When it comes to the nervous system there are “lanes.” We might be in the fast lane (hyper-aroused). This is when we are too activated and may be experiencing overwhelming anxiety, irritability, or anger. We are keyed up an on edge, waiting for another shoe to drop. It’s hard to make safe choices and we may regret decisions made when going at this speed.
Other times, we may be in the too-slow lane. Our nervous system is exhausted and tired. We don’t feel present. We may feel depressed, sad, numb or have no idea or awareness of how we feel. We can’t concentrate. It’s hard to have fun.
But then there’s this middle lane. This place where we can experience emotions while staying in the driver seat. In the middle road, we remain in control. We are present and grounded and make decisions purposefully while noticing our emotions and accepting them.
For this intervention, think about the age of the child and how much detail to share about distress tolerance and the nervous system.
1. help the child think about which body responses may indicate he or she is in each lane. Normalize the body is trying to protect us but can get overwhelmed.
2. Think about external triggers that may prompt sending us into a lane we don’t want to be in.
3. Identity skills for both the slow and fast lane to help the child get back to the middle. For example, the slow lane might need some movement or laughter from watching something funny (something to activate the nervous system). The fast lane may need something more soothing (rocking, wrapping in a blanket, deep breathing). See what the child comes up with.
4. Use visuals! Take turns drawing or using toys to tell stories of characters while the other person guesses which lane they were in and ways to get back to the middle.