What is state management and why would you want to be able to do it?
Put simply, being able to manage your state, your emotions, is a key indicator of your ability to survive and thrive in life. Early self-regulation ability as a child is a significant predictor of performance later in life, so learning new skills in this area is likely to be beneficial to adults as well.
This ability to self-regulate is a core part of emotional intelligence, generally thought to include three skills*:
- Emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions
- The ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving
- The ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s emotions when necessary, and cheering up or calming down other people
*Adapted from and with thanks to Psychology Today
We all manage our state all the time. As we grow up, we learn to control our natural impulse to shout or complain when someone takes the last piece of cake, or cuts us up on the road. This is a learned behaviour as when we are in a stressful situation, perhaps having a disagreement with someone over how to solve a situation or making an important presentation or business pitch, our natural physiology takes over and we are caught in the automatic processes behind the fight or flight response. Stress hormones rush through our body and we get ready to fight or defend ourselves, reacting rather than choosing our response to what is happening, which can lead to consequences that we didn’t want or anticipate, such as an escalation of an argument.
At these times, it’s helpful to have a way to gather ourselves, to calm down the automatic stress response and to create some space where we can think more objectively about how we want to respond. It’s important to have the right kind of tool to do this. Just thinking about being calm or telling ourselves to be calm does not really work. What does work though, is using a body-based tool to help us manage what is a bodily response.
Using a simple breath-based tool we can literally improve anything that we do, reduce stress and anxiety, and build stronger and more connected relationships. Even better, this tool is simple to use, accessible, always with us and free of charge, available whenever we need it.
One technique that I like to use is this:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with soft (not locked) knees
- Feel the ground under your feet, supporting you
- Take a moment to become aware of what is happening in your body (for example, what your breathing is like, any areas of tension, any sensations such as tingling, heat or cold that you can feel)
- Notice how you stressed you are feeling, on a scale of 1-10
- Take a deep diaphragmatic (belly) breath (your belly should rise as you breathe in, and drop as you breathe out)
- As you breathe in, imagine you have a string pulling up from the top of your head like a puppet, gently bringing your spine a little bit straighter and making you a little bit taller
- As you breathe out, relax and soften down your front
- Do this three times
- On the third breath, as you breathe out, think of something or someone that makes you smile (you actually have to smile here!)
- Notice how you are feeling now, on a scale of 1-10
NB. The smile is actually a critical component of the technique. It’s a means of using your physical embodiment to help improve your mood. There’s a lovely quote that sums this up:
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,
but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
The physical act of smiling (even if it’s not a ‘real’ smile) activates neural activity in the brain, releasing mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming, or rest and digest part) and bringing down your stress levels.