Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast

How to Build Nervous System Regulation Into Your Daily Life

April 11, 2023 Amanda Armstrong Episode 8
Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast
How to Build Nervous System Regulation Into Your Daily Life
Show Notes Transcript
Episode 8

Do you bulldoze through day after day without checking in on how you're feeling or what you need? Do you often feel like you don't have time for self care or regulation practices? Join me for today's conversation on how to build in small "regulation reps" in throughout your day. Tiny practices done on a consistent basis can make a big difference in your overall nervous system state. When you make a priority out of regulating your nervous system you live differently, but none of the suggestions I'll make in today episode will take more than 1-2 minutes. It's not about doing more, its about doing some things differently. Hit play to learn more!

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One of the most common things that I hear from people is I don't have time, I'm already feeling strapped, I'm already at capacity. I'm barely making it through the day right now I'm so stressed like, I don't have time for self care, I don't have time for nervous system regulation or for what it takes to heal. 


And so today, I am going to prove to you that you do not necessarily that you do have excess time, energy or capacity, but that there are ways of building nervous system regulation practices into your daily life in a way that doesn't cost you more time capacity or energy. There are things that you can do differently. And so I'm not going to ask you to do more. 


With this episode, I'm going to invite you to take a look at some of the things that you're already doing. And how can you do those differently in a way that promotes more regulation. So today, like I just said, I want to talk to you about how to build in kind of these micro moments of nervous system regulation throughout your day. And I will warn you that I am going to make a lot of parallels between nervous system regulation exercises and of fitness exercises or building a regulation plan, and how it's kind of similar to building a workout plan. And before you completely roll your eyes. 


A little bit of my backstory you may or may not be familiar with, I have been a certified personal trainer for over a decade, I was a collegiate track athlete, and I've spent a lot of my life as a competitive athlete. After I graduated from my master's program, I actually worked at Google headquarters in California for a little over five years as a wellness specialist and personal trainer for their employees. And there is a lot of crossover in the overall process of how I would create personalized workout programs for people to how I now support clients in creating these strategic and personalized healing protocols as well. 


Now, one of the questions I get asked a lot, is what makes the work that I would do with you different than something that I might have experienced in traditional talk therapy. And I always preface with what an amazing and incredibly powerful part of healing talking is. But it's only a piece of this kind of healing pie. Unless you're also taking action to change your behaviors to change your environment, to regulate your physiology your nervous system, then you're likely going to stay dysregulated. And there are absolutely therapists out there that are somatic trained trauma informed and support clients and personalized behavior adaptations. But many, many, many, many don't. And this is my personal goober space is not just in helping you understand anxiety and depression through this nervous system lens. But also in helping clients and people create a strategic, tangible plan towards healing. 


Again, much like you might have a very strategic workout plan to meet your goals there. And so what this would look like, as a personal trainer is any time I would get a new personal training client, I would make sure that before our first session in the gym together, that we met up and sat down, and I got to collect some information from them to create a really personalized plan. I would ask a lot of questions things like, you know what, how would you describe your current fitness level? What are the goals for working together? Do you have any injuries or limitations that I would need to know about or work around? What's your prior fitness experience? What types of physical activity have in the past? Have you liked or disliked? Have you worked with a personal trainer before? What about that experience that you like or dislike? What are you hoping is the same or different? What access do you have to certain resources? We would talk about just their general lifestyle? How much time do they spend sitting? How do they feel? Their hydration or their nutrition is? How much time or capacity did they have to dedicate to this work? Right? Are you somebody who has elite athletic performance goals? And you've got a ton of time? Are you an everyday human who's apparent and really busy and you just need these 30 minute sessions to be as effective and efficient as possible, and so on. 


And so with this information that I would collect from these clients, I could create a workout program that was tailored to meet them where they were and then move them towards where they wanted to be in a way that they had the capacity to, to do it. And it was so incredibly important to me that along the way I also educated my clients as to why we were doing certain exercises or why formatted a workout a certain way, because I found that this understanding of the why, gave them more buy in to the work that we were doing. And I do the same thing today. And the coaches inside my mental health practice, we do the same thing in our mental health coaching. 


So in our programs, you learn how the nervous system works so that you have context for kind of how and why the things that we're going to put together in your strategic healing plan work. And before we get started, or in the early stages of coaching, we're also still doing that data collection for you. 


So where are you right now, in your healing journey? What is the current baseline state of your nervous system? Are you spending more time and activation or shut down that fight flight freeze state? What does your lifestyle look like? What are some of the predictable triggers? Or things that you know, make your anxiety or depression worse? What have you done in the past to help manage your mental health? What things have been helpful in minimizing symptoms? Have you worked with a therapist? Have you been on medication? What has worked for you? What hasn't worked for you? What did you like? What did you not like? What are you hoping to get from our time together? And what are you hoping is different in your experience with us as a coach versus other things you've tried? And then most importantly, is really figuring out like, what time or capacity do you have to dedicate on a daily basis to this work. And, again, it is this initial inquiry. That's so so important, because different things work for different people, different clients have different starting points, goals, capacities, resources, etc. 


And so when we're talking about nervous system regulation, here are some other ways that how my experience and work as a personal trainer, parallels nervous system regulation work. So just like with a workout routine, right, I rarely got it perfect the first time, I would work collaboratively with clients over time to make shifts and changes until it felt like a pretty good fit. And same thing with different nervous system regulation practices, they'll need to ebb and flow in different seasons of your life, different days, you're going to have different capacities and others. And just like muscle is built through consistent repetitions over time. nervous system regulation happens the same way. In fact, when I talk about nervous system regulation practices, especially ones that we build into our daily life, I refer to them as regulation reps, right? What's one thing you can do to give you one rep towards feeling a little more regulated. And just like fitness is not a one's a one and done, you do not get fit and strong, decide that you are done, and stay fit and strong. You have to show up for that work in some way as a lifestyle. And this can look a million different ways. 


The other thing to consider is how you train, right? If you are somebody who is recovering from an injury, or if you are training for a big specific event or competition, like a marathon or a powerlifting competition, you need to train in a really specific and intentional way. Versus if you are just an everyday human who wants to be more fit and healthy. There are a lot more flexible ways in how you accomplish that. 


So in my time at Google, and as a trainer in a lot of other gym settings, I trained competitive athletes. And I trained just your everyday parent who wanted to just be a little more fit and healthy to keep up with their kids. And there was a different level of precision and specificity that went into those different plans and programs. And so the same thing applies if you're just somebody who wants to, in general be a little bit more regulated, versus you're somebody who you know, your specific event that you're training for right now is anxiety management, getting to the other side of your depression and knowing how to stay there. 


There's going to be a different level of specificity and training. And I'll mention this again in a minute. But today's suggestions are more catered towards the I just need a place to start. I don't know if I'm ready to like go all in on my healing journey. I just know that I want to have a little bit more of a regulated nervous system. And that's what the second half of today's chat is going to cater towards. So before we get there, this feels like a really good place just to briefly talk about, again, the difference between reactive and proactive regulation tools and kind of the in the moment regulation versus overall increasing your capacity or nervous system regulation baseline. And there's places that these differ. And then there's also places that these two categories overlap. 


So quick summary, reactive tools are the in the moment tools or exercises that that support you when you are already dysregulated. So when you think about having these two different toolboxes, right, your reactive tools and your proactive tools, your reactive tools are the ones that meet you. In those moments, I'm already activated, I'm already shut down, my thoughts are spiraling out of control, like now what I need something right here right now, to help me regulate, then our other toolbox are these proactive tools. And these are the things that you do on a daily basis to proactively regulate and increase your capacity to handle stress before it becomes overwhelming. So proactive is kind of these daily habits, daily practices that you use. 


So if you remember, in episode one, and two, I talked about the nervous system ladder, with those three different sections representing the three different states of regulation, the Green Zone activation, that yellow zone and shutdown the red zone. And then I said, I want you to imagine that you are standing at the top of that ladder holding a bucket. And that bucket represents your nervous systems carrying capacity. And any time throughout the day or throughout your life, that something is stressful, it adds weight to your nervous system and adds weight to that bucket. And when that bucket gets heavier and heavier, it pushes you further and further down the ladder into those states of dysregulation into that yellow zone, that state of activation, or that red zone, that state of shutdown. 


And so where are these categories of proactive and reactive tools align with this analogy is coming back to that bucket, right, there are two ways to make the load in that bucket more manageable. A is to make yourself stronger, so that you have more capacity to carry a heavy load, while still staying in that regulated state. And a lot of that is built through proactive lifestyle practices, stress management, nervous system regulation. The other way to make that load more manageable is to poke holes in that bucket periodically throughout the day. And we can do that with these reactive nervous system regulating practices when we notice that that load is getting heavy, we're activating or we're shutting down, we do practice 123, poke some holes, let some of that stress, discharge it from our body literally. And now we have more space in our bucket because we let some of that load out. 


The other thing that's so important, I think to note here is that practicing coping skills or these regulation exercises, when you are calm, is so vital to nervous system regulation as a whole. So again, like building muscles, right? If you know that you're going to be moving soon, and you need to have the strength to lift heavy boxes or to move your couch. You cannot wait until the day of your move to do some bicep curls and expect that to be helpful. Same thing, you cannot just logically think, Oh well, like breathwork could help me when I'm feeling anxious, or that somatic shaking thing. If you wait until you're actually in crisis, or in a high level of stress, to decide to try a regulating tool, you are not going to find it to be near as effective, as if you have been utilizing and practicing that tool proactively either when you're simply feeling regulated. And you're just normalizing this as a practice for you or in those lower levels of stress or crisis. So, repetition, consistency and effort allows you to build regulation and resilience that increases your capacity and ability to cope with stressors in the moment. And like I mentioned also touching on where these categories overlap is with that exact concept. 


A lot of the practices that you are going to want to have access to in those moments of high stress or crisis can be the same exact practices that you build into your daily life or into a normal regulation practice. And again, paralleling this to building a workout plan. A lot of what my various clients did, looked similar, right, both my competitive athletes and my everyday humans. They did functional movements like squats, deadlifts, rows, lunges, all of these movements that by and large are universally beneficial for all human bodies. Because they mimic movement patterns that we use in our everyday life. It was simply the how they did them that looked different. So with any of those exercises, you can do them bodyweight dumbbells, heavy barbells cables, are you doing the movements lighter or faster, heavier or slower and so on. And so each movement can be shifted in countless ways. And so can all of these nervous system regulation practices, there is no one way to do any of these things. Different things are going to work for different people. And so knowing that there is nuance and personalization, and a little experimentation that comes with building regulation practices into your daily life. So again, taking this understanding of how to build a workout program, and paralleling it with anxiety, depression and nervous system regulation. 


So if you remember, a handful of minutes ago, I said, if you are recovering from an injury, or training for a specific event, maybe like a powerlifting, competition or marathon, your training needs to be really specific and intentional. So if you are like, quote, unquote, injured, ie there is trauma, you are chronically stressed out anxious or depressed, you are living in a constant state of survival mode. And you have a specific goal of getting to the other side of that knowing what it takes to stay there breaking out of the same patterns and cycles, and spirals that you tend to repeat and fall into. Then the simple daily regulation practices I'm about to suggest likely will not be enough, again, quote unquote, training for you to accomplish this, you will likely need more. And I would even go as far to say not likely, you need more of a comprehensive and personalized training plan to get yourself to a regulated baseline. And this is the exact work that we support clients in and our one on one coaching programs, catering specific regulation, tools and practices to meet their unique capacity and nervous system needs. 


And again, there's going to be some universals, right sleep stress management, environment, vagal, toning exercises, mindset, they all play a role. But there is not and I wish there was, it would be easier for you, it would be easier for me, there is not a universal blueprint that I can lay out for you to get to the other side or to navigate your trauma, anxiety, depression, nervous system regulation, any more than there is a specific universal workout program for different kinds of people with different starting points and different fitness goals in different events that they're training for no single athlete trains in exactly the same way for different sports. 


And so, again, just reiterating, if you have unhealed trauma, or you are living a life that is continuously chronically stressful, then what I am going to share with you in just a few moments, is not going to be enough to completely rewire and reset your nervous system. But these micro moments of regulation can be a really great place to start in building a relationship with your nervous system, they are still going to be impactful in helping you to poke holes in that stress bucket and will still matter. 


So just to clarify from here on out in today's conversation, I am not talking to the level of personalization that comes from one on one coaching and getting to know the personalized ins and outs of your life, your struggle, your capacity. From here on out, I am talking to you as somebody who is just looking for a place to start. I am talking to as the person who thinks that they don't have time for self care or regulation or healing as someone who's just looking for small ways right now to sprinkle a little bit more nervous system awareness and regulation into your life.


And so again, I think I've said that phrase 100 times and so again, and so again, here's this other parallel. Just like when you are someone looking for a place to start in your fitness journey or your wellness journey, you just want small ways to live a healthier lifestyle. There's some very widely accepted universal suggestions I can make things like stay hydrated. Try to drink about half your body weight in ounces each day. Stand at your desk, make sure that you are getting up and walking around for five minutes every hour. Do some rows or upper back strengthening to help you improve your posture stretch, stay mobile, eat more vegetables, less processed food, get quality sleep, get your heart rate up a few times a week in a way that You don't hate and so on. Right? These are just some general practices that if most people engaged in, they would be a little bit more fit a little bit more healthy. 


So here are some micro moments of regulation that you can spread throughout your day to help you proactively practice these regulation tools, as well as to use them to periodically poke holes in your stress bucket to let out some of that load on your nervous system. And these are suggestions, again, for just small ways to live a little bit more of a regulated lifestyle. And with each of these, I'm going to give 10 suggestions. I am not asking you to do more, I'm asking you to do different. 


So a lot of these practices don't necessarily take more minutes of your day or more energy. We're looking at things that you're already doing, and can we do them in a different more regulated way. And I'm going to kind of rapid fire through a handful of these suggestions. And also some additional reasoning as to why these are helpful. I always think it's important not just to give random suggestions, but also give you some buy in as to why they might be helpful. And as I go through these pretty quickly, I want you to pick just one, maybe two, but realistically just one that you might want to make a habit out of. 


So suggestion number one is a consistent bedtime. Research shows that a consistent bedtime and a consistent wakeup time significantly improves our quantity and quality of sleep. And sleep is one of the number one lifestyle predictors quality of sleep that correlates with improved or diminished mental health. So having a consistent bedtime and wake up time and really looking at what are the practices that are going to help me make that possible. 


Number two, morning sunlight getting outside not through a window, but actually outside for about five to 15 minutes in the morning. Getting that natural low horizon sunlight in your eyeballs is a game changer for well being. This helps to set your circadian clocks, which also helps to improve sleep quality. There's research that shows that this simple five minute morning practice decreases stress controls, cortisol release, and so many other mental and like physiological benefits to your body. And of course, it kind of depends on the weather. But a way that I have built this in again, I'm not asking you to do more just asking you to different is there already something that you do for five or 10 minutes within the first hour or so of you being awake that you can just do outside? So for me that is usually just drinking a breakfast smoothie on the porch with my kid instead of sitting at the table. Or if that doesn't happen because mornings with a toddler are extremely unpredictable. When my husband takes him to school, I might just sit on the porch and drink my morning tea instead of sitting at the table with my phone and scrolling Instagram. 


Which leads to suggestion number three. Can you trade Instagram scrolling or replying to emails on the toilet or at red lights for taking a deep breath? If you do nothing else, try this one. Because you already have to go to the bathroom multiple times a day. If you are driving anywhere you already get stuck at stop signs or red lights. Can you use these as a cue to just check in with yourself and take a deep regulation breath. 


Number four, any time throughout your day that you notice stress or tension for me that shows up as clenching my jaw most often. Give yourself a little shakeout shaking is a natural way that our body discharges activated stress energy, or to do a big sigh or extended exhale. So it could sound like this so anytime you notice either mental or physical stress or tension, give yourself a quick shake or take a deep sighing breath. 


Number five is if you have trouble falling asleep at night. I recommend doing the legs up the wall exercise for five to 10 minutes. So literally just lay on the floor and put your legs up the wall. This activates your relaxation response because the blood from your legs flows towards your heart slows down your heart rate slows down your respiration rate and automatically signals to your nervous system. It's time to relax and chill and can help you get a more restful night's sleep. 


Suggestion number six spend 30 seconds gargling water after you brush your teeth or in the shower. So this activates something called your vagus nerve. When your vagus nerve is activated, it also flips that relaxation response switch in your nervous system. 


Number seven, turn your shower on cold for the final 30 seconds to three minutes. I'm sure this is the one that the fewest of you will We'll choose. And we'll have a whole conversation around cold exposure and its benefits in a conversation in the future, but just know that 30 seconds to three minutes of cold exposure consistently throughout the week at the end of your showers, activates your vagus nerve, and has major positive psychological and physiological shifts. 


Number eight, move your body more. Just stand at your desk, go on a walk, do more physical activity in some way. Moving your body is going to help you to regulate as well. Simple one also spend more time outside can you take your laptop and go work outside on the porch or in your sunroom or wherever? Can you just take 10 minutes at your lunch break to not be sitting at a table with your phone and go sit outside 


and number 10 is throughout the day to eat less processed food and more get healthy food right we have a mind body connection. Things like fermented food or probiotics can improve your gut health which can also support a nervous system regulation. 


So quick review, consistent bedtime wake up time, morning sunlight in your eyeballs within the first hour of being awake. Instead of Instagram scrolling on the toilet or at a red light, take a few deep breaths. Anytime you notice tension, shake it out or take a sighing breath. If you're having trouble falling asleep, legs up the wall. Or you could do that anytime you're feeling anxious. You're already brushing your teeth, you're already in the shower, can you gargle for 30 seconds, or just make the water cold at the very end, move your body more, spend more time outside, eat less processed food and more get healthy foods. 


So taking a moment to reflect on this list which one of those could you commit to. And none of those 10 things was anything that's really going to demand more of your time or energy. It's just doing things a little bit differently a little bit more intentionally towards regulation. And to bring all of this together I'm going to share with you what an average day looks like for me. And I'm going to put an emphasis on the for me. And I want you to know that there is no perfect science to this even what I'm about to tell you ebbs and flows a bit from day to day and has looked drastically different during different phases of my life. And the last five years since I've gotten really serious about nervous system regulation. Also, I'm a little over a month from birthing another tiny human into the world. And so that'll definitely flip this routine upside down again. 


But nonetheless, here is an example of like how ish, I build regulation practices in throughout my day, so that I am not getting to the end of my day completely depleted, completely overwhelmed, completely overstimulated. I'm using these micro moments of regulation throughout my day to poke some holes in that stress bucket. 


So I wake up and I try to wake up at least 30 minutes before my toddler so that I can wake up in a proactive way instead of reacting to his emotions or his needs. So I wake up, I walk to the bathroom, and I take a few breaths while peeing, like friends. This does not have to be sexy. I make a point to just take a few deep breaths. First thing in the morning as I sit down to pee, I brush my teeth and then I gargle for 30 ish seconds. When I brush my teeth getting that vagus nerve activated first thing. Then I do my morning things I get my kid ready for school. Sometimes, that's a fun morning. And sometimes it's a total shit show. And by the time my husband goes out the door to take my kid to school, I'm completely dysregulated. Again, toddler emotions are big and unpredictable. And so on days where I'm feeling already overwhelmed just by the time he leaves the house at 8am. I sit down on the couch, or I take my tea out to the porch and take a few deep breaths. And so again, this is where morning sunlight comes in. This is a priority for me almost every single morning. I get outside for five to 10 minutes to get morning sunlight in my eyes. Sometimes this happens before my kid wakes up. Sometimes it's with my kid while we sit on the porch drinking smoothies. And sometimes it's just after he leaves and I waved goodbye and I stay outside just to get that sunlight in my eyeballs for a little bit. And then my day my day happens. 


And as I'm going throughout my day, anytime that I noticed that I'm feeling stressed. I do OSI or I shake it out. A lot of what I suggested today is because this is what works for me in my daily life. I leave my phone in my office I work from home so my office is downstairs in the kitchen is upstairs so I leave my phone in my office when I go upstairs to make lunch. This allows me to just have some time away from my screen. Any scrolling I would be doing during lunch is not really productive anyways and I get to be more mindful in the way that I consume my food. Being outside is really regulating for me so when possible, I like to work we have this little like couch in my sunroom. So if it's not too hot or cold, I might take my laptop out there for an hour or two. And then like a shared a practice. It's been Because almost religious for me is I use I've traded scrolling on the toilet or at red lights for taking a few deep breaths for checking in with myself and saying, How am I doing? What do I need, take a deep breath. 


I spent decades of my life, so focused on other people's needs other people's emotions that I rarely ever checked in with my own. And so such a critical part of nervous system regulation is just coming into conversation with your nervous system consistently. And then, once my kid is home from school, and he's up from his nap, we try to go outside gardening, go to the park, etc. And then at bedtime together, we have this fun routine where we do Wiggles. So we shake it out together, right? I know that that helps him to discharge any activation from his day. But I'm also there for some regulation, too. We do that legs up the wall practice together, half the time, he just kicks the wall. But again, it's not just for him, it's for me too. And this helps us to both just regulate at the end of the day. And then once he's down, I tried to be in bed consistently by about 10pm, I get off my phone, ideally, 30 minutes before then. 


And some other practices that I do not necessarily on any specific day or time right now is I do about a 30 minute workout four ish days a week, I do a more formal 10 minute meditation or practice another four days a week. And so hearing this, like there's nothing overly prescriptive about this. But these are tiny practices that I do on a consistent basis that make a difference. Right, these regulation reps build up over time because there was a time in my life where I would bulldoze through, day after day after day after day without ever once checking in on how I was feeling or how I was doing. my to do list was a marathon and I never ever stopped running that race. 


And so when you start to make a priority out of regulating your nervous system, you do live differently. And I'll repeat again, notice that none of the things I mentioned, were much of a time suck. I didn't tell you that you had to do this perfectly curated hour long morning routine, or that you had to hit the gym six days a week like most of us don't have the time the capacity for that. So it's not about doing more, it's about just doing some things differently. Just one thing at a time that pokes a hole in your stress bucket giving you a little bit more capacity throughout the day, one regulation rep at a time builds up over time. 


And again, the same way that fitness becomes sustainable is that you allow it to ebb and flow with different seasons of your life, but you stay committed to doing something and nervous system regulation is the same. regulating your nervous system means that you do things differently, you live a little bit differently. And what that looks like exactly, is going to adjust based on the day and the season of your life. 


So to sum up today's conversation, the three tangible takeaways are one, I want you to identify what is one small regulation rep that you can add into your daily life. These daily micro moments of regulation add up over time, but start small, start small start with one. And when that becomes habitual when that practice becomes your new normal, that's when you can add another and add another. All of the things that I told you are layered into my daily life now they started one practice at a time. 


Tangible TAKEAWAY NUMBER TWO are those 10 suggestions that I gave you. And I am going to leave that list in the show notes for you to reference. So tangible takeaway is that list of suggestions, again, an invitation to pick one. 


Tangible takeaway number three is to use these moments sprinkled throughout your day as a starting place to simply bring you into conversation with your body and to provide micro moments of regulation. And if you're looking for support and creating a more personalized or comprehensive nervous system regulation plan, this is the work that we do with clients every single day.