This is part 3 of a 3 episode mini series about depression.
It's not enough to understand WHY you're struggling with depression, you also need to have tangible tools to regulate your nervous system and heal. In this episode we will build on the education and exploration from part 1 & 2 of this mini series. You'll learn that the secret to regulating your nervous system is to first meet it where it's at and then layer on various regulation tools to walk it towards feeling more connected and mobilized. I also introduce you to a number of specific regulation tools for you to start using today! Hit play to learn more!
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The Regulate & Rewire podcast and content posts by Amanda Armstrong is presented solely for general informational, education, and entertainment purposes. The use of information on this podcast of materials linked from this podcast or website is at the user's own risk. It is not intended as a substitute for the advices of a physician, professional coach, psychotherapist, or other qualified professional, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical or mental health condition they may have and should seek the assistance of their healthcare professionals for any such conditions.
Welcome to regulate and rewire and anxiety and depression podcast where we discuss the things I wish someone would have taught me earlier in my healing journey. I'm your host, Amanda Armstrong. And I'll be sharing my steps, my missteps, client experiences and tangible research based tools to help you regulate your nervous system, rewire your mind and reclaim your life. Thanks for being here. Now let's dive in.
Welcome back to the third and final part of this three part mini series on depression through a nervous system lens. So quick recap. In part one, we looked at some of the basics of depression through nervous system lens, we talked about the nervous system ladder again, and then compared understanding depression through the chemical imbalance theory versus the polyvagal theory. And in my opinion, which one is more research supported and helpful?
Part two, we took a deep dive into dissociation. And then I invited you into some exploratory questions to help you recognize the unique ways that you experienced this red zone state the shutdown state that holds depression. And today, I will expand on some of those things that we've talked about that then finish with the tangible tools, the things that you can do both reactively and proactively to move you out of this state to regulate your nervous system when you're feeling shut down, dissociated or depressed.
So part one and two, my hope was to support you in what we consider to be phase one of the work that we do with clients, which is that education and awareness phase. So that education, you need to understand how how the nervous system works in general, so that you know how to work with it towards healing. But then that awareness is understanding how you uniquely experience the different nervous system states, so that you can identify what state you are in at any given moment. And then know which tool is going to be the most effective to help you regulate because different states have different tools that work better for each person also.
So there's a lot of personalization, that's going to come up in today's conversation. And today, I really want to focus on the second phase that we take clients through, which is our regulation phase. So this is where we help clients identify the specific, proactive and reactive regulation practices that are the most impactful for them. So again, personalization is key, you've heard me say it before that I am a healing, minimalist, my goal is not that you make all of the changes that I suggest today, or that you do, and use all of the tools that are in my podcast and all of the other podcasts and books and things that you're consuming. Know, my goal with clients is to help them identify the few practices that are the most effective for them in any given state. And just to repeat and repeat and repeat, because with that repetition, your nervous system becomes more familiar. And it helps you to reverse that spiral and move up that nervous system ladder even more efficiently. And so since this is a podcast, and not a one on one coaching session, today, I will make some very general suggestions for practices and things to consider. And it will be up to you to take the action to experiment with these various tools and things to see which ones are the most supportive and the best fit for you.
And I think this is a place where I want to put just a quick side note. And a quick plug in that this can be really hard to do. If you are currently struggling with depression. If you remember, this is an immobilized state, it can be really hard to take new action, especially if you've been feeling shut down for a while. And this is often why people choose to work with us because they want or need that support that gentle accountability, that personalization in this process. And that being said, I hope that there are many, many of you who can take the information that I share with you today experiment with it, make small shifts over time in a way that is helpful for you. But to those of you who leave this episode with the best of intentions to take action and you end up frustrated because you don't know where to start or you wanted to try these things and you just don't. I also want you to know that that is normal and okay too. And if that's the case, and you are looking for more personalized support. And you either a if you are already working with a practitioner that you love, whether that's a therapist or coach or whatever, maybe share this mini series with them and ask for their support and putting it into practice in a personalized way for you.
Or B, this is a gentle invitation to reach out to me to reach out to us to send me a DM on Instagram, or message me through the contact page on my website. And I would love to help you decide in a completely pressure free way. If our membership or our one on one coaching program might be a good fit for you. When you are in the shutdown state getting into action alone can be so so tough. And so I want you to know that I don't recommend using very much willpower to take action when you are in this state. Because the state Prime's you for conservation of energy and disconnection too often prevent any perpetuated, perpetuating any pain that you've experienced. And so just know that it is not any personal failure is actually your physiology, your biology in this state makes it hard to take some of these first steps. And so if you need help, this is just a reminder that that help is there, and to not be ashamed to reach out and to ask for it.
So Okay, now let's get into today's conversation. So when it comes to healing tools, there are top down and bottom up. So top down tools are the things that primarily work with your cognitive brain and attempt to change your nervous system state things like talk therapy, mindset, work, meditation, and so on. And then there are bottom up tools focused on shifting your body, state, your physiology, and an attempt to change what's going on in your mind. So tools that focus on nervous system regulation, things like somatic practices, breath, work, lifestyle changes, etc. Both top down and bottom up tools are a super, super valuable piece of healing. But in my opinion, the most effective place to start is in the body. Research shows us that 80% of the Mind Body conversation originates in the body. And so when we don't start there, when we try to just change our thoughts or our habits just up in our brain, it can often feel like you're just spinning your wheels, and not ever really seeing much progress or true healing.
So in today's conversation, a lot of the tangible regulation tools for when you're feeling shut, down, dissociated, repressed are going to be body based practices, things that are aimed at shifting your physiology. And so for a moment, I want to bring you because I need to give you context for what it what you might experience as you come out of this shutdown state. So bring to mind that nervous system ladder that we talked about in part one of this series. So if you remember, there's a green zone of regulation at the top, that yellow zone of activation in the middle. And the red zone of shutdown that we're focused on in this series is at the bottom of the ladder.
In order to get to that green zone of regulation at the top of the ladder, you have to move from the Red Zone through the yellow zone of activation. And so here's why I'm bringing this up. Because many of our clients get really frustrated, or they think that something has gone wrong in their healing journey. When in their attempt to heal depression, they suddenly have anxiety symptoms. And so when this happens, it can be really, really easy to think that something has gone wrong. And that all the effort that they've put into healing isn't working or that it's somehow maybe even making them worse, because now they have even more unwanted symptoms, right? They got good at managing their depression symptoms, and now they have anxiety symptoms. But here's the thing, when moving out of this immobilize state, towards regulation, you have to pass through that mobilized sympathetic state, aka the yellow zone. And so again, this is why I think understanding your physiology is so crucial why understanding this nervous system ladder and using it as a map for how we move up and down and through these nervous system states is such a foundational part of healing because it helps to provide context for certain aspects that otherwise might feel wrong. So just know it can be totally normal on your depression healing journey, for you to shift from feeling shut down or disconnected, depressed to different symptoms that feel a little bit more like anxiety. And that's often a sign not that something has gone wrong, but actually that it's going very right, you have done something in your healing journey to give your nervous system, the energy, or the capacity to believe that it can fight or flee from your stressors instead of totally shutting down to them. And that's amazing. That's amazing.
And it can be totally frustrating. Because there, then is a new set of tools that you need to learn to navigate those new symptoms. And many of those I shared in the three part anxiety series. So again, just normalizing that that may be part of your experience. And one more concept or framework that I want to touch on before jumping into kind of this laundry list of tools and practices that I want to provide for you today are what I mean, when I said that we help our clients create two specific toolboxes, reactive and proactive tools.
So reactive tools, these are the in the moment regulation tools and practices that help you to reverse the spiral of activation, or for the sake of our conversation today. Shut down. So we use reactive tools, when you're already there, you're already dissociated, you're already burned out, you're already depressed, or feeling shut down. And now what so these are those in the moment tools that you that meet your nervous system, where it's at in that low state, and help you to reverse that spiral.
Then we have a category of proactive tools. So think about these, like habits, or lifestyle practices, these are things that you do proactively, to help create a more regulated baseline to help your nervous system to feel more safe and supported. So this includes things like consistent vagal, toning exercises, lifestyle changes, stress management, even that like deeper healing work. So these are, again, are the things that create a more regulated nervous system over time, they increase your capacity to handle life's load without becoming dysregulated. They help you to rebound from stress faster, and even like lay down new patterns when you get to that deeper healing work. This is what helps you to have future more healthful behaviors or coping mechanisms. And it's important here that these are not things that you try to change about your life all at once. These are shifts that you make in tiny, tiny ways one at a time.
So some examples of proactive habits for depression that we often prioritize with our clients, we take a look at their sleep quality, are there ways that we can improve that that's one of the number one lifestyle habits that research shows us has a bidirectional impact in relationship with mental health. We look at morning sunlight, movement practices, vagal toning exercises. And I want to note that each of these proactive habits, we'll have a future podcast episode of their own, where I am going to take a deep dive into the research behind morning sunlight or movement or vagal, toning excetera. So stay tuned for that. But today, I really want to focus on providing just a handful of reactive tools for depression. Since I know that many of you who have listened to this far in this mini series, you're likely struggling, you're actively struggling with depression. And you need those in the moment tools that you can start to integrate into your daily life to help you reverse this spiral. And I'm going to present these tools in two categories, tools that help you to connect and tools that help you to mobilize.
So like we talked about last time, when you are in this red zone, the shutdown state your body is doing two things. Number one, it is preventing you from further pain. So that's through disconnection, dissociation, and the second thing it's doing is conserving energy through immobilization. So regulation comes from helping your system to feel safe or capable enough to handle what you're experiencing by bringing mobilization and connection to your currently immobilized and disconnected state.
So what we're going to focus on with these reactive tools are two categories of tools, tools that bring mobilization, to your immobilization, and things that bring connection to the discussion action that happens in this shutdown state. And as I introduce some of these practices, one of the key things I want to remind you of is that you are in this state because your system has been overwhelmed. And so jumping into connection or mobilization in a way that's too fast or too much for you will likely just reinforce the need to stay stuck. So this is why the advice to just go to the gym and exercise, oh, you're feeling depressed, just go exercise. This can be wildly unhelpful for somebody who has been, or is so shut down, that they're struggling to get out of bed in the morning. And I can't tell you how many times we've worked with clients who come to us and they've been given that generic advice by a therapist or by their doctor or by a friend. And right, what happens is, this person is already struggling with this low feeling low energy state, so they don't have the capacity to get there, let alone make that a habit that sticks. And now we've just added a layer of shame and feeling of inadequacy, which is like the last thing a person who's struggling with depression needs because, well, they just made it sound like it should be no big deal. Why is it so hard for me to go for a walk? Or why is it so hard for me to go to the gym, and I'm here to tell you that it makes sense that it's hard. Of course, those things are hard.
And what could even possibly happen, and maybe what some of you have experienced is that maybe you did, maybe that friend dragged you to the gym. Or maybe you were able to exercise just enough willpower to like hit that spin class. But your body in this state is trying to conserve energy. And so if you just forced it into a high intensity, for you exercise class, you might just have zapped your system of whatever it had left, leaving you even more shut down in the days to follow. And so again, I just need to remind you that none of this is universal, because for some of you, when you start to feel low or shut down, going to that spin class might be exactly what you need to move back up that nervous system ladder.
But for today, I am going to share some more gentle somatic practices aimed really at meeting your nervous system, where it's at, in that low feeling low energy state first, and then gently and often slowly inviting it into deeper practices of connection or mobilization. And one thing that we do with clients when we are trying to help them identify which tools or practices are the most effective for them, will often go through kind of a process of doing a pre emptive assessment, then inserting whatever practice or tool that we're experimenting with, and then we'll reassess.
So what this might look like is doing a baseline assessment, you know, what does it feel like to be in your brain and your body right now? What does it feel like to be shut down on a scale of one to 10? How shut down do you feel how disconnected etc, we might do even do a range of motion to see how tension or traumas being stored in their body.
So again, separating these reactive tools into two categories connection and mobilization and I am going to start with connection. And I again, I'm going to provide a list of all of the tools that I am about to go through really quickly with you in the show notes so that you can reference back to them and maybe take it to a practitioner you're already working with or on your own. Just go through and see how some of these help you in what situations they feel the most helpful for you, and so on.
So these practices for connection, are, I want you to think about connection with your environment, connection with your body, with others with the present moment. So it's any kind of connection. So some tools that we use to help clients connect to their environment. One is something called Visual orienting. And so this is literally just helping you to orient to your present surroundings. And so you'll just intentionally look around the room that you're in or the space that you're in, and move your eyes from one object to the next. Another way that our clients will sometimes visually Orient is a practice that I call color spotting. So a client will choose a color. And maybe it's orange, you can choose any color, but just have your consistent color that you go to over and over and over again. So let's say your color is orange, and you're starting to feel yourself either dissociate, or just feel really shut down, look around your environment, and count or name all of the orange objects that you can see or find. Again, what this does is this invites our peripheral vision back online, it helps our vision to clear up and to be intentional, we start to observe our surroundings, which helps our nervous system to feel safe, slowly moving us back up that nervous system ladder.
Another way you can invite connection to both your body and your environment is what I call the 3-3-3 drill. And so this is tapping into your senses, what are three things that you can see, three things you hear, and three things you can touch. And so again, just connecting to the present moment, your environment yourself.
A practice that really really works, especially for clients who struggle with kind of dissociation or depersonalization, any kind of feeling outside their body or disconnected from themselves. And this is just a gentle body squeeze practice. So maybe you want to do this with me. Cross your arms, like you're gonna give yourself a hug. And then just gently start to squeeze your shoulder with one hand and continue this gentle squeeze or maybe you make it a pat or a brushing from your shoulder down to your wrist. And then maybe you do the other side. And maybe you even repeat in your mind to help your brain really connect to your body like this is these are my arms. Maybe you continue again this practice down your body, just tangibly squeezing, patting, brushing, or saying you know, this is my neck, my chest, my legs and just pausing to notice how you are feeling. Neutral or pleasurable sensation reads a safety to our nervous system. So whatever you are doing, whether that's a gentle squeeze or a rub or a padding, let it be a neutral or pleasurable sensation you're helping your brain orient to and connect to your body.
Another place where connection is really valuable is to other people. When we're in the shutdown state we tend to isolate we tend to disconnect. Can you identify just one or two people who are safe people who are helpful people for you who are hopeful people for you? And maybe you have somebody who can send you glimmer so glimmers are just the opposite of triggers. They are anything that helps you to feel more connected or safe. For example, my husband knows that if I'm having a really hard day or I reach out like a glimmer for me it's funny dog videos, so he will share Funny Dog videos with me my sister will message me like having a really low day can you send me pictures or videos of my nephews and so for me or for her reaching out to me to send her videos of my kids is something that helps her just bring a little bit of glimmer or maybe you just have one person that you tagged text memes, please. And they know that this is just a harder day. And they're going to send you a glimmer, so having a person to connect with as well.
So those are just some gentle practices to invite in connection. Now the other category is mobilization, really shifting our physiology from this like shut down numb state to a more mobilized state, we can do this through our breath. So every inhale, you take gently increases your heart rate, and every exhale slows down your heart rate. So we know that physiologically, in this state, we have lower and slower heart rate. So we want to actually deepen our breath or increase our heart rate a little bit and we can do that through our breath. So there are practices like intentional hyperventilation are the one I'm going to demonstrate for you now is called double breathing, it's just a quick sharp double inhale and a double exhale, it sounds like this. If you do that, for 15, to 60 seconds, when you're having a hard time getting off the couch or getting out of bed, I promise, you're gonna start to feel a little agitation or busyness in your system, this double breathing practice is really effective way to shift our physiology, if you're not going to going to be able to go from this low state to a spin class, right? Let's just gently move our body, maybe you stretch, or just move rooms, if you're in the bedroom, you tell yourself, look, you don't have to go for a walk, just go into the living room, maybe you're in the living room, can you go sit on the porch, and so just shifting rooms, maybe you can be really, I'm not gonna go to the gym and work out but I can go for a walk. So getting yourself into gentle movement in a way that is accessible for you.
Another somatic practice that we will do often with clients or invite them to practice on their own is to just stand up and shift their weight forward. So just shift your weight onto the balls of your feet, and then back to neutral. So that somatically tells your body, oh, we're moving. And then you're going to come back to a neutral just on your heels weight centered. And that's going to reground your system that's like, okay, we're safe. But we're inviting you to gently move forward, and then reground.
So first, while seated, allow your posture to totally collapse. Allow yourself to slumped over your shoulders to come forward your arms and hands to hang, limp. Maybe your head and arms even go between your legs, so you just slumped over your lap. And then slowly roll your spine upright, just one vertebrae on top of the other. Letting your head be the last thing to rise until you are sitting up straight. And as you sit up straight, then I want you to gently begin to stand up slowly. And once you're standing up all the way, pull your shoulders back and down, Puff out your chest, lift your chin. And just notice how it feels to stand in a more powerful pose to take up more space, maybe even shifting your weight forward just a little bit. And allow yourself to repeat this as needed. Maybe it takes a few times before you feel like you get up into that standing position. And then you can take a few steps into whatever you're planning to do next in your day.
And so these are just a couple of the reactive practices that I want to invite you to experiment with to try with moving into tools that in the moments of those low that shutdown dissociation depression, how can you gently invite yourself into connection with your environment yourself, your body others or gently meet your system where it is and move towards mobilization?
And one final note before we kind of close and recap our conversation today is that the goal isn't always to fix. Sometimes the downtime that is promoted with the shutdown state is effective if we surrender to it intentionally. So if we intentionally recognize the state that we're in is this red zone state. And we understand that the intention of this state is that disconnection that conserving of energy, and again, we do so intentionally, we allow ourselves to disconnect or to conserve energy in some way. That that can be helpful. So often, when we find ourselves in the shutdown state, we force ourselves to keep going to keep doing to push, push, push, push, push, and sometimes simply meeting your system where it is and facilitating this disconnection. Or this, you know, conservation of energy intentionally can be regulating. And even though that sounds counterintuitive, sometimes allowing for disconnection and mobilization can create the capacity for you to reconnect and to re mobilize.
And I know that some of the tools that I shared with you, they may seem small or trivial or obvious, but that's the thing, you don't need something big, you actually need just a lot of little things layered over and over and over again, to help regulate and create safety within your system. And there are no universal nervous system tools, different things are going to work for different people based on the unique needs of your nervous system. And so the key here is in learning how to stay tuned in to those subtle cues your body gives you that something might be regulating.
Thanks for listening to another episode of The regulate and rewire podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a five star review to help us get these powerful tools out to even more people who need them. And if you yourself are looking for more personalized support and applying what you've learned today, consider joining me inside Rhys, my monthly mental health membership and nervous system healing space or apply for our one on one anxiety and depression coaching program restore. I've shared a link for more information to both in the show notes. Again, thanks so much for being here, and I'll see you next time.