‘You ever find yourself yourself feeling stressed in the morning, but you’re not really sure why? Those days when you can’t seem to shake the “small” stuff?

There’s some intuitive, science-backed self-care that can help smooth out your morning stress. I’ve got an easy, 3-minute experiment for you, and the results are kinda’ shocking (I couldn’t believe mine).

I first tried it in a continuing education training with Deb Dana on Polyvagal Theory (the neurophysiological basis for the self-care gems I share with you). Deb asked students to think about our morning commute, starting from leaving the house, all the way ’til we arrived at our destinations.

The challenge: identify the “cues of danger” and “cues of safety” that come up in your commute.

Now, I was ready for this exercise. I feel safe in my life. I take great self-care already. I’ve moved my family from the big city to the quiet countryside. I practice a conscious, slower parenting style. Bring on the A+, professor. But when I reflected, I remembered: most mornings, I still feel my heart race and my breath shorten.

When I did “The Cues Experiment,” I found that our mere 20-minute commute had eighteen cues of danger (yes, nearly one danger cue per minute!). They ranged from getting everyone out the door on time, to fastening the carseat belts tight enough, to taking a dangerous turn onto a main road. In contrast, I found only two cues of safety.

What’s more: when I thought about commuting by myself, the cues of danger went way down. But when my babies were with me, they skyrocketed — because as mamas we’re wired to protect our children, constantly scanning the environment, even subconsciously. And it’s exhausting.

But here’s the good news: once we’re aware of the cues of danger, with the right self-care rituals, we can make them safer. After shifting my morning rituals — from slightly changing the driving route, or setting our the shoes and socks before bed — it started to feel a lot calmer.​

How can finding cues of danger and cues of safety help us feel calmer? 

Cues of danger subconsciously activate the alarm branch of your nervous system (the “sympathetic” and “dorsal vagal” branches). In other words, they put your nervous system on high alert, and send it out of whack. But cues of safety activate the calming branch of your nervous system (called the “ventral vagal”), which helps to regulate it.

Having the right care rituals help you get a good ratio of danger and safety cues, which keeps your nervous system regulated. And that keeps you in a happier, healthier state of mind and body.

Here’s how to try The Cues experiment for yourself:

  • Set your timer for 3 minutes.
  • Get grounded (e.g., breathing deeply, noticing your connection to the chair or ground, etc.). Follow your commute, from leaving the house to arriving at your destination.
  • What cues do you notice? List them out.
  • What self-care rituals can you add that shift the danger cues to safety signs, helping to keep you calmer in the morning? Write them down.
  • Repeat the exercise with bedtime, or anytime that you feel stressed and aren’t sure why.

As you experiment, use baby steps to make this shift, and notice how this practical self-care helps your nervous system stay calmer.

P.S. When you’re ready to create your own rituals, check out the Creating Rituals Workshop. It’s a 60-minute audio workshop that helps you stop saying “I know I should take better care of myself, but…” Start today.