If you’re just getting started on your nervous system healing journey, you may have seen the term ‘co-regulation’ tossed around. And you’ve likely got questions. Like ‘What exactly does co-regulation mean? How does it work in practice? And hold up – isn’t this just for kids? Newsflash – it’s not.

This article is the ultimate co-regulation guide for grown-ups. Read on to discover why co-regulation isn’t just for the small people in your life, how to find co-regulation in relationships, the best co-regulation activities for adults, the benefits for your nervous system – and much more.

What Is Co-Regulation?

Co-regulation is a key part of being human and humans are social creatures. Our brains crave connection, and our emotions are influenced by the people around us.

When we’re stressed, having a calm, supportive person nearby can help us regain our balance. That’s co-regulation in action – achieving emotional stability through our interactions with others.

What is Co-Regulation in Adults?

It ain’t just for the kids, folks. Co-regulation in adults is just as important. For adults, co-regulation can be a game-changer for emotional stability, mental health, and nervous system regulation.

It helps you manage stress, anxiety, and emotional distress by mirroring the calming, supportive nervous system of others.

But it’s not just about feeling better in the moment. Regular co-regulation can bring long-term benefits like:

  • Increased emotional resilience
  • Better coping skills
  • A stronger sense of well-being.

By weaving co-regulation into your daily routine, you can build a solid support system that makes handling life’s challenges a whole lot easier.

Co-Regulation vs. Self-Regulation

Co-regulation vs. self-regulation – what’s the difference? Self-regulation is all about handling your own emotions independently. It means using personal coping practices like mindfulness, journaling, or physical activity to keep your cool.

On the flip side, co-regulation strategies are about giving and receiving emotional support from another person.

Both skills are super important; self-regulation helps you manage stress on your own, while co-regulation provides that extra boost of support from someone else to keep you emotionally resilient.

Getting a handle on both is the ultimate flex. It’s basically a complete toolkit for navigating life’s emotional rollercoaster.

Why Might You Need More Co-Regulation?

Certain life experiences can really amp up the need for co-regulation. If you had childhood trauma or didn’t get enough emotional support from caregivers, self-regulating as an adult can be tough. It’s like you’re missing this fundamental blueprint. This can lead to chronic nervous system dysregulation, making it hard to handle stress and emotions on your own.

It might also look like:

  • Feeling Isolated: A sense of loneliness or disconnection from others.
  • Poor Sleep: Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Digestive Issues: Regular digestive problems like stomach aches or indigestion.
  • Anxiety and Depression: Persistent feelings of anxiety or depression.
  • Lack of Energy: Constant fatigue or low energy levels.
  • Difficulty Coping: Struggling to handle daily stressors or challenges.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Feeling unsupported or undervalued, impacting your self-worth.

For folks dealing with these challenges, consistent and reliable co-regulation from a supportive partner or community isn’t just helpful—it’s essential. This regular external support helps you feel safe and stable again, gradually building your ability to self-regulate over time.

Co-Regulation Nervous System Benefits

Our nervous systems are highly responsive to social cues.[*] Positive interactions with others can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping you shift from a state of heightened arousal (fight or flight) to a state of calm and relaxation (rest and digest).

Other co-regulation nervous system benefits may include:

Stress Busting: Co-regulation may help lower cortisol levels, those pesky stress hormones, making you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Mood Stabilizing: With consistent emotional support, co-regulation may tame those wild mood swings and cut down on emotional outbursts.

Bouncing Back Better: Regular co-regulation builds emotional resilience, making it easier to recover from stress and trauma.

Sweet Dreams: A regulated nervous system means better sleep patterns, leading to more restful and refreshing sleep.

Feeling all the Love: Physical touch and emotional support from co-regulation release oxytocin, deepening your sense of connection and bonding.

A Happy Tummy: A relaxed state helps with better digestion and nutrient absorption, as your body isn’t stuck in fight-or-flight mode.

Anxiety Busting: Consistent emotional support helps ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, creating a stable and supportive environment.

Self-Regulation Skills: Practicing co-regulation regularly helps you learn and improve self-regulation techniques, making it easier to handle stress on your own.

Co-Regulation in Relationships: How Does it Affect Adults?

Healthy co-regulation in relationships means:

  • Actively listening
  • Validating each other’s feelings
  • Showing up as your most supportive self

In short, it’s a superpower for building intimacy, trust, and safety. And we could all do with a little more of that, right?

When adults practice co-regulation, they create a two-way street of support that strengthens their bond, creating a safe space where both people feel seen and heard. This not only boosts emotional connection but also lays the groundwork for trust, making it easier to tackle conflicts and challenges together.

While co-regulation is partly about tuning into each others emotional needs, showing empathy, and providing reassurance when things get tough, it isn’t just about emotional support. Physical connection plays a huge role too. It may involve practices like:

  • Holding hands
  • Hugging
  • Prolonged eye contact
  • Synchronized breathing exercises to help regulate each other’s nervous systems.

Or it can be as simple as a shared regular routine, like a nightly walk or a morning coffee ritual.

Do I Need More Co-Regulation?

Without co-regulation, you can end up feeling isolated, stressed, and emotionally all over the place. If you are lacking a supportive partner, friend, or family member, managing emotions can become completely overwhelming, and you may end up with a dysregulated nervous system – and all the not-so-fun things that come along with it, like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • A sense of disconnection
  • Chronic health complaints
  • Digestive issues, etc.

And it won’t just affect you physically.

The absence of co-regulation in relationships means you’ll likely experience more misunderstandings, conflicts, and emotional distance, and find it harder to maintain healthy relationships. All of this triggers a deeper cycle of dysregulation and disconnection.

But don’t give up. Recognizing the signs that you’re lacking co-regulation is the first step towards creating healthier, more supportive connections in your life.

Easy Co-Regulation Activities for Adults

Feeling connected and supported through co-regulation doesn’t have to be complicated – and it definitely shouldn’t become another ‘to-do’ list item.

Here are some fun and easy co-regulation activities for adults to help regulate your nervous system and find a sense of safety:

  • Mindful Listening: Practice active listening without interrupting. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings to show you value their emotions and are truly present in the moment. This might sound simple, but it’s trickier than you think. Try not to jump in with solutions—just listen to learn, not to respond.
  • Breathing Exercises: Try synchronized deep breathing exercises to promote calmness. Sit facing your favorite person and place a hand on each other’s heart as you breathe deeply together. It’s a great way to feel connected and calm at the same time. But note, it may feel uncomfortable to start. It’s okay if you get the giggles. It’s all part of the bonding experience.
  • Physical Touch: Gentle physical contact, like holding hands or hugging, can be super soothing. Physical touch releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which reduces stress and strengthens your connection. Plus, who doesn’t love a good hug?
  • Shared Activities: Engage in activities you both enjoy, such as cooking, walking, or having a dance-off to some Miley bangers in your living room. It’s all about having fun together while building your bond.
  • Affirmations: Think of this as practicing the love language of words of affirmation. You can even make it fun by turning it into a game—each of you has to say three nice things about the other while looking into each other’s eyes. Positive reinforcement boosts self-esteem and creates a supportive emotional environment, helping both of you feel more valued and connected. Ain’t that cute?

Co-Regulation for Couples: The Benefits

Co-regulating with your bestie, or a family member can be a soothing soul experience. But co-regulation for couples also brings a ton of perks, including:

  • Enhanced Communication: It promotes open and honest conversations. When you feel emotionally supported by your partner, you’re more likely to share your thoughts and feelings openly and safely.
  • Strengthened Bond: It builds trust and emotional intimacy. Regular co-regulation practices help deepen your connection, making your bond even stronger.
  • Reduced Stress: It helps you manage stress more effectively as a team. Knowing you have a supportive partner can ease stress and create a sense of safety.
  • Increased Empathy: It creates a deeper understanding of each other’s emotional ‘stuff’. Through co-regulation, you learn to empathize with each other’s experiences and emotions.
  • Nervous System Regulation: It helps regulate your nervous system. When you’re both calm and connected, your bodies can switch from ‘fight or flight’ mode to a more relaxed state. This promotes better overall health, reduces anxiety, and helps you handle stress more effectively.

Co-Regulation Couples Exercises

Wondering how to co-regulate with a partner and soothe your nervous system? Try these easy co-regulation couples exercises:

  • Eye Gazing: Spend a few minutes looking into each other’s eyes. Sure it’s kinda awkward at first, you have that whole, ‘which eye do I stare at’ thing going on, but this simple exercise can really deepen your intimacy and create a sense of safety.
  • Joint Meditation: Practice meditation together to synchronize your breathing and relax. You can practice in silence or follow a guided meditation.
  • Daily Check-Ins: Make it a habit to regularly discuss your feelings and experiences. Daily check-ins can prevent major bust-ups and keep you emotionally close.
  • Get Physical: Engage in activities like dancing or yoga that involve moving in sync with each other. Physical activities that require coordination can strengthen both your emotional and physical bond.
  • Shared Routines: Create daily or weekly routines that involve spending quality time together. Consistent routines help build a predictable and secure environment for emotional connection. We aren’t talking a post-work bottle of wine in front of Netflix, we mean meaningful, healthy habits like getting out in nature together or having a ‘massage’ evening.

How to Co-Regulate if You’re on Your Own

If you feel like you don’t have anyone safe to co-regulate with, don’t worry—you still have options.

While having a supportive partner or friend is fantastic, you can also find ways to regulate yourself and build your emotional resilience. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practice mindfulness or meditation to help calm your mind and body. Even just a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
  • Journaling: Write down your thoughts and feelings. This can be a great way to process emotions and keep your head clear.
  • Physical Activity: Engage in regular exercise. Activities like yoga, walking, or dancing can help release stress and improve your mood. You may even find some supportive connections.
  • Breathing Exercises: Practice deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to soothe your nervous system.
  • Professional Help: Consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance and tools to help you regulate your emotions.
  • Nature Therapy: Spend time in nature. Whether it’s a walk in the park or a hike in the woods, being outdoors and away from screens can be incredibly calming.
  • Regulating with Pets: Spend time with your pet. Petting, cuddling, or simply watching them breathe and move can be incredibly soothing and regulating for your nervous system.

Take small steps and find what works best for you. Building self-regulation skills takes time, but with patience and practice, you can create a supportive environment for yourself.

Co-Regulation Trauma Benefits

Trauma often messes with your ability to self-regulate[*], so co-regulation for trauma can be a game-changer.

Having a supportive person by your side can help regulate your nervous system, making those intense traumatic responses less overwhelming, creating a sense of safety.[*] Through co-regulation, trauma survivors can process their experiences in a safe space, which is key for healing and recovery.

A compassionate and patient approach from someone you trust will go a long way to providing the stability needed to start rebuilding your sense of safety and trust.

Co-Regulation vs. Codependency

Co-regulation vs. codependency – what’s the difference? Well, quite a lot actually.

Co-regulation is all about mutual support and healthy emotional give-and-take, while codependency is when you rely too much on someone else for emotional stability.

In co-regulation, you both keep your independence while still supporting each other. But in codependency, one or both of you might lose your sense of self in the relationship.

Recognizing this difference is key for healthy, supportive interactions. Codependency often means you put the other person’s needs above your own, which isn’t great for your well-being.

Co-regulation, on the other hand, is a balanced exchange where you both help each other stay emotionally healthy without losing who you are. Knowing these differences helps you build strong, healthy relationships that make you both feel good.

Co-regulation is super important for emotional well-being and healthy relationships in adults. By understanding and practicing co-regulation, you can boost your emotional resilience, build stronger connections, and create a supportive environment to heal. Whether it’s through mindful listening, shared activities, or synchronized breathing, co-regulation gives you practical tools for emotional balance and nervous system resilience.

Author

  • Emma Clark, BA (Hons) - Author

    Emma Clark holds a BA (Hons). She cut her marketing teeth in the health and dieting niche before co-founding Regulate Co. She has an unhealthy obsession with Bon Jovi, aspires to own 1000 guinea pigs, and feels best in the sunshine with an ice cream in hand.

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