top of page

Down-regulating in a time of VUCA

(Photo Credit: 1,

"You've always been crazy, this is just the first chance you've had to express yourself."

- Louise Sawyer (from the movie Thelma & Louise)

We are in an unprecedented time of VUCA - Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

We feel Out of Control.



In most "normal" times, most of us live with an unregulated, underlying stress that pervades everything we do.

But, I would argue that the last few days are evidence that these are NOT normal times.

The prevailing messages from our leaders, the news outlets and social media feel


We are being assaulted with reasons to either hit the gas pedal to the floor OR stomp hard on the brakes with both feet to avoid the going over the edge of some crazy cliff.

It's not our fault.

It's human nature.

It's like your primal "fight, flight or freeze" mechanism is not only engaged but has hit overdrive...and its only been a couple of days.

This is why people are buying up all of the nation's toilet paper.

It's something they think they can control.

It's like the world may be going to sh*t...but I want to be able to wipe it clean.

Sorry to be so crass.

I'm not judging you if you ran out and stockpiled supplies.

True confessions...I went to the grocery store too.

For some reason, I bought cheese.

Not sure what that says about me, but clearly if I'm going down,

I'm gonna have the best brie that money can buy!

Cause we get stressed out “0 to 60” like a car in a second.

Friends, I am no expert, but I feel compelled to share and be of service as I lean in to the tools that have helped me find a sense of stability and calm in the torrents of life's inevitable shifts.

And there is actually a lot of research around the importance of learning how to down-regulate (like a gearshift) the nervous system and learn how to apply our brakes (or our gas pedals) more smoothly.

Down-regulating involves cultivating the capacity to NOTICE, NAME and NAVIGATE in any life experience. (Credit - The Flourishing Center )


Tool #1 - USE YOUR BREATH – when we are under stress or in a negative emotional space, the breath typically shortens and depending on the level of stress, the limbic system in your brain begins to prepare you for fight, flight or freeze should the threat go to DEFCON 4.

Can you pause and notice and breathe into the experience?

Deepening the breath sends messages to sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system that “everything is awesomely OK”…the situation is “wholly manageable”.

A simple one is using mantra.

Mantra in Sanskrit means “to cross over”.

It is the use of a set of words or phrases in alignment with breath or action.

So a simple one looks like this – “I am breathing in, I am breathing out”.

Or one of my other favorites – Telling myself on an inhale “let” and on the exhale “go”


Tool #2 - IDENTIFY where in the body the sensations are truly coming from.

Where am I feeling this?

What am I actually feeling?

Maybe it’s a tingling in the joints or a tightening in the chest.

Leaning in to the wisdom of your emotional body.

Naming the sensation - say it out loud to yourself or to a trust ally - gets it out of your head and into the light where it can be managed.

"I feel flutters in my stomach"

"I feel waves of sensation moving through my whole body"


Tool #3 - Ask yourself – WHAT DO I NEED?

And that’s the navigation part.

So, sometimes I need a nap.

Sometimes I need a break.

Sometimes I need to journal.

Sometimes I need to just STOP whatever thought pattern I am thinking and redirect myself.

Because if I ask myself, how do I want to show up in the world today?

It is not always about switching in to the positive.

I mean sometimes, I am like “how do I want to be right now?”

And sometimes the answer is “I really want to feel my anger!” so let me put on what my husband refers to as “angry women songs” and maybe I belt out a little Alanis Morrisette.

Or maybe I just scream it out into a pillow.

Sometimes it’s about NOT believing everything I think.

Maybe I am just walking down the street and I am having worrying thoughts that I do not need to have.

It’s not a PIVOT up into the positive and skipping steps in the emotional experience.

It’s about realizing where you are and learning to take the next logical step.

What if I am feeling SUPER TRIGGERED?

Like really stressed out, and what I need to do is to come back more into the present moment.

Here's a mindfulness technique to use:

Start looking at things in your immediate environment and name what you see.

Because that helps you come into the present moment.

So, if I was super triggered in this moment, I might be like “chair, sink, carpet, wall”

Its basically separating FACTS from INTERPRETATION.

Like fact.




Cause it’s the interpretation that’s making you suffer.

In the moment, it‘s like Present.




This is literally like using your gear shift.

So, if you think about a car.

A good old-fashioned manual car.

If you’re in 1st gear, you can’t get to second gear without doing what?

Passing through neutral.

And if somehow you are stuck in 4th gear, you can’t just GET into 1st gear.

You have pass through neutral.

You gotta work your way down.

Most people, myself included, were not taught how to use their gear shift.

So, instead of viewing emotions as something that happens TO me,

Viewing them with a lens that allows me options for things that I can actually do.

I can use my skills.

And with practice, I can shift my gears really well.

By the way, none of this “time bound”.

You don’t have to get through these things really quickly.

It’s not about being fast.

It’s about moving through emotions well.

Friends, let us all shift the traditional VUCA

from Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

to Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility

Be gentle with yourself as you start shifting.

Permission to experience your humanity in this moment, anchored in gratitude.

That's the gift of this time to truly refine the skills to down-regulate.

May you shift fluidly from powerlessness to truly awake.

"I feel really awake. I don't recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?"

- Louise Dickerson (from the movie,Thelma & Louise)

Please reach out to me if I can assist you in accessing even more tools to smooth the transitions and neutralize the extremes. We truly are better together!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page