What Rock, Paper Scissors has taught me about switching up Coping Skills

Dr Erin Bowe synesthesia and overwhelm

August 10, 2021

Do you have stress “tells” – little quirks that show when you’re overwhelmed, anxious and stressed?

In poker, a “tell” is a change in behaviour that reveals a person’s inner state, and gamblers look for clues about who is holding or good or bad hand depending on their nonverbal behaviours. There’s also evidence that this is how you win ‘rock, paper, scissors’.

Something I learned recently that delighted and bemused me was that there is a Rock Paper Scissors League. Instead of memorising moves and using statistical wizardry, players need a sophisticated ability to predict their opponent’s behaviours. The dance of estimating when you think someone will choose the predictable option, and when they will try to throw you off is fascinating. It’s got me thinking about times when we need throw our brain and nervous system off course by choosing some non-default coping strategies.

When I get stressed, sensory information usually becomes way too overwhelming. I tend to experience colours and sometimes smells in reaction to sound anyway. I took a very scientific looking test on the internet and it came back with a result of 98% for me likely having synaesthesia

When I’m stressed, the kitchen clock ends up in a drawer. The sound of the dog licking her paws becomes loud. I usually stop listening to music and podcasts, and without realising I’m doing it, I’ll usually stop wearing perfume. Everything in the fridge will start to smell ‘off’ and I get agitated with the kids for touching me all the time.

I usually need to turn down sensory information – showers in the dark, soothing lavender and finding a sunny spot to sit quietly. However, I’d noticed my usual strategies weren’t working as well. With lockdowns also comes monotony and a sense of dread.
What’s been working better for me is to actually switch it up and seek extra sensory input – getting on the kid’s swing set and listening to LOUD electronic music with lots of layers and reverb. It worked a treat.

Something that’s been well received in my work with helping people with stress is a six senses approach. Basically, it means picking one support aspect for each of your five senses and then some ‘other’ component. Think of these like a HITT workout for your brain and your nervous system.

If your usual soothing coping strategies aren’t working, switch it up and try safe stimulation seeking instead (or vice versa).

Here’s some ideas:

Revisit a comforting video from childhood – for example something like THIS pinball machine animation from the vault of Sesame Street videos.

Move your vestibular system – a swing set, hammock or rocking chair or spin circles and make yourself dizzy like skids do. The swaying motion plus music with a distinct right and left input settled my nervous system right down

Use a tennis ball to find and release knots in your glutes and hips. Women in particular store a lot of tension in their hips/pelvic bowl area

Switch the smells in your house. I’ve noticed that in our house, the usual ‘soothing’ lavender and Ylang Ylang we’ve had going the diffuser was no longer serving its purpose. It’s become too familiar with lockdowns, so instead we’ve switched it up for citrus + peppermint or chamomile. I also switched out our usual hand soap to a lemon and eucalyptus one

I never drink soft drink, and I don’t typically endorse drinking cola, however, this past week I drank coke from a glass bottle and it was really, oddly satisfying!

Safe novelty seeking in the throes of feeling like you’re in Ground Hog Day

This week’s post in podcast form

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