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See your nervous system like a traffic light...

If you are neurodivergent then you will already know that you are exposed to higher levels of stress as your brain is functioning differently to the expected norm. You may have challenges with concentration and focus, learning pace and style, or other learning and environmental challenges associated with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Sensory Processing Sensitivity or be Autistic among others.

What is beneficial to everyone regardless of their neurology is to see their autonomic nervous system as a traffic light. I heard this concept from a fellow neurodivergent hypnotherapist in the UK and I really connected with it. So you've got red, amber, and green like a traffic light. This theory ties in with polyvagal theory, (which I massively incorporate) and lots of other theories, along with the hierarchy of needs, and even energy centres in the body.

Image is of 4 ladies having a very 'green' moment with each other.

So at the top, in the green, is our very connected, quite securely attached, very up, energised, safe place. That's the important word; it's a safe place. And for many autistic people, we do struggle to stay up there. We're often dysregulated, we're triggered by our sensory needs, it can be quite hard to stay up there. But when we're there, we feel good, the inner critic isn't there on our shoulder. We're just safely connecting to people, animals, and the world around us.

Underneath that in the traffic light system is amber. Amber is the warning sign. I know that if I overdo it when I'm in amber, red zone might follow, and that's a little trickier to deal with. So amber is also quite productive, but it's your fight or flight, so it's heightened. It's a bit anxious, basically. And it's when we might fire into anger, when we might fire up into indignation, very triggered easily, lots of anxiety-based responses and we are burning through our 'spoons'. It feels, to me, when I'm like that it feels like a fast existence, ie my head feels fast. This is where a meltdown would probably occur; as it's the heightened stage, and then you crash into red, and that's needing recovery.

The red zone is for shutdown or, indeed, the freeze response. That's where you would find burnout. It's important to understand that they're all normal and natural, and we should dip in and out of them. Neurodivergents, however, can get a little stuck in the lower traffic lights. And when you're down in the red state, that has the potential to be a little dangerous because that's where we can find more self-injurious behaviours & less self-care. That's when all of the self-talk is quite negative. You're feeling flat, you're feeling tired, you've got very low mood and it feels like you won't be able to get out of it.

Image is of Tan doing breathing techniques down the beach while in the orange light state, one arm holding her hair back from the wind.

If you can ascertain which state you're in it can be very useful, but you need to be quite accepting as well. Acceptance without judgement. So not to berate yourself when you're in the red light state, just to accept that today is a red day, I need self-care, I'm going to have low demands. I'm really going to look after myself, and nurture myself, and sit with what comes up, and be very compassionate towards it, knowing I will get out of it. It's a state; we can get out of it. And there are ways to get out of it with safe connection to people or animals, walks in nature, regulatory tools, with music and whatever works for you.

I also find this useful as a parent when you get overwhelmed and your child still has needs. Part of what I always recommend is talking with your child and setting some vocabulary that's the same across both of you - and using the traffic light system and knowing how each of you 'do' each state - can be a really easy way to do that. Whatever your strategies are for red and orange state times, you both have access to them at all times so that way, your child is more likely to understand when you are in red or amber too. My son is at the stage where he knows what my strategies are (usually around a beach walk) and suggests them to me, which actually is useful a lot of the time.

Sending big love

- 'WC' T ♡

Image is of Tan and her son Kianni looking out onto the water with their arm around each other.

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