Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast

Navigating Nervous System Regulation

August 22, 2023 Amanda Armstrong Season 1 Episode 27
Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast
Navigating Nervous System Regulation
Show Notes Transcript

Have you felt like you've been checking a lot of the boxes but still don't feel like you're making much progress in your healing? Today's conversation discusses the difference between in-the-moment nervous system regulation tools vs having a more regulated nervous system overall. The reality is, there’s no amount of healthy living, reactive regulation, or vagal toning exercises that can take the place of setting boundaries in toxic relationships, putting people in your life who cherish you, or trauma processing work. Additionally, here's no amount of talking or healing work that can create nervous system regulation when you're getting 5 hours of sleep a night, nutriently depleted, under or over exercising, and so on. It all plays a role. Join me in this conversations where I talk about various psychological, relational, envirnomental, physiological, and so on factors that contribute to cultivating a regulated nervous system. Hit play to learn more!

CLICK HERE for full show notes + 3 takeaways!

Looking for support in this work? Join me inside RISE, my mental health membership and group coaching space where I can offer more personalized support on your healing journey





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 have a conversation around the difference between in the moment regulating your nervous system versus having a more regulated nervous system. Now, you might be thinking Amanda, did you just say the same thing I did not. I want to chat about the difference between regulating your nervous system as a in the moment action verb, what you've heard me refer to as reactive regulation tools, versus having a more regulated nervous system, meaning that the constant state of your nervous system is more regulated giving you higher capacity for all things. Ideally, the result of a lot of that reactive regulation. I think this is an important conversation, because I think sometimes if this conversation isn't had, you can assume that if you do enough of those reactive regulation practices, if you have enough legs up the wall, deep breathing, Cold Shower vagal, toning all of these different tangible tools that I have promoted and talked about an invited you to partake in here on this podcast. If you do enough of those, then you should have a more regulated nervous system, right? Well, unfortunately, that's only part of the equation. 

Think about it this way. That's like saying, if you do a bunch of bicep curls, that you should have a really strong upper body that you can do all of the things with. Again, it probably doesn't hurt to have stronger biceps if you want more upper body function. But if you lack mobility, maybe you have an old unhealed shoulder injury, then it's not a functional system. No matter how many bicep curls you do, you need to optimize the whole system. So I know that analogy was a little bit of a long shot. But hopefully that helped make sense of that. And another example, I was on a call with one of our new Rise membership members. And she was sharing how she feels like she's checking a lot of those lifestyle boxes. Her nutrition is really good, she's active, she spends time outside with her dogs, she jumps into our app almost every single day to do some of these daily practices. And she feels like everything she's doing is still just barely keeping her head above water. She's feeling a lot of despair. And really, it's just helping her to survive. And she wants to get to a place where she is thriving, she actually feels like she's living a good life. And we talked about how those things are important, right, those things are helping her to at least keep her head above water. And of course, she wants something more. So similar to no amount of bicep curls is going to give you an optimized upper body. If there are still other glaring, unhealed shoulder injuries or mobility issues. We talked about how there's no amount of healthy living or vagal toning that can take the place of needing to set boundaries and toxic relationships. The need for us to have people in our life who we feel cherished by who support our authentic self. Maybe there's some deeper trauma healing work. And in this conversation with her, it was clear that a lot of those things are needed boundaries and toxic relationships. More people at her table cheering her on supporting her. And there's definitely some trauma work. 

So again, those tools and practices for in the moment regulation are vital to creating more regulation in your nervous system as a whole. But it's only a piece of the equation, just like there's no amount of talking or trauma work that's ever going to be enough. If you are sleeping five hours a night you have really crappy friends, all of this plays to gather. So when I tell you that our practice takes an integrative and personalized whole human whole life approach, that's what I'm talking about. We make space to bring all of these pieces into your healing the psychological relational, environmental, physiological, biological, and so on. So when you get to a place where you feel stuck in your healing, it's likely because one of those things are going on, accounted for. 

And so my hope today as you listen to this episode, that this first part of the conversation helps you to gain some clarity around these terms, the difference between regulating in the moment and having a more regulated nervous system, learning how to take deep breaths in moments that are hard is something entirely different than having a nervous system that isn't dysregulated by that particular situation in the first place, or learning how to calm down in the moment isn't the same as having the capacity to be with heavy and hard emotions as they come. And then the conversation is going to take a shift, and I'm going to talk about what we call proactive regulation. And I want to invite you to use this part of the conversation as a little bit of a brainstorming session to pieces of your own healing that might need to come into the conversation. 

So okay, let's get back on track with this conversation, around the difference between regulating your nervous system, and in the moment, action verb versus having a more regulated nervous system. And spoiler alert, I think you've probably assumed this by now, we need both, the goal is both. So starting with my own definition or description of each separately, number one, when we are talking about regulating your nervous system. This is I think I've said this 15 times at this point, think about it as the in the moment, action taking, regulating. I am dysregulated. And I want to be regulated here and now in the moment. So this is comprised of having the ability to one recognize that you're in a state of dysregulation, so this is where that awareness Am I activated Am I shut down anxiety, depression, fight, flight, freeze, being able to identify that. And then the second part of this is do you have the tools practices are coping mechanisms to bring your stress level down to help you resource to a felt sense of self and safety to be more calm and regulated in the moment, versus what it means to have a more regulated nervous system. 

So having a regulated nervous system has more to do with the default state, your baseline and your capacity. How much capacity do you have for life's hard moments, it's not about calming down in the moment. It's about having a nervous system that has the capacity to be with intense experiences, to be with being triggered without it spiraling out your whole day to feel the urges of fight, flight or freeze. And instead of needing to quickly Calm down, or D intensify that experience, you have some awareness and capacity to be without experience. So when you have a more regulated nervous system, your capacity for heart increases. This is when you have the capacity to be in a chaotic situation without feeling out of control. When you can feel stressed without letting it take over. When you have a regulated nervous system, you have more flexibility. When things don't go according to plan. You can be adaptable when somebody else is reactive, you can stay grounded, when bigger, hard things happen. And income, these tidal waves of grief or anger, even shame, you can be with that experience as an empathetic witness with some measure of self compassion and curiosity. And then slowly walk yourself back to finding your center. 

So do you see the difference? In the moment regulation, the goal is helped me to calm down helped me to feel more regulated right now. Versus when we have a more regulated nervous system, we have more capacity overall, our window of tolerance is wider. And what contributes to this more over arcing regulated nervous system as a whole is in part these in the moment regulation tools. But the other pieces of this are trauma, healing, lifestyle work, things that we're going to talk more about in just a few minutes. So long story short, with this, the goal of consistent nervous system regulation practices is absolutely to contribute to having a more regulated nervous system. And it's just a piece of that equation. And I want to note that walking from where you are right now, if you are somebody who's struggling with anxiety or depression and you're feeling really dysregulated to creating a more regulated baseline for yourself, part of that work is these in the moment regulation tools, and there are some growing pains it feels really clunky to be in this work. 

For example, I was just talking to another client a couple of weeks ago who was explaining that she finds herself in what we decided to call these state shifting whiplash. She's in a tougher season. There's some things going on for her and she's noticing that she'll go from quickly activated to shut down anxious shut down, anxious shut down and she's like a chest feel was like whiplash. And she's able to use these tools to get herself to be more regulated. And then she feels like push, she's like right back into a state of dysregulation. And she was sharing how sometimes it seems like her husband is able to seamlessly reregulate, he'll get angry, he'll get frustrated. And then he's fine. While it takes so much more conscious effort for her, and it felt exhausting, and two that I shared Yes, and, and she was able to get to a play, she's like, I can see that this is part of it. Because even though I do feel this, like state shift whiplash, right now, I feel like I'm dysregulated more often than I'm regulated, I know that had I have been handed these circumstances three months ago, before I had these tools, I would be so much more worse off. So yes, it is kind of exhausting to constantly be engaging in these regulation tools. But the reality is that she is experiencing moments of regulation, in circumstances that ultimately would have kept her in a constant state of dysregulation before. And just like anything, you kind of build a muscle memory to this, as you become more aware, and you can notice, oh, I'm activated insert these tools intentionally, you will get to a place where those things happen a little bit more intuitively, again, lending to creating a system that has more capacity over all. 

So again, we need both, we want both a more regulated nervous system in general, but also a clearer understanding of those in the moment regulating tools that uniquely work for you as an individual. Because even when you get to a point in your healing, where you have a more regulated nervous system, there are always going to be times or big, bad, sad, scary things happen, that push you outside your window of tolerance. And you are going to need those in the moment regulating tools in addition to a system that just has more capacity. 

So another way of understanding this concept of having a more regulated nervous system is this term, I keep using window of tolerance. So for those of you who aren't familiar with what that is, great question, I'd love to tell you. The window of tolerance can be thought of as this kind of metaphorical range or zone within which you can effectively process and respond to emotional and sensory experiences without becoming overly activated or shut down. So when a person is within their window of tolerance, they are better able to cope with stressors, they can maintain emotional regulation, feel joy, engage in their adaptive behaviors, engage in those reactive tools. But if someone's level of stress, anxiety, or emotional arousal goes beyond their upper limit of the window of tolerance. That's when we say you're in a state of hyper arousal. You're intensely anxious, panicked, angry, hyper vigilant. On the other hand, if their stress or emotional level responses dropped below their lower limit of their window of tolerance. This is when they experience something called hypo arousal, dissociation, numbness, depression, detachment, etc. So the goal of therapy, coaching self regulation, etc, is to help people expand their window of tolerance, aka to create a more regulated nervous system, one with more capacity. 

And in our practice, we help our clients do that through nervous system regulation, emotional regulation, focusing on increasing the body's physiological capacity for stress, your ability, this really is your ability to stay present and engaged even when faced with challenging emotions or experiences. And so in short, the window of tolerance refers to the zone in which you can normally function and handle stress well maintain an optimal level of arousal. Maybe you're annoyed, maybe you feel a little bit overwhelmed, but it's within your ability to cope. And we know that individuals who have experienced chronic or traumatic stress tend to have a smaller window of tolerance, meaning it takes less for them to become dysregulated meaning it also makes it more difficult for them to regulate their emotions or to feel grounded in different situations. And so I feel like understanding this concept can also really help to explain why some people react more intensely to stress or certain situations than others. We all have different windows of Tolerance due to things like our neurobiology, social support, environment, stress, trauma, coping skills, etc. And your window of tolerance can even vary from day to day. How regulated your nervous system is, as a whole can depend on things like, how much sleep did you get last night Do you did you eat a lot of crappy food and now you have an inflammatory response in your body, are you on the verge of getting sick, and maybe you don't know that yet, but your nervous system does. And so really just setting this context for the difference between in the moment regulating practices and having a more regulated nervous system overall. And another way we often refer to that as having a wider window of tolerance. 

Now, the other thing that I want to bring into this conversation are the other things that contribute to cultivating a more regulated nervous system overall. So these reactive in the moment regulation tools are for sure important. Every time you are able to help your nervous system shift gears from feeling unnecessarily overwhelmed or anxious or shut down to feeling more cool, calm and capable. It is one rep towards regulation, just like building muscles, you get stronger by layering one rep at a time, over time, your muscles increasing capacity. And there is a similar thing here. We know that vagal toning practices, lots of deep breathing practices, somatic regulatory practices, repeated over time, help you to create more capacity within your system. But there is more to it growing your window of tolerance. Having a more regulated nervous system with more capacity for life also involves taking a proactive approach to healing as your capacity allows. And so what we refer to as proactive regulation or healing is just about everything else, everything other than those in the moment, regulatory reactive tools. So these are the things that you have to have some capacity to take on. 

If you are barely making it through the day, I am not about to ask you to share with me every detail of your traumatic experience. I am also not about to tell you that in order to heal, you need to start you know waking up at 6am or going to the gym and working out every day. Because no matter how helpful movement or morning routine, or even deep trauma healing work, if your capacity is too limited to take that on, I'm setting you up for failure, and potentially even adding more overwhelm to your system reinforcing its need to stay stuck in a survival mode. So I am about to list some of the other areas that contribute to creating a more regulated nervous system. And just note that approaching each of these looks different for everyone. And they need to be approached in a personalized way, taking into consideration your current capacity. And often, it is helpful to approach these within a supportive professional practitioner setting. But as you listen, here are some other things that we look at, to help our clients grow their window of tolerance, aka create a more regulated nervous system overall. 

So we look at lifestyle or habit changes. This is big for us. Again, if you're sleeping five hours a night, that environment is not conducive for nervous system regulation. Now, if you are living in a certain season of your life, hello, I have an infant I am breastfeeding many times through the night. There are other ways that we can kind of make up for certain lifestyle practices that we know are not helpful in a particular season. But in the long term, you need to be averaging seven to nine good hours of sleep. And if that's not something our clients are getting, we look at that and we say hey, how do we optimize this, again, taking into consideration the current season of your life, your unique circumstances and your current capacity for behavior change right now. So when I talk about lifestyle or habit change, we look at habits that hurt and habits that heal for each one of our clients. Again, considering things like sleep, nutrition, movement, breath quality, vagal, toning practices, we look at their work to play balance technology use environmental considerations. 

We also take a really good look at social support. Do you feel lonely? Do you feel safe supported? Do you feel cherished in some way in the relationships in your life? And if you don't, what does it look like to work towards that to walk towards that we are social creatures when there's a lack of that that reads is unsafe to our system? As we look at relationships that you're experiencing in your life, and we talk about boundary setting, if there are some toxic situations, how do you reclaim a sense of self and safety within the relationships that you need to engage in? What do those boundaries look like, so that you can create space and energy for for healing. We look at trauma healing, both through a somatic and parts work or ifs approach. We also even do some functional testing. That's not something that we do in our practice. But we have other practitioners, we can refer out to who can look at things like your hormone health, organ function, micronutrient levels, and so on. Again, considering all all all the things that make up wellness, considering your psychological, relational, environmental, physiological, biological, and so on, our nervous system plays a role in all of it. And all of it contributes to the state of your nervous system. All of those things have a role to play in the anxiety and the depression that you're experiencing. 

And I know that kind of a laundry listed episode like this, of all of the pieces of healing, can go one of two ways. For some of you, it sparked some aha moments, maybe you have been feeling stuck in your healing. And you were like, Oh, I didn't even consider that. But there's a new piece of your healing, for you to bring to the table, I am going to look at my habits better, or, man, I didn't even think about it. But you're right, I am really, really struggling to feel like I have some close friends. Or there's this toxic relationship, maybe it is time to step into some of that trauma work. So some of you are like, Okay, I got it, I picked up a new piece. Now it's your job to figure out what to do with that how to step into that work. 

And for others of you. This laundry list of all of the pieces in your healing feels incredibly overwhelming. Something else sometimes here is a handout, there's just too many pieces. It feels like there's too many pieces to ever get it right. And I feel like I'm just stuck, I'm trapped, I don't know where to start, I don't know what to do. And if that's where you are, this is exactly what we support people on inside our practice. And the sliding scale pricing option for a rise membership is our attempt to make that personally support as accessible as possible. And of course, like every episode before, I am going to do my best for both categories of people, those of you who had the aha moments and those of you who are maybe struggling to put some of these pieces together to bring this conversation together in a concise and actionable way with these three takeaways. 

Number one, a review of what I wanted this episode to make clear the difference between nervous system regulation practices in the moment. These are in the moment tools to help you find more calm and regulation here and now when you're in moments where you're spiraling into anxiety, depression, overwhelm, etc. Versus having a more regulated nervous system overall, which means that you have cultivated capacity for all parts of life as they come the happy and hard without needing to become in trapped in the survival states. So number one is the difference between nervous system regulating and having a more regulated nervous system. 

Number two, the goal in all of this healing work is to create a more regulated nervous system. And this happens by learning how to regulate in the moment for sure by leveraging your body's physiology using things like breathwork legs up the wall lots of drills that we talked about were very physiology first practice or by utilizing any other tangible tools to help you source for a sense of self safety calm in the moment. And by stepping into those proactive healing parts bit by bit you need both no amount of in the moment regulating practices no amount of vagal toning or biohacking or any of anything can undo the toll that is taken by deep, unprocessed trauma, toxic situations or relationships, a depletion of micronutrients lack of move meant are asleep, and so on. 

And number three, to reflect on where you are in both those categories. That's my invitation. Do you have in the moment tools or practices for when you find yourself in moments of stress, anxiety or overwhelm? And if not, this is where we usually start with our clients, helping them to identify a few lifeline practices to start integrating into their daily life. Because that's where most of our clients are when they find us, Amanda, I need in the moment tools, I've gone to therapy, I understand maybe why I'm the way that I am. But I need moments so that I can be less anxious, I can be more regulated with my kids, I can get through work or get in the car and drive around the block without having a panic attack. So this is where we usually start is those in the moment tools to help you start to reverse the spirals of anxiety and depression in your daily life. And then if you are somebody who's feeling a little stuck in your healing, or feeling like you have the capacity you feel ready to take on the next phase of your healing. Is there an area of proactive healing that I mentioned earlier? That you haven't considered or you haven't explored? And if so, what support can you get in exploring that.

And again, as always, is that invitation that this is exactly what we do inside our coaching programs, and the rise membership is open for enrollment. It has a financial sliding scale, and it is a great place to start. And I would love, love, love the opportunity to personally support you. So until next time, take care and I am sending so much hope and healing your way. 

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 rise 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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