Regulation and Adaptive Responses

Lesson objective:

In this lesson, we cover the mechanisms in which body systems constantly adjust their states by increasing or decreasing activity levels to ensure that needs are met.

Unconscious automatic adjustments are important for our safety and survival, however, not all automatic responses are necessarily desirable.

So, as we begin to talk about the effects of stress and trauma on the brain and body, we noted the importance of interoception. 

physiological states is a critical building block of recognizing emotion and mood states, and for overall ability to healthily deal with emotions. The ability to notice, using our interoceptive awareness, is critical in order to know when something in any one of our systems has changed, or is possibly at risk. 

Survival requires maintaining many systems satiated and functioning. You can’t survive without food or water. You can’t survive for a long period of time if you can’t feel heat or cold. You likely could not survive without emotions, because emotions like joy and fear are indications of when something is right, or when something is potentially wrong.

Your body works quickly with the brain in a predictive cycle to prepare you to engage with the world around you. 

Successful navigation of the world requires clear, frequent communication between the brain and body. Knowing your internal states, and what they might mean, is a critical survival resource. Simply–interoception is a survival resource. 

Sometimes, your body “knows things” before your brain does. Signals from your body like a rumbling stomach, quickened breathing, a faster heart rate, or a sense of uneasiness are signs that something has evolved or changed in the world around you or inside you. 

These signs help you to adapt in whatever way is necessary to keep successfully operating in the world. 

Adaptation in response to emotional or physiological feeling states is called regulation

Regulation involves adjusting, controlling, or managing something internal, or external, to bring all systems back to the needed level of functioning. 

The process is quite simple. 

Events in the world around you will affect multiple systems—depleting them, irritating them, or stimulating them too much for a period of time. Sometimes we adjust automatically; at other times we adjust consciously and deliberately. We will discuss this difference shortly.

Overall, systems regulate up or down in order to ensure that needs are met, the body is satisfied, and systems are functioning healthily. Regulation is often temporary and cyclical. 

For example, when you exercise, your circulatory system will function at a faster level. Your blood will pump faster, and glucose will disperse throughout the body faster. Your system regulates upwards in order to function ideally in that moment. 

But, to survive, we need to bring systems back to balance eventually. You do not exercise forever. You exercise for a short time. Between periods of exercise, your body rests. This fluctuation between elevated and resting functions is critical to a healthy body and mind. 

Of course, not all automatic responses are wanted. For example, we may have a negative and unwanted reaction to a trigger, as discussed before in the example of the gunshot. That type of rapid, unconscious adaptation is what we call maladaptive, or dysregulating. 

And as we continue, we will dis

cuss how you can better control automatic and unwanted responses, and how the same process that is hijacked to dysregulate can be used deliberately and strategically for desired, healthy regulation.