The ‘hidden epidemic’ of early adversity and toxic stress in society today means that a huge proportion of children and adults are chronically dysregulated leading to a vast array of health problems. How do we deal with a problem of this magnitude?
Stress regulation is right-brain function that is built primarily through the R&R of relationships and Rhythm (which leads to the building of another ‘R’: Resilience). If we are serious about protecting human health we need to begin to redesign our environments so that they signal cues of safety that help people stay regulated. This is important throughout the lifespan but particularly in infancy and childhood.
What would this look like? We need more spaces where people can come together face-to-face and engage in play. Our evolutionary heritage is as ‘co-operative breeders’ and ‘alloparents’ where groups of adults come together to create the village it takes to raise a child. Parents parenting alone are more susceptible to loneliness and stress which create a sub-optimal or ‘growth-inhibiting’ environment for the infant. There is strength in numbers. Real community offers a safety net for caregivers who are struggling to cope. This way both the parent and the infant can be resourced.
As children grow and enter the school years there is a great opportunity to help them develop their relational and ‘regulational’ skills. Schools need to be designed so that they become ‘relationally-rich’ and emotionally-soothing, regulating environments. Teacher could be trained to become skilled psychobiological regulators through creating a calm presence. The educational system has neglected right-brain development for too long serving to create a culture with massive deficits right-brain functions like empathy. This can be remedied by basing education around face-to-face interactions, play and physical activity (both natural regulators). Music, drama, dance and story-telling, particularly when occurring in a relational context are further help young people to develop their right-brain regulatory capacities. The rhythm inherent in attuned relational interactions and in the arts is deeply regulating. This process can be enhanced by extending the relational dynamic to include the natural world and its soothing rhythms.
Colleges, workplaces, public spaces and institutions too could be organised around these principles of rhythm and relationship. In such a way the culture can become a container that nurtures and regulates. Such practices can create a healing or therapeutic culture.