Self-regulation and self-care: Activities and ideas to temporarily move our brains out of fear states


Often busy foster parents report they haven’t time for self-care. There are meetings to attend, visits from agency staff, and appointments to keep, not to mention the daily parenting tasks. It’s like a never-ending cycle. Unfortunately, intentional self-care is an integral part of our ability to self-regulate. Because parenting is a task that requires self-regulation, we are offering this list of activities to shift parents out of fear and into a calmer self-regulated state.

The following four lists were gathered from both our personal and professional experiences and are not exhaustive. Nor will every item be effective for everyone. Notice the first entry(ies) on each list. We particularly highlighted the first strategy practiced by all humans (verbalizing our fear to a trusted adult). As we mature our ability to self-regulate increases, but we can never totally do without this primary strategy. As foster parents, the value of it is never more evident, then with the traumatized children we are trying to parent. We witness their inability to share intense emotions with us (in appropriate ways). As we gain and demonstrate new emotional regulation skills, we will be more open and available to transfer the skill to our children.

Each of the four lists vary in size. You will notice how short-term activities typically outnumber mid-length activities. These mid-length activities outnumber the ones that require more time. Your personal list will probably conform to this pattern. It is important to note, that these ideas are not listed here as goals in themselves. The goal in all of them is to get ourselves out of a fear state and allow our thinking brain to exercise more control. Effectiveness, of the activity is determined by the achievement of this goal. Your personal list will change over time, things you could do at one age, may not be possible when you get older. It will change with the demands of life. Things that worked when you were single may not be doable as a spouse. Time and attention must be given to maintaining lengthy and effective lists as we model emotional regulation for our traumatized children.

Whatever we do successfully to temporarily get out of fear, becomes the most effective practices that we have to offer our traumatized children. Not everything that works for us will work for them, but having and using our lists demonstrates the value of the practice of intentional emotional regulation. Remember they have dealt with and may still be dealing with chronic, unrelenting fear. The ultimate success we are looking for is for our children to be able to talk about their fears instead of responding with limbic brain behaviors. Until then, the children will be afraid to share their fears because they lack a reliable, functional strategy to get themselves out of that emotional state. If we are going to ask them to do this, (and we are), we must show them how to get out.


  1. Pray, express thanksgiving Acknowledge how you feel and look for verses that give hope
  2. Talk to your pastor
  3. Immerse yourself in inspirational verses
  4. Join a focused group
  5. Listen to inspiration speakers
  6. Participate in service projects
  7. Practice solitude
  8. Spend time in Bible study
  9. Spend time in worship services
  10. Use prayerful meditation (Trauma-sensitive)

Short time frame

  1. Talk or visit with friends (for 5-10 minutes)
  2. Be silly
  3. Blow bubbles
  4. Breath intentionally (deep breathing)
  5. Burn a favorite scented candle
  6. Buy or pick fresh flowers
  7. Color or finger painting
  8. Count stars, find constellations
  9. Cuddle with a pet 
  10. Daydream
  11. Drink water, caffeine free/tea
  12. Eat dark chocolate slowly
  13. Give/receive a 20-second hug
  14. Hold and squeeze a stress ball
  15. Imagine and draw a safe place
  16. Journal
  17. Record your honest thoughts, must include positive thoughts, too
  18. Record happy memories and successes
  19. Record things you are thankful for
  20. Record your emotional states, include positive emotions
  21. Record your daydreams 
  22. Kiss your partner (at least 6 seconds)
  23. Laugh
  24. Lay on the grass and watch clouds
  25. Listen to music that uplifts
  26. Listen to your heart
  27. Massage your temples and head
  28. Notice nature (feed and watch birds, find plants in bloom)
  29. Observe children at play
  30. Practice a yoga stance (5-10 minutes)
  31. Practice Element 3, Positive narration
  32. Put on sweatpants or loose clothing
  33. Quickly decide an unimportant matter
  34. Review positive memories
  35. Rub lotion on your hands and legs
  36. Set goals
  37. Sing loudly
  38. Sit in a rocking chair and rock
  39. Sit and look out the window
  40. Sit in the sun
  41. Slowly brush your hair
  42. Smile
  43. Stretch your muscles
  44. Swing at home
  45. Take a nap (15 min.)
  46. Unplug all electronics, enjoy the quiet
  47. Use positive self-talk
  48. Vary you drive or walking route
  49. Wake up early and watch the sunrise
  50. Watch people
  51. Watch the stars
  52. Watch the sunset
  53. Wear weighted vest or weighted blanket
  54. Wear your favorite clothing
  55. Write letters, include positive correspondence

Mid length of time

  1. Talk or visit friends (1 or more hours)
  2. Attend a yoga class
  3. Attend an exercise class
  4. Attend a support group
  5. Attend and yell at a sports event
  6. Attend local celebrations
  7. Attend sporting events
  8. Bake something fun
  9. Change something in your home
  10. De-clutter a small area
  11. Do community service (all day?)
  12. Exercise (run, bike, swim, walk, etc.)
  13. Experiment with clay, play dough, slime
  14. Explore Pinterest, create new boards
  15. Explore your city
  16. Fix something that is broken
  17. Get a massage
  18. Go for a walk 
  19. Go out to dinner by yourself
  20. Help someone with a task
  21. Listen to inspiration speakers
  22. Notice nature (birds, flowers)
  23. Observe children at play
  24. Open a library account, read a book
  25. Participate in local sports
  26. Plan a trip (anticipation can be enjoyable)
  27. Play games (board, card, social, etc.) (Caution! electronics are addictive)
  28. Read a novel by a favorite author
  29. Scrapbook
  30. Sleep in
  31. Spend time in nature
  32. Swim
  33. Swing at playground
  34. Take a long bath
  35. Take a nap
  36. Take pictures of things you love
  37. Take yourself out for dessert
  38. Travel to new sights (half day trips)
  39. Try a new food (mid-length if shopping or cooking is included)
  40. Visit a Zoo
  41. Watch a favorite movie, play, or show

Longer length of time

  1. Spend time with people that recharge you
  2. Combine mid-length activities (travel to an out-of-town concert and stay overnight)
  3. Go camping
  4. Plan and complete an art museum tour (historical, antiques, etc.)
  5. Practice solitude when needed
  6. Revisit old favorite vacation spots
  7. Ride the train to visit a larger city
  8. Take a bus tour
  9. Take weekend get-aways
  10. Travel to new locations (full day or overnight)

© 2022, Jeff and Faye. All rights reserved.

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