Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast

Creating a Regulation Game Plan

August 08, 2023 Amanda Armstrong
Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast
Creating a Regulation Game Plan
Show Notes Transcript

The same way a professional athlete creates a game plan for specific scenarios they may find themself in during their next match – you too can create a game plan to guide your towards regulation when you find yourself dysregulated in states of activation or shut down, anxiety or depression. In today’s episode I walk you through creating a “Regulation Game Plan” which creates a map for how you can best move from states of dysregulation to regulation giving you quick access to the reactive tools that work the best for you in the moments you need them most. It brings together your awareness of how you experience states of dysregulation with the specific tools that are the most helpful for you when you find yourself in those moments. It is just one of the many ways that we support our clients in creating personalized and strategic tools for regulating and healing.

Below you’ll find a link to the worksheets I referenced in this episode. As always I’d love to support you in this work inside RISE, my mental health membership and nervous system healing space. Hit play to learn more!

CLICK HERE to download the "Regulation Game Plan" worksheets

CLICK HERE for full show notes + 3 takeaways!

Have a question you'd like answered on the podcast? Submit it HERE.





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. 

Today, I want to give you a very specific framework for putting together a lot of the pieces of tools and concepts that we have previously talked about on the podcast. This is something that I do with almost all of our clients at some point, and I call this a regulation gameplan. And I will drop a link in the show notes for you to download a worksheet that you can use if you are more of a visual learner like I am, that could also be helpful to pull up really quick and just reference because I'm going to describe it in a little bit. And this is a quick note for any of you who are coming to this podcast for the first time today, you are going to get a lot more out of this particular episode, if you have first listened to what I consider our foundation episodes. And so that is episodes one through six. Remember, they're just a half hour, if you listen to me on double speed, you'll be able to get through those pretty quick. And that just gives you context for a lot of the language that I use a lot of terms that may be specific to myself and my practice. But in those first six episodes, you are going to learn more about how to understand anxiety and depression through a nervous system lens. And that also includes the three part anxiety mini series, where I talk about how to map out your nervous system and various ways of regulating. And this regulation game plan is going to be kind of the next step from that. 

So once you have mapped out your nervous system, and for those of you who this is a new term, that simply means that you are aware of the different thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and behaviors that tell you that you are either in that yellow zone of activation feeling anxious, or in that red zone of shutdown. So when you say, I'm really overwhelmed, I'm really shut down right now, how do you know? What are the thoughts you're thinking? The feelings, you're having the bodily sensations, behaviors that you are doing or not doing? Same thing? If you're like, I'm so anxious right now. Well, how do you know? What does that experience like for you. So that is what I mean when I say nervous system mapping. And that's something, at least that awareness, you don't have to have done a formal mapping of it. But having at least awareness of the various symptoms or sensations that go along with activation or shutdown is going to be critical for making a regulation gameplan. 

And then, also, having experimented with some of these various somatic tools, practices, so that you know, what is the most helpful for you in these various states. 

So what is a regulation gameplan Think about it this way, the same way a professional athlete might watch Game Day film over and over and over again to create their game plan for how they want to win the next soccer match. And the game plan they come up with might include things like well, if the other team makes this play, then this is what we're going to do. Or if we find ourselves in this situation, then here is our plan for that and so on. This is where you are making your game plan for when you are dysregulated in either that yellow zone of activation, or that red shutdown state. And just like those athletes need to have extensive awareness and knowledge of the sport that they play in order to create these game plans. This is also true for creating a regulation game plan. 

So like I mentioned a minute ago, this is where you organize a lot of the previous awareness and healing tools that you have already identified into what becomes a bit of a map on how to move from states of dysregulation to regulation. Now, regardless where you are in your healing, this can be an essential framework or really helpful framework, even now to say okay, eventually I want to have the awareness I want to have the toolbox to be able to organize them in this way. So before walking you through this exercise, I want to remind you about a couple different concepts that are going to come into play. 

So first, is to remember that different tools work for different nervous system states. So most of our clients will create at least two distinct regulation gameplans one For when they find themselves in that anxious or activated that yellow zone state, and another for when they find themselves in a more stuck depressed or shut down red zone state. And in the worksheets I'm going to provide in the show notes, I will give you a printout worksheet for both of those. 

So first, you need to be able to identify what state you are in to know the most effective tools to help you move towards regulation. So again, this is where it can be helpful to have done some of that nervous system mapping, maybe on paper, or maybe just in your own mind starting to pay attention to some of those thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations that go along with these different states. But this exercise takes it one step further than kind of general awareness or mapping of your states. Because you're not just identifying the thoughts, emotions, sensations and behaviors. In this broad category of this is what my yellow zone feels like, or this is what my red zone feels like. But we're going to get even one step more granular than that. And we are going to look at how do these signs or symptoms vary depending on if you are just a little bit anxious, or you're having a panic attack, if you're just a little bit overwhelmed, versus completely disconnected and shut down. So for this gameplan, you are going to explore how you experience symptoms of activation or shutdown on a scale of one to three. So one being just a little bit activated, or shut down. Number two would be moderately activated or shut down, and a three would be severely activated or shut down whatever that looks like for you. 

And I just want to put a quick disclaimer, a reminder that I use the words activated and anxious interchangeably, as well as shut down or depressed pretty interchangeably. And so when you hear one of those terms, you can choose the one that you feel like most resonates with the language that you use. 

So this leads me into the next concept, which is something I call tool layering. It is very, very unlikely. And I hate to burst some of your bubbles, I wish there was a magic tool that got you from a 10 to a two. But it is very, very unlikely that you're going to discover any single tool or practice that consistently takes you from feeling really, really anxious to feeling totally great and calm, or from being really really disconnected and shut down to being energized and joyful. That's just not how this works. Again, if you call that nervous system ladder back into your mind, think about it truly like a ladder, you are going to do one practice one tool at a time. And that's going to take you up one step one step one step up that ladder moving towards regulation. So when it comes to regulating the nervous system, you must first meet your nervous system where it is. And then slowly, by layering one tool on top of the other, walk yourself back up that nervous system ladder and towards regulation. 

So for example, anxiety is an activated and an energized state, your physiology, the things that are happening inside your body are priming you for movement, if you are on the verge of a panic attack. So on a scale of one to three, let's say you're at a 2.5. So if a three is an actual panic attack, you're at a 2.5 Your real close, trying to take a deep breath or to sit down and hit play on a meditation probably will not be helpful. In fact, it might be very, very, very unhelpful because you are taking your physiology that is primed and ready to move. And you are forcing it into stillness which is going to feel on safe. As far as your nervous system is concerned. There is a mountain lion around the corner. And you've just decided to like sit down and pick flowers. Your nervous system is like Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It's time to flee or to fight. And so in that moment of intense activation, it is not feel safe for your nervous system to chill out. So you first need tools or practices that meet your nervous system in that state of mobility, to validate that experience, and then help you to move some of that stress or survival energy out of your body.

Even if you logically know that you're safe. But if your body doesn't feel safe, we have to work in and through the body first. Anytime you're able to recognize that you feel anxious. That should be a signal to you that this is your body's attempt to fight or flee from whatever it is perceiving as dangerous, even if that danger is just your own thoughts, or sometimes we don't know why we feel anxious, it's something unidentifiable to our conscious mind. But something feels familiar to our body and is registering as threatening. And in that moment, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you figure out exactly what's creating that sensation for you with this regulation gameplan. And this awareness of how activation feels in your body. The goal here is to one, recognize the state you're in number to gauge the general intensity does it feel one, two, or three. And then three is to insert an appropriate tool to help you regulate. You can explore the who, what when, where, why you got to feeling anxious or shut down later, when you're more regulated. A regulation gameplan is just supposed to help you in that moment. 

For example, this is a story from my own life. Just a couple of weeks ago, I walked out of a post office in tears, the post office friends, I had three packages to mail. But I walked out of this post office, absolutely in tears and on the verge of a panic attack. I was so dysregulated and yes, me, the ringleader of this circus, the person who teaches people how to regulate their nervous systems for a living. Even I get totally totally, totally tossed out of whack some days. So logically, it did not make sense for me to be so overwhelmed by that Post Office experience. But in that moment, it didn't matter whether it made sense why I was reacting this way or not. I was I was overwhelmed. I was totally dysregulated. And now in that moment, was not the time to try to figure out why I was feeling this way. In that moment was the time for me to do whatever I needed to do to become more regulated. So how How did tool layering look in this particular situation? So I'm activated. i But I'm also probably activated on the verge of shutdown. So I'm right up. I'm right up there. Like I said, I'm about to to panic. I walked out to the post office, I had my at the time, for some context, I had my husband and my two kids waiting in the car in the parking lot. And we were headed to the county fair. And I was like, well just stop by the post office real quick. Oh, I was wrong. It was not real quick. And it was it was rough. 

So the walking away from the post office to the car was actually probably the first step in regulating because it kept my body in motion. And let me literally flee the scene. So once I was in the car, that's when the minute I stopped moving. So I sat down in the car, shut the door. And that's actually when my anxiety repaved. And I started to panic a little bit. Again, logically, I know, this was the post office, it's three packages, I had to drop off, I'm in the car, I'm safe. Logically, I knew this, it didn't matter. So for me, this near panic attack looked like really fast, shallow breathing, tightness in my throat and tears. So that's how I experienced this most often. And so what I did then was my husband tried talking to me and I just put my hand up, my kid tried talking to me and I just said, Mom has big feelings, she needs a minute. And we've we've done a lot of that. So he knows to kind of give me that minute. And I just let myself keep breathing, how I was breathing. I didn't try to take a really calm breath too soon, I just brought awareness to it. And then I intentionally made my hands into a fist. And so I'm going to breathe pretty quick so you can hear how it hears. I know that the sound sometimes can make listeners feel anxious. But essentially, my breathing sounded like this. And at first, I didn't try to take that deep breath. I just intentionally met my breath where it was. And so instead of just unintentionally I started to do that on purpose with really tight fists. And when I felt like I could handle it, I had to kind of let some of that intensity just just edge off with time. I slowly started to deepen my breath and slow my breath but really gently so it went from and then I shift from my mouth breathing to my nose breathing all while gently opening my fists as well. So for me, it's really helpful when I can tighten my fist when I'm feeling like this big As I'm validating, right this need to fight for me, I know that my default survival mode is fight. Some people it's flee fun freeze minus fight. So as I'm essentially hyperventilating a little, I clench my fists. And then as I gently open my fists, it also invites a gentle releasing of my breath as well. 

So again, this is what works for me, some of you might be able to take this and it totally works for you to others of you are going to have to come up with your own way to layer tools. So after I kind of released my fists, I was able to get my breath to a place where I could keep it steady. And then what I did, again, I'm in a car. So I'm doing tools that work in my setting, I did an inner ear and neck massage technique that helps to activate my vagus nerve, which helps me to regulate and reset shifting me just 1% more towards my parasympathetic nervous system, than I did a few physiological side breaths. So those are a double inhale with an extended exhale. And within two to three minutes, I was back down to a one I wasn't chill. But I was definitely out of the risk of having another panic attack. 

So like I said, we were on our way to the county fair. And when we got out of the car, also, my three year old wanted to give me a hug and a drink of his water because we know that hugs and sipping water can help us with our like, quote, feelings. So he goes, Mama, I help you make your big feelings small. So there was some co regulation for me even to my tiny human. And then I noticed, right, because I'm not going to say I did these things. And it was perfect. No, I noticed for the first hour or so at the county fair, my system was still pretty sensitive. I noticed I was really quick to be agitated anytime something wasn't totally comfortable or predictable. But again, each time I noticed that activation rising, I would answer a regulating breath, or just a quick little shakeout practice something that for me on my game plan falls in more than one or two category. 

And so this is to illustrate how there's going to be different tools that work when you're at a level one, two or three. Also, there is a series of tools that you are going to need when you're at the three is there certain tools that just get you to a two. And then when you're at that to what are the other tools that gets you to a one or even just keep you at a two that keep you from progressing up to a three. And so I was able to do this in real time pretty quickly, because I have previously spent a lot of time in the trial and error phase, the awareness and exploration phase of creating a regulation gameplan. 

So I know what it feels like in my body to be at a level one, two or three of activation or shutdown. And I know now the specific tools that support me most at each stage, circling back to this regulation gameplan. This particular exercise helps you to explore and no one what state Am I in? And at what intensity. And how do I know that I'm in that state. And the second thing it helps you to explore is what helps me to regulate when I am there in that state at that level. 

So as you can see, in the attached worksheet, there are three columns to this game plan. The first column is just one, two and three, to represent the intensity of dysregulation that is occurring. The next column is where you will identify the different thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and behaviors that show up and inform you that you are mildly, moderately are intensely anxious or shut down. And then that third column is your game plan. This is where you list out the people places things tools, practices, resources, etc. that help you move up the nervous system ladder and towards regulation.

And even if you haven't done any formal somatic work, polyvagal exercises etc. With a practitioner within my membership or with your therapist or anyone else you still have in your pocket. Certain things that you know, help you when you're feeling really anxious, even if some of those things are I end up scrolling on social media, or I go and I drink really cold water or when I'm feeling really overwhelmed. I go outside and it helps. And so you may not be putting things on your regulation gameplan like a vagal toning air massage, or a somatic containment posture like some of the people inside my membership who've gone through a one on one coaching program. They know some of the specifics. So Matic and poly vagal exercises that work with their physiology, I would love to be able to get some of those on your game plan and to personally support you in making this. But even right now, without any formal work on your nervous system, you know, you know certain things that help you. 

Now you might say, I don't think that scrolling on social media is the most helpful way for me to regulate. But if that's a tool you have right now, identify that as a tool that you have right now. And one other side note on this exercise, you have heard me talk in previous podcasts about two categories of tools that we help our clients work through reactive and proactive tools. So again, reactive tools are the in the moment tools and practices like I'm already there, I'm already dysregulated. Now what, whereas proactive tools are more like the daily regulation practices and lifestyle changes that you make habitually, to create a more regulated baseline for yourself to increase your capacity over time, etc. 

So when it comes to a regulation gameplan, we are focused on and working with reactive tools. This is a game plan for the in the moment tools and practices. Because you're already there, you're already feeling anxious or depressed. And you want the in the moment tools to reverse that spiral. So these are tools that help you to poke holes in your stress bucket once you feel it getting full or overflowing. And as you step into exploring and creating your own regulating game plans, I want you to again, remember this, you must first meet your nervous system where it is. So as much as it might be, it might feel good in your game plan when you're feeling anxious to write, do a meditation when you're at a level three. That's not practical. So when you're feeling activated or anxious, your system is in an energized state primed for movement. The goal with the tools is first to discharge that unneeded stress energy, and then layer on and invite yourself into more calm and grounded practices. 

And sometimes, especially with anxiety, you might just have to let a panic attack run its course. And then the focus becomes instead of trying to forcibly stop a panic attack, once the intensity has worn off, then it becomes what tools can I use to recover from that, to return to a felt sense of self and safety. And when you're in that shutdown state, this is your system in a low energy low feeling state, you're beginning to feel disconnected. And the goal in regulating from the shutdown state is to bring connection and mobilization to your system gently. So maybe at a level one, you might have the capacity to message a friend to get up and go sit outside or go for a gentle walk. Where is it a level three, you may be struggling to get out of bed. And what you might be able to do there is just some activating breathwork in bed, maybe you can muster yourself out of bed and onto the couch instead. Again, bringing gentle movement mobilizing into your system. Maybe you can do some environment or body orienting exercise. Anything that helps you to feel more present capable or connected to yourself or to your surroundings is a great place to start when you're feeling shut down. 

So the bottom line here is that there are countless ways to regulate, which can simultaneously be the greatest gift and the greatest frustration, because you have to take the time and intention to figure out the right game plan that meets the unique needs of your nervous system. And this work can be tough to do on your own, especially when you feel like you're in the trenches of anxiety or depression. And this is where coaching or working with any practitioner that feels supportive for you can be so beneficial because it can feel hopeless sometimes when you feel like you are trying and trying and trying and just spinning your wheels without anything really feeling helpful. 

And an example of what this looks like inside rise my mental health, membership and nervous system healing space. Just last week in one of our group coaching calls I mentioned that the purpose of this membership was not to be an overnight answer to your healing. But to be more of a holding container for the process where you have consistent access to me or other coaches, guided practices and over time, with titrated participation in the content or the weekly live calls. That is how our members identify and collect these various practices that they know uniquely work for them. And as I shared this, one of the members dropped into the chat. And she shared "I've been in this membership 16 months now. And I can tell you this is true. Little by little I have added to my toolbox. And I'm amazed how powerfully these seemingly simple tools can be and helping me find regulation." A lot of these tools aren't novel, figuring out how to engage your breath intentionally doing an vagal neck massage, finding the simple but potent tools for you is the key to this game plan and two, nervous system regulation overall, our rise we are membership, or one on one coaching is just one of the many places you can find the support, there are so many other incredible practitioners out there as well. And many of you already have established relationships with other coaches or other healing practitioners, other therapists. 

And so if you are listening to this, and you try to do this on your own, and it feels challenging, I would invite you to send either A, I would love to provide personal support for you inside one of our coaching programs, or send this episode to your therapist, bring these worksheets into session and see if there's a way that they can support you in some of the awareness work in that first column, or identifying some of your regulation tools that you already have that you know that work for you, and helping you to create this map for moving through dysregulation to regulation. 

And for another group of you who are out there who may not be in a place where you are ready, or able to invest in support. My promise is always that this podcast will continue to provide as many tangible and helpful information pieces, research pieces practices that I can think to bring into this space. So to bring this all together, quick review of today's episode with three tangible takeaways. 

Number one, a regulation game plan creates a tangible map to help move you from a place of dysregulation to regulation. And doing this helps you to orient to the tools that work for you. So that you can have quicker access to them in the moments that you need them most. And so a tangible action step for number one would be to download the worksheets that I provide for you in the show notes. 

Takeaway Number two is that tool layering is essential, there is no one tool that is going to take you from a three to a one. But by meeting yourself where you are somatically, physiologically, you can engage in a layering of practices that move you towards regulation. And the more often you engage in those tools. And this layering protocol, the better you're going to get at it just like an athlete who practices certain trick plays over and over and over again. So that when they find themselves in that situation they talked about, they can move into that play almost seamlessly. This is what I do with clients to help them move into that play of regulating almost seamlessly when they find themselves in situations of dysregulation. 

And then number three is just another reiteration that if you are having trouble putting this together on your own, please seek out support, send me a DM or an email, print it out and take it to your next therapy appointment. And of course, I would love to personally support you inside our rise membership, or restore our one on one anxiety and depression coaching program. But the bottom line is this regulation gameplan is really really powerful. And it can be tough to do without support. So know that I'm here for you if you need it. And as always, I'm sending you hope and healing. And I'll see you next time.

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.

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