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Stress Awareness Insight #3 - Neuroception & Co-Regulation

One of the most interesting scientific confirmations of common sense to take place in the 20th century was the discovery of a specific sort of neuron in the human brain whose sole purpose is to perceive what other people are feeling - often by attending to micro-movements or facial expressions that go unnoticed by the conscious mind. These neurons seek this information because we are a social species, and our evolutionary survival depended on us understanding and matching the emotional or alert level of those around us: are we safe, do we eat now, should we run or laugh or make love, and so on. Since "perception" implies conscious participation, a new term was coined: neuroception, perception at a neurological level.

Virtually all humans have them, and we are constantly using them to gauge the emotional status or intent of those around us - and their brains are doing the same thing - all of us unconsciously trying to match up, align ourselves with each other, get on the same page. It is why crowds can get amped up, or sometimes you can tell if someone is up to something without being able to say why.

This happens in stressful situations, too. One person starts getting stressed and you can feel the room get charged. We're all trying to figure out how we should be feeling at that moment, starting to get on edge ourselves. This is natural, and unavoidable... and actually useful.

You see, however much a stressed person can make us feel stressed ourselves, a calm and grounded person can almost magically defuse the situation and calm our nerves (literally). It goes both ways.

This is why it is important to go to such lengths to get good at understanding our feelings and regulate ourselves even while feeling stressed. We can help each other "co-regulate." Sometimes we can be the calming influence for someone else, and sometimes we need someone else to bring us back down to earth. Getting better at managing our own stress and reactions makes us a stronger influence in our social environment... we become a force for good. (It's like a super-power!)

In the previous post, we touched on several ways it is helpful to attend to what and where we are feeling in our bodies as we get stressed. When we add in an understanding of our near-constant neuroception and co-regulation, we understand the power of this grounding influence - not only for ourselves but for those around us as well. We can help each other keep a handle on things and be more objective. It is as if we are naturally networking computers who share cognitive and emotional loads among them, we all run easier when we are efficiently networked. We can - as individuals and as a group - handle so much more, so much more easily.

In the next post, on Monday, we will look at just how far this rabbit hole of our mind and reactions go!


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