-rested (high-energy) and ready to ease into an open-ended kind of day (low-tension).

High-Energy/High-Tension (HE/HT)

When our energy and tension are both high, we are in a High-Energy/High-Tension state. In this state we might tend to feel:

  • Motivated with complete concentration and focus
  • Able to remain at a task for longer and with the most effort
  • Positive and productive

An example of this state might be waking up feeling well-rested (high-energy) and motivated to tackle a busy day ahead (high-tension).

Low-Energy/Low-Tension (LE/LT)

When our energy and tension are both low, we are in a Low-Energy/Low-Tension state. In this state we might tend to feel:

  • Tired, especially towards the end of a long and busy day
  • Ready to wind down and relax
  • Prepared to sleep and replenish our energy

An example of this state might be arriving home, tired from a busy and productive day (low-energy), and ready to ease into the night with a hot cup of tea (low-tension).

Low-Energy/High-Tension (LE/HT)  

When our energy is low and tension is high, we are in a Low-Energy/High-Tension state. In this state we might tend to feel:

  • Drained and exhausted
  • The least motivated (i.e., listless)
  • Stressed, possibly with lots still to do or on your mind

This was how I was feeling on my lowest day. Super drained with little to no motivation (low-energy), but with a lot on my plate (high-tension). These were the days where I struggled with getting out of bed, starting my workday or working towards getting things done.

Moving Through the Thayer-Matrix

Naturally, we should be moving through each of these states and not get stuck in any one of them for long periods of time. If stuck in a HE/HT state, this is likely being sustained through stimulators such as caffeine or energy boosters, and the natural production of adrenaline that works to keep you at a high-energy state to deal with high-tension. However, high-tension naturally drains our energy reserves. When we aren’t restoring enough through natural and essential sources of energy, such as through a restful sleep, eating healthy foods, and engaging in sustainable routines and practices, we may tend to seek alternative (and often maladaptive) ways to do so, especially at times when we really need to, or simply to cope. From what I learned in my course, being chronically stuck in a LE/HT state can lead to mood disorders. Having a support system and stress awareness and management practices are essential. While staying in a HE/LT state might seem nice to some, that is just not how life flows. Stressors from all around and inside us is what keeps us going, and when effectively managed, thriving. Lastly, we also don’t want to get stuck in a LE/LT state, becoming passive and listless. Humans (as well as animals) have a seeking system that exists in the brain and drives us to meet a need, craving, goal, desire and ultimately, to survive1.

Now, here’s how I was able to get through some of my lowest days in lockdown.

Moving from a LE/HT to a HE/HT State

Leading an online learning session with my students

First to begin, I needed to be aware of when I was in a low-energy/high-tension (LE/HT) state and what that felt like for me. I knew I had low energy because I felt physically, emotionally and mentally drained, listless, and a lack of motivation or desire to do anything. At the beginning of lockdown, a telltale sign of this was when I started losing track of the days. I woke up one morning thinking it was Sunday, when in fact, it was Thursday. I eventually realized this was happening because I wasn’t getting outside and in the sun. The sun sends signals/cues to regulate our circadian rhythm which is our internal sleep-wake 24-hour body clock. It also gives us energy, makes us feel good, and increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter in our body that is responsible for mood, well-being and feelings of happiness. BINGO! So, I knew I needed to get outside more, or as much as I possibly could, considering the circumstances. In addition, the sun is our ultimate source of energy and if we could eat it, we probably would! Instead, we must settle for eating the foods that absorb the sun’s energy for us (to learn more, google: “high vibration foods”). As I think back to it now, that seemed so obvious, right? But at that point in time, it actually wasn’t as clear cut, and I guess that came with adjusting and transitioning to being at home, rather than at school, teaching and preoccupied for most of the day. While I was getting enough sleep, I wasn’t waking up feeling energized and refreshed. (I highly recommend this podcast episode: How to Sleep Well). Having been physically active my whole life, my body wasn’t used to not moving around as much. Because I wasn’t moving around as much as I had been (I was working with toddlers), I wasn’t exerting as much energy, nor was I able to reach a high-energy state. As a result, I knew I needed to resume more physical activity which had always been an energy booster for me. I recognized I was in a high-tension state because of the stressors that were affecting me. Not being able to leave the house as much, see my friends or go out. The list can go on. I was looking at a screen way more and for longer periods at a time for online learning, meetings, program planning, corresponding with colleagues, attending webinars, social media, etc. Because my eyes were feeling strained near the end of the day, I knew I needed to be as mindful as possible of my screen time. I couldn’t change the fact that I still needed to work, be online and in front of a screen, but what I could change was my energy state to match it. Therefore, once I started getting outside (while taking the necessary precautions), working out at home and managing my screen time better, I was able to move myself from a low-energy to a high-energy state in order to meet the demands of my high-tension work week.

Moving from a HE/HT to a LE/LT State

As soon as I was able to balance my energy and tension to a HE/HT state, I began feeling motivated, greater concentration, was able to remain working for longer and with more effort, and overall, I felt good, productive and accomplished. By the end of my workday, my meetings and online learning were done for the day. This is where I transitioned from the high-tension state I was in throughout the day into a low-tension state. By the end of a busy day, our body naturally transitions into a low-energy state, depending on the amount of energy that was exerted, and the tension experienced throughout the day. When the things that are a source of high-tension (i.e., stressors) in your life are recognized, managed and reduced, you can begin to move into a low-tension state. Although this may not always be the case, ideally, LE/LT is where you want to be at the end of the day and it’s all a matter of finding what works for you to maneuver your way in, out and through these states, while knowing your stress load capacity. Some people can cope with and under more stress than others. It’s important to note that children experience and transition through these states as well, but their capacity to deal with stress is much lower than adults. Therefore, supporting them with navigating through these states is very important.

Strategies for Moving through Energy & Tension States

  • Become aware of what your mind and body feel like in each state of energy and tension. For example:
    • High-Energy:
      • Energized (e.g., during or after a workout)
      • Feeling well-rested and healthy
      • Having positive feelings (e.g., when laughing or talking with others)
      • Feeling motivated
      • Having complete concentration and focus
    • High-Tension:
      • Having lots to do
      • A busy day ahead (e.g., a heavy workload, working on tasks)
      • Feeling stressed or overwhelmed (see: Stress & Stressors to identify the source of your tension)
    • Low-Energy:
      • Feeling tired and exhausted
      • Lack of motivation
      • Feeling sick (when we are sick, our body naturally produces chemicals that make us sleepy)
      • Drained from high-tension
    • Low-Tension:
      • Feeling calm, relaxed, at ease
      • Having stress management strategies in place (e.g., meditation, yoga, deep breathing, prayer, listening to music)
      • Relying on a positive support system, such as family, friends, community and/or professionals
      • Maintaining effective routines and practices
  • Know what personal strategies work to move you to the state you want or need to be in:
    • Getting into a High-Energy state:
      • Getting good sleep: amount, quality, timing, state of mind (these are mentioned in the podcast)
      • Eating healthy and nutritious (high vibration) foods and drinking lots of water
      • Movement (e.g., working out, going for a walk)
      • Re-fuel by practicing self-care (see: Self-Care Begins With You)
    • Entering a High-Tension state:
      • We usually don’t choose to enter this state. Our body naturally enters high-tension states because of the stressors that exist within (e.g., hunger) and around us (e.g., morning traffic). Stressors affect each of us differently, so it’s important to know which ones have the most impact on you. For example, feeling too hot, feeling sick, excessive screen time, watching the news, changes in routine (see: Stress & Stressors).
    • Entering a Low-Energy state:
      • Again, we don’t choose to enter this state. Our body naturally enters low-energy states as we exert energy and experience stress, which is what drains our energy reserve throughout our day. However, we can settle into this state at the end of a long day with an evening routine that might consist of low-tension practices such as reading a book, drinking a cup of tea, praying/spiritual practices, expressing gratitude in writing, meditating, taking a bath, or doing bedtime yoga.
    • Getting into a Low-Tension state:
      • This requires recognizing your stressors, reducing and/or managing them. Engaging in self-care and low-tension practices is also important here. This isn’t always easy, but with time and support, you can develop these practices and habits. For example, I know that too much time in front of a screen strains my eyes so I balance and manage my screen time by taking breaks from it, adjusting display settings, and shutting my devices down at the end of the day and long before bed.
  • Build and maintain a routine:
    • Humans like routine; however, the pandemic disrupted what our normal routines used to be. People lost jobs or had to shift to working from home. When our schedules are different than we are used to, we may be doing less (or more) than we had been before. Develop a morning and an evening routine to move yourself through the energy and tension states you want or need to be in to be productive, make the most, and meet the demands of your day.
  • Engage in movement and physical activity:
    • Our bodies are designed to recover from energy exertion through our parasympathetic system. When we don’t move, our body doesn’t know what to do with the extra energy and this can impact sleep. Go walking, running, bike riding, to the gym, do gardening, spend some time out in nature, sweat and burn energy whenever and however you can.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself:
    • We are human and we do the best we can in each moment. Remember that the human body consists of a nervous system that responds to stress. What’s most important is understanding this and how to manage it. A great place to start is by learning about self-regulation (see: What is Self-Regulation?) and reframe your understanding about how your body naturally responds when under different types of stress. You can then start to identify what are sources of high-tension (stressors) for you and develop personal stress management strategies that help you navigate through energy and tension states. Realize when things are beyond your control and when needed, seek professional support and connect with people you can talk to and that you trust.

I hope that this article was helpful or useful to you in some way or another. Please feel free to share it with others. Wishing you the very best for 2023. 💞

Reference: 1Shanker, Stuart. Reframed: Self-Reg for a Just Society. University of Toronto Press, 2020.

More Articles & Resources:

What’s Self-Regulation?

Stress & Stressors

Self-Care is Never Selfish

Self-Reg Toolkit

A Guide to COVID-19 and Early Childhood Development

Ontario Mental Health Supports

School Mental Health Ontario

Mental Health Commission of Canada Blog

Mental Fitness – Wondermind

25 Motivational Journal Prompts – Wondermind

Got questions? Contact Me

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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.

The Science of Yoga

Health & Lifestyle

Produced by Uplift TV (source)

Four Components of Yoga

  • Physical
    • Postures, stretches, exercises, movements, breathing and relaxation techniques
    • Affects our body’s overall functioning 
  • Self-Regulation
    • Ability to control internal stress and emotional responses 
    • Leads to resilience to stress, self-efficacy and equanimity in the face of emotions
  • Mind-Body Awareness
    • Feeling and experiencing what’s going on in the body and mind (being able to observe the flow of thought)
    • Leads to increased mindfulness that can change behaviours in a positive way
  • Experiencing Deeper States
    • Spiritual, transformative, leads to positive lifestyle and goals, improves and enhances life meaning and purpose 
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Benefits of Yoga

  • Research has shown measures of reduction in:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Psychological distress
    • Frequency of negative experiences 
  • Increase in resiliency and the frequency of positive experiences
  • Improvement in mental health
  • Creates much needed space in the body and mind 
  • Establishes connections by moving energy through the body
  • Yoga stretches the body; meditation empties the mind 
  • Enables management of the stress response system 


  • Breath is the most powerful tool that everyone has to bring their stress response under their control 
  • It’s possible to reduce blood pressure by controlling breathing
  • Blood pressure is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system (the messenger of the stress response) 
  • Postures in yoga creates challenge that our mind is constantly dealing with; this can be controlled through breathing
  • Breathing + effort of regulating thought enhance parasympathetic nervous signal and brings sympathetic nervous signal down 
  • Breathing can be practiced within yoga and in daily life 

Mind & Brain

  • Yoga strengthens the power of the mind and how we connect with the world
  • The mind controls our health and biology 
  • 1% of illness is related to genes; 90% of illness is related to stress 
  • Yoga brings the mind into focus and can change brain activity and structure (such as plasticity, resulting in the brain becoming conducive to the benefits that come with yoga and meditation)
  • Can change and enhance gene activity that’s good for you (improved immune response); down-regulates negative gene activity when under chronic stress (inflammation) 
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch

Barriers to Moving Yoga Forward 

  • Perception and misconceptions about yoga, often created by the media:
    • Yoga viewed as complex exercise forms and postures; requires you to be flexible, thin, young to practice; is difficult, specific and not adaptable to individual circumstances
      • Yoga practices can be adapted to any population, and still train the same properties (mind-body coordination, mindfulness, awareness) 
  • Chair yoga for elders
  • Can be done with young children

Global Benefits 

  • Survival requires the foundation of human behaviours and the way we respond to life and to change
  • Using our individual power for harmony, connection, union
    • First done by the individual through healing themselves, taking back power over their behaviour, becoming in harmony and good health  
    • Establishing awareness, self-regulation, immunity to stress, compassion, high-mindedness, clarity 
    • Our collective nature as individuals becomes stronger and harmonious, leading to a greater influence on the planet 
  • Engaging in yoga is a practice of evolution and transformation on society as a whole 

Ready to get started?

Yoga with Adriene

Arianna Elizabeth

Black Yogi Nico Marie

Breathe and Flow

The Bare Female

Mady Morrison

Yoga With Bird

Alo Yoga


Yoga for Kids

Yoga for Elders


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.

The Day I Met Dr. Bruce Perry

Early Childhood

There is no way that I can share my passion and interest around studying, learning about, and understanding child and brain development without mentioning Dr. Bruce Perry, how I met him, and how this journey all began for me. This article is all about the events that led up to the day that I met Dr. Bruce Perry, exactly 6 years ago today.

Read About Me, and one important moment you will learn about my story is that I spent 2 years studying in a program that I eventually came to discover was not for me. Coming from a high school that focused on technology, computer science and business, a significant selection of the courses I was enrolled in at the time were computer/business related, such as accounting, marketing and business leadership. With all of those courses already under my belt, I naturally assumed I would be best suited towards (and most likely to be accepted to) an academic career within the field of business. As a result, it was towards a Bachelors in Human Resources Management (BHRM) that I ventured. By the end of my second year, my marks had taken a further dip. I found myself at the Academic Advising Office with an appointment to discuss my academic pathway options. I shuffled through some old emails and managed to find the original email that was send to me:

Dear Samantha Yarde,

This is a friendly reminder that your appointment to meet with an Academic Advisor
is scheduled for May 25, 2012, 9:00am
Location: Central Square, 103

After my appointment with an advisor, the only option I was left with was that I would be withdrawn from the BHRM program, but could enroll into a different business program and re-take a few of the core courses I needed in order to re-enter and continue in the BHRM program. The email that followed 5 days later stated:

Dear student;

Your grade report for the Fall/Winter 2011 academic session indicates that you are ineligible to proceed in your program. As a result, you have been exited from your (BAS, BDEM, BHRM, BPA or BSW) degree program.

And just like that, I was no longer enrolled in the BHRM program and faced with 2 decisions to make:

  1. Continue in another program, bring up my marks, and re-enter the BHRM program at some point. I had already started the program anyways. Or,
  2. Withdraw from the program altogether and reflect on the direction of my future.

I’m sure you know by now the choice I decided to make.

Initially, my plan was to take a year off, do some volunteering, and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. However, it didn’t take long for me to come to terms with exactly what it was I needed to do; which was to follow the passion I had as a child of becoming a teacher. By September 2012, the same year I had withdrawn from the BHRM program, I was already beginning the next chapter of my life. I applied and was accepted into a four-year Bachelor of Early Childhood Leadership program; but, within a couple of days, quickly decided that I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice to end up exactly where I had started. By the second week, I was transferred into a two-year Early Childhood Education program. While those were two really great years of my academic career, I knew that I wanted to continue my studies. In January of 2014, I was nearing graduation. I started thinking about what I wanted to do next and where I wanted to go. The easiest option for me was to stay at George Brown College, and take the bridging courses I needed to transition back into the Early Childhood Leadership program, which I had initially applied to. By this point in my life, I was confident that I wanted to continue pursuing a career within the field of early childhood. So, I thought to myself, why not just continue on, at this school, and with this program? And I probably would have, if it wasn’t for the Career & Education Fair:

“The Career & Education Fair provides opportunities to meet potential employers, explore educational pathways, learn about professional organizations and attend workshops supporting professional development.” (GBC Newsletter, 2014)

The day of the fair, I learned of 2 new paths I could take: I could go on to obtain a Bachelor in Early Childhood Education, or I could apply to the Honours Bachelor of Child Development (BCD) program; which, of course, was the direction I ended up going. Thinking back now, there was something about my course on Infant and Child Development (PSYC1075), and learning all about developmental health, the architecture of the brain, early brain development, neural and sensory pathways, self-regulation, genes and environment, developmental milestones, and so much more that struck my interest. By September of 2014, not only was I enrolled and ready to begin the BCD program, but I had also discovered Dr. Bruce Perry and of his work, while he was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, many years ago. I recall him mentioning a book he had published in 2006 titled, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing. Captivated to continue learning more, I decided to order a copy of this book.

Meeting Dr. Bruce Perry on May 11, 2015 at the Roots of Empathy Research Symposium

Over the following two and a half years in the BCD program, not only would I be required to read this same book for one of my courses, but I’d also be invited by one of my professors to an event that Dr. Perry would be speaking at. Fast forward to May 11, 2015, where I’d be sitting alongside my peers at the Roots of Empathy Research Symposium in Toronto, Canada. That day, exactly 6 years ago today, I had the chance to meet one of my greatest inspirations in the field. Back in 2014 when I finally had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do with my life and what I was most passionate about, Dr. Perry further opened the doors to my interest in child and brain development, neuroscience, trauma and the importance of early childhood experiences. This brings me to the 2 reasons why I wanted to write and share this article with you:

  1. The Roots of Empathy will be hosting their 2021 Research Symposium on May 11th (today! what a coincidence) & 12th from 1:00-3:00 PM ET. It is virtual, free and open to the public. This event will bring together neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and experts on empathy like Dr. Richard Davidson, Dr. Dan Siegel, and of course, Dr. Bruce Perry.
  2. Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey are co-authors of a new book titled, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, which was released on April 27th and is a #1 New York Times Bestseller.

While I won’t be able to attend the Roots of Empathy Research Symposium this year, I share it with the hopes that you might be able to attend and learn from it, as well as share it with others. I did, however, attend one of Perry and Winfrey’s virtual book tours and look forward to continuing reading What Happened to You? I can already see that it is making a significant impact on the world, and the ways that we view and understand early childhood experiences, brain science, trauma and healing. Have you gotten your copy yet? 📖

Interested in learning more about Roots of Empathy?

Interested in learning more about the What Happened to You?


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.

Noticing a Shift in My Energy and Tension


I decided to share this discussion post entry I wrote for the online Self-Reg course I’m currently taking. I imagine a lot of people who are either working or studying from home can relate to sitting in front of a computer screen for long hours of their day or having to start an online course in the evening. In this entry, I share a short reflection of my own experience with noticing a shift in my energy and tension while working towards completing an online course late in the day.

person using black and silver laptop computer
Photo by Peter Olexa

I usually dedicate my weekends to completing my online course modules because I already know that during the week, by the end of a long day at work, that I have very little energy to stay focused on videos and readings. Although I had a busy day yesterday, I knew I wanted to at least begin the module before the end of the night. By the time I finally arrived home and settled in to begin watching the first video of the module, it was already evening. This was a lot later than I’d normally start a module on a weekend. Generally, on a Saturday morning, I’d wake up, workout or do yoga, and then begin a module. So, I already knew I was starting this at a much later time in the day than I normally would have; and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of how my energy level would sustain throughout the learning. As I began watching the presentation, I noticed my energy level was fairly high. I was comfortable, focused and taking notes. However, I did notice that 40 minutes into the video that my energy level was starting to deplete. I was aware that I had started to feel a little antsy in my chair and noticed my attention start to shift. Although I played the video out until the end, I know that I will need to go back and re-watch the ending of it because I have little recollection of what was mentioned. 

Being able to notice the tension I was beginning to experience and that my attention had shifted allowed me to recognize that I had not retained the information from the entire video, and also that there were other stressors that were impacting my ability to remain focused. Having an awareness about how stress and tension impacts my energy and focus has continuously allowed me not to become frustrated or overwhelmed when my mind and body is telling me that I either need to take a break, pause or stop something all together. Because my energy was depleted by the end of the video and it was already so late in the night, I decided to continue the rest of the module today.

Photo by Self-Reg

Building an awareness of your stress, energy and tension is a process that takes time and getting to know yourself much more deeply. Start by noticing when you may be experiencing a shift in your energy (e.g., unable to focus or feeling sleepy) and what things help you to restore. This could be something you’ve tried in the past or as simple as having a drink of water or a snack, taking a break to stretch your legs, or going outside for some fresh air or a walk. The following snippet from a Self-Reg article can help you better understand how your body sends you signals of when your alertness may be shifting:

“Back in the 1960s, the so-called Father of modern Sleep Research, Nathaniel Kleitman, discovered that the brain operates on a circadian basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC), in which we move from higher to lower alertness every 90 minutes. That is, we go through this cycle as much when we are awake as when we are asleep (i.e., the REM sleep-cycle). The brain sends signals of when we are entering this less reactive state during the awake-phase: e.g., we become restless, drowsy, or lose focus. But in our modern fast-paced world we tend to either ignore or override these signals (e.g., with adrenaline, caffeine, sugar, or our smartphones), propelling us towards a chronic low-energy/high-tension state. So the goal of a mindfulness practice like yoga is not only to build in the much-needed restorative breaks, but to become more aware of and heedful of these signals.” (Shanker, 2017).

Know that each day your stress, energy and tension will vary, and so too might the strategies or practices that help you to rebalance and restore. Take time to explore and embrace the ongoing process of building your own stress awareness, and listening to and understanding your brain-body signals. Despite all that I’ve come to learn about myself, I have accepted that this is a lifelong process; one which I owe to discovering, learning and practicing Self-Reg.

To learn more about stress, energy and tension:

How I Got Through Some of My Lowest Days in Lockdown

Stress & Stressors

Interested in Self-Reg or one of their courses?

Self-Reg 101

Self-Reg Courses

Self-Regulation Resources

Connect with me to learn more about my Self-Reg journey!

References: Shanker, Stuart. (2017). The Self-Reg View on: Mindfulness (Part 1). Self-Reg.


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.

“There is only now.”

Early Childhood, Self-Regulation

As part of my Self-Reg Facilitator’s Program course with The MEHRIT Centre, we are always tasked with responding to a series of discussion questions. For last week’s module, we were asked to reflect and respond to one of two quotes. I decided to share the quote and my short reflection on it.

Reading this quote by Susan Hopkins brings to mind what Dr. Stuart Shanker said about the womb not being a stress-free environment, but rather, a stress-reduced environment. Self-regulation is how we manage stress. Even before we are born into this world full of different stressors, we have already encountered and been exposed to a certain degree of stress (low to high) from and through our mother, while in the womb. This can be due to her adjusting to the changes that come with pregnancy (hormonal, emotional, mood, daily routines), possible existing health challenges, environmental stressors, just to list a few. The fetal brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) is the first to develop during fetal development at about week 3 until full term (see: Sensitive Periods of a Baby’s Development). Our nervous system is what’s responsible for our stress response. So even before we are born, that system has already been actively developing and engaged in the womb, and if there are no complications, should be fully developed by the time we are born. Babies are ready for self-regulation from the time their central nervous system is beginning to develop. A fetus in the womb depends on its mother’s ability to self-regulate (manage the stress and changes that come with life and pregnancy) before they are born. As Stuart says in Reframed: Self-Reg for a Just Society, they are “transitioning from one type of womb to another, an ‘external womb'”. Since babies can’t yet self-regulate on their own, once they enter the “external womb” (the world), they depend on the adults in their lives to help them to do so.

An article I came across titled, When Does the Fetus’s Brain Begin to Work? by Zero to Three states: 

“In the last trimester, fetuses are capable of simple forms of learning, like habituating (decreasing their startle response) to a repeated auditory stimulus, such as a loud clap just outside the mother’s abdomen. Late-term fetuses also seem to learn about the sensory qualities of the womb, since several studies have shown that newborn babies respond to familiar odors (such as their own amniotic fluid) and sounds (such as a maternal heartbeat or their own mother’s voice). In spite of these rather sophisticated abilities, babies enter the world with a still-primitive cerebral cortex, and it is the gradual maturation of this complex part of the brain that explains much of their emotional and cognitive maturation in the first few years of life.”

Children are always ready for self-regulation. There is only and always now.


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.

Stress & Stressors


Learning how to cope with stress is an important part of development.” – Center on the Developing Child

How much do you already know about stress?

Did you know that there are three types of stress and different types of stressors?

Keep reading to learn more.

Stress & Self-Reg’s 5 Domains of Stressors

Now that we understand how our body responds to stress (see: What is Self-Regulation?), let’s look at what stress is and what stressors are, defined by Dr. Stuart Shanker, Founder and Visionary of The MEHRIT Centre:

Stress: anything that requires our internal system to burn energy in order to maintain some sort of internal balance.

Stressors: an event or experience that triggers stress.

Dr. Stuart Shanker identifies stressors across 5 domains:

While the examples of stressors provided from the links below have been tailored to children and their learning, many of them are stressors that adults can relate to having as well. (Visit: Stressors in the 5 Domains of Self-Reg for a list of more examples to the ones provided below)

The Biological Domain
  • Biological: Internal or external stressors that affect our physiological system
    • e.g., hunger, feeling sick, a loud noise, screen time
  • Emotion: Stressors related to strong emotions, both positive and negative
    • e.g., fears, change of routine, excitement, grief/loss
  • Cognitive: Stressors related to difficulty processing certain information
    • e.g., time pressure, learning something new, boredom, multi-tasking
  • Social: Social stressors, related to social cues and the behaviour of self and others
    • e.g., social media, peer pressure, confrontation, meeting someone new
  • Prosocial: Stressors related to difficulty coping with the stress of others
    • e.g., empathy/sympathy, a sad friend, watching the news, injustice

The 3 Types of Stress

  • Positive: A stressor that is moderate and short-lived, resulting in brief increases in heart rate and blood pressure. This kind of stress is normal, essential to healthy development and is buffered by protective factors such as a positive support system made up of family, friends and/or healthy lifestyle practices.
    • e.g., The first day on the job/of school, meeting new people, dealing with frustration, giving a presentation
  • Tolerable: A more sereve stressor that could have long-term consequences but is buffered by protective factors such as a positive support system and healthy lifestyle practices.
    • e.g., Dealing with the illness or loss of a loved one, recovering from an injury, adjusting to a global pandemic
  • Toxic: A threatening and adverse stressor that results in frequent and prolonged activation of the stress response system. These types of stressors lack the presence of protective factors such as a support system.
    • e.g., Experiencing abuse or exposure to violence, extreme poverty, turbulent living situations

These types of stress are especially important to be mindful of for young children and teens. This is because their brain’s are in the process of development and don’t fully develop until their mid-20s (particularly the prefrontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain), and because their health and well-being are dependant on protective factors such as the care and support of the adults in their lives. These adults are also the ones that help them to self-regulate and develop the healthy lifestyle practices that they will carry with them throughout adulthood.

Dealing with Stress

As with any type of stress (mainly positive and tolerable), having protective factors such as a buffer (caring and supporting people in your life to help you manage the stress and recover from it) is one of the greatest ways to deal with stress. When there is a lack of a buffer, defense mechanisms or poor and harmful coping strategies may ensue.

A young child with great stress and no buffer could experience impairments to brain development (detrimental at a time when their brain is developing; see: Brain Development in the Early Years). As a result, this child may have difficultly with:

  • Self-regulation: managing stress and different stressors
  • Engaging in social interactions
  • Forming relationships with others
  • Identifying, expressing and managing their emotions
    • They may be easily triggered and reactive or subdued and withdraw (fight, fight, freeze responses)
  • Developing healthy coping strategies; potentially resulting in maladaptive behaviours

Long-Term Effects of Stress on the Body

Since our nervous system plays a role in our stress response, too much stress over a long period of time is harmful to our brain and body. Prolonged activation of our body’s stress response system can:

How Stress Affects Your Body
  • Impact the cardiovascular system, especially if the body is constantly pumping oxygen to the heart and releasing adrenaline when under a lot of stress
  • Elevate blood pressure, which can impact the heart
  • Affect metabolism since glucose pumps into the bloodstream giving you a burst of energy, chronic activation can result in metabolic problems
  • Cause hormonal imbalances
  • Lead to gut and digestive challenges (see: Brain-Gut Connection)
  • Impact mental health
  • Increase vulnerability to cold and illnesses (since our immune system is vulnerable to stress)

While these are only some of the impacts of stress, my hope is that with this understanding you may be better able to recognize the different types of stress that you may be experiencing, identify the particular stressors that are impacting you the most, and be able to develop strategies and daily practices that work to help you manage them effectively.

Explore the Health & Lifestyle sections throughout this website for ways to take care of your overall health and well-being. Here are a few of the many topics available:

5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Self-Care is Not Selfish

Mindfulness & Meditation. What’s the Difference?

The Brain-Gut Connection

The stress that anyone experiences and how they manage it is different per person. Please practice care and compassion for yourself and those in need.

See More on Stress and Stressors (below) for additional resources.

This is solely provided for informational purposes. If you are concerned about your health, that of a child or someone you know, I encourage you to take care of yourself and seek professional support (if needed).

More on Stress and Stressors

Visit: Self-Reg: Stressors in the 5 Domains

Visit: Self-Reg: Recognize Stressors

Visit: Self-Reg in 60 Seconds with Dr. Stuart Shanker

Got questions? Contact Me

What is Stress?

The Brain Architects Podcast: Toxic Stress: Protecting the Foundation


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.

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.

Flow is Happiness & Children’s Play

Early Childhood

Photo by cottonbro

Flow is a concept that was identified by a psychologist by the name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In researching happiness and creativity, he found that people were happiest in this state. Flow is defined as:

The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Wikipedia

Flow can also be described as “being in the zone” and can occur in activities such as playing a sport or music, writing, dancing, baking, and even while working, learning or creating.

Photo by Jansel Ferma

The characteristics of Flow include:

Positive Psychology

  1. Complete concentration
  2. Having a clear goal and reward in mind
  3. Experiencing a transformation of time as either going fast or slow
  4. Feeling that the task is intrinsically rewarding
  5. A balance between the level of challenge of a task and your skill level
  6. A feeling of control over the task
  7. Losing sense of self or self-consciousness
  8. A desire to repeat/continue the task

In reference to #5, Flow can’t happen if a task is too easy or too difficult. There needs to be a balance between how challenging a task is and your skill level. For example:

Photo by Wikipedia
  • If the challenge of a task is low (too easy) and your skill level is high in relation to the task, it can lead to boredom
  • If the challenge of a task is high (too difficult) and your skill level is low in relation to the task, it can lead to anxiety

Children can experience Flow at a young age, particularly during their play which is something they naturally love to do. Think back to a time from your childhood when you were so absorbed in playing that you didn’t even realize how much time had passed. What exactly was it you were doing?

If you experienced Flow as a child, it’s likely that:

  1. You concentrated on what you were doing, undisturbed by what was happening around you  
  2. You were intentional in your play, often with a desire to see things through to completion 
  3. You lost awareness of how much time had passed
  4. You felt proud and a sense of accomplishment in what you did or discovered
  5. You were persistent in your play because you were curious, interested, it was challenging enough and it matched your skill level
  6. You were actively in control of what you were doing/accomplishing
  7. You lost awareness of internal cues (e.g., not realizing that you were hungry or tired)
  8. You desired to repeat the experience again

Can you recall specific moments from your childhood when you experienced/felt any of these?

Maybe there are moments now. What moments are those?

Here are a few benefits to children experiencing Flow:

Photo by cottonbro
  • Children learn best when they are curious (which they naturally are), interested in learning something, and have choices and options
  • Children are continuously learning to understand themselves. Skill level, what is deemed as challenging, and states of Flow will differ for each child. When children are in a state of Flow, they are in control of what they are doing (behaviour and actions) which nurtures their ability to self-regulate and persist through experiences that are challenging, age-appropriate and matches their skills and abilities
  • Play is viewed as children’s work. What this means is that through play, children are naturally engaging in learning experiences that improve their skills, strengthen their capabilities and grow their self-development
  • In uninterrupted states of Flow, children can stretch themselves to great possibilities
  • When nurtured, Flow can turn into a child’s lifelong passion, profession and interest

I hope there were moments from your childhood when you experienced Flow.

If quarantine didn’t lead you to discover it again, I hope that you might find or experience something that does.


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.

What is ECD?

Early Childhood

Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods.” – Pamela Leo

photo of family sitting on floor while reading book

Early Childhood Development, (often referred to as ECD), is the development that occurs within a child’s life from 0-8 years of age. This is a time of rapid growth in the social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and physical development of a child. This all takes place in the context in which a child is developing such as the home, child care centre and/or community.

But what exactly is happening during ECD?

The most important and crucial time of a child’s development is essentially the first 3 years of their life. But why is this? Well, during this stage of development, there are 1 million new neural connections every second that are happening in the brain when a baby learns and makes sense of their environment and everything that is happening around them. The genetics that a baby is born with also play an important role as well. Genetics, early experiences, interactions and relationships with the people in their life, as well as the environment in which they live, all interact and influence the quality and architectural foundation of the developing brain. The development of a solid and sturdy foundation is optimal.

photo of man in raising baby under blue sky

So, how is a solid and sturdy foundation built?

A solid and sturdy foundation is built through serve and return interactions (see: “More on Serve & Return” below). This consists of the back-and-forth interactions between a young child and an adult. When a child uses facial expressions, babbling and gestures to interact, serve and return consists of the level of sensitivity in the actions, gestures, eye contact and words that an adult uses to appropriately respond to the child and their needs. During serve and return interactions, neural connections in a child’s brain are being made, strengthened and ultimately set the foundation for the development of future communication and social skills.

What happens when there is little to no serve and return interactions happening between a child and an adult?

When there is a lack of serve and return maintained by the adult or their responses are inconsistent and/or inappropriate, this contributes to creating a weak foundation, possibly an insecure attachment, resulting in the architecture of a child’s brain not developing as it should. Consequently, this impacts their learning, behaviour and development, and could lead to long-term health and developmental issues. At its earliest development, the human brain is “plastic”, meaning it’s malleable, flexible and easier to change. Over time, connections from experiences and interactions that are repeated and “hardwired” into the brain become harder to reverse. Long-term experiences and interactions that lack serve and return become harder to repair later.

How does a sturdy foundation impact future development?

Not only does serve and return build a sturdy foundation, it also fosters a baby’s social and emotional development. When a baby cries, she may be easily comforted by her caregiver’s touch. When a baby babbles, he learns new words from his caregiver’s gentle and calm responses. When these early experiences are happening, they positively influence the development of future, more complex, emerging and interrelated abilities that build on top such as cognition and language (see: The Science of Early Childhood). These are skills that become essential when a child enters school.

So, what does all this mean?

crop anonymous black mother holding hand of baby lying on bed

Early childhood is a time of rapid development, growth and potential. When a sturdy social and emotional foundation is not established, which includes the development of self-regulation (which an adult plays a crucial role in helping a child to develop), a child will have difficulty developing more complex skills. For example, a child who struggles with regulating their emotions because they did not have the experiences with an adult that would have helped to foster the development of this may have a challenging time remaining focused at more complex skills and tasks. The type of foundation that is set during this time is so important and fundamental to the successful future development of a child. When a sturdy foundation is established through the care, interaction and response of an adult, a child has the capacity to build upon the development of necessary future skills.

Let’s ensure that children’s early childhood is a time of great care, attention and understanding. Let’s get it right from the start. As Pamela Leo said, “Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods“.

See: Brain Development in the Early Years to continue reading.

Visit: Self-Regulation: A Parent’s Guide for more on self-regulation.

More on Serve & Return

Visit: 5 Steps for Brain-Building Serve & Return

The Brain Architects Podcast: Serve and Return: Supporting the Foundation


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.