Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast

Three Ways to Manage Stressors (Part 3)

November 14, 2023 Amanda Armstrong Episode 39
Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast
Three Ways to Manage Stressors (Part 3)
Show Notes Transcript


In this episode, we're diving into the 3rd step of the Stress Bucket Exercise, which is all about managing your stress bucket. You'll learn three ways to increase your "buffer zone" and manage our stress bucket: poking holes in the bucket, "scooping" out, and making your bucket bigger. 🪣

We also discuss the difference between baseline stressors and daily stressors - this distinction matter because the way that you manage those particular stressors can look different from the other. Stress management is a crucial part of mental health.

Hit play to lean more!


CLICK HERE for full show notes + 3 takeaways!

**We're hiring! CLICK HERE to learn more and apply to be our next trauma-informed mental health coach.**

Looking for more personalized support? Join me inside RISE, my mental health membership and nervous system healing space for those struggling with anxiety or depression. Sliding scale pricing available.

Have questions you'd like me to answer on the podcast? SUBMIT 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. 

Welcome back to part three in this four part series on the stress bucket exercise. If you are tuning in for the first time today, I'm going to give the same disclaimer I gave last week, I highly recommend starting with part one and two before listening to the rest of today's conversation. And if you are going through all four parts of this series with me, I want to remind you that there is a whole workbook that guides you through the different questions gives you space to explore and unpack that I will link in the show notes. And that workbook combined with these four episodes makes a really really high value, little course, that's yours totally free if you want to go hit the download link. 

Now listening to last week's conversation to help prepare for this conversation. I had this thought that there might be some of you on the other end of this conversation, especially when I was talking about heart rate variability and the negative impacts that chronic stress and low heart rate variability can have on your physical health, etc. That there was at least one of you who might have thought something like, oh my gosh, Amanda, now you have me stressed out about stress. And to that I want to lovingly and kind of humorously reply, like, good, or at least kind of good. Because when you understand the mechanism of stress, stress is a motivator to take action. And so if I have you a little bit stressed out about your stress, my hope is that you really start to take it seriously. And with that, I want to hopefully soften and you stress your feeling about your stress to remind you that this work happens in tiny steps, baby steps. Rome wasn't built in a day. Well, I didn't take my heart rate variability in a day either. And so healing takes time, shifting to more regulated living takes time. There is no rush. 

And if you are like me, you run around your life with this sense of urgency, everything feels urgent, everything feels urgent, everything feels urgent. And so I want you to pause for a minute and take just a deep breath. Breathe in, breathe out. There is no rush. And just take a moment and pause. How does first of all, how did that deep breath feel for your body? And then how does it feel in your body hearing me tell you that there's no rush that you have time. And the other piece of this is it is important. Taking our stress seriously, when you want to regulate your nervous system, when you want to reclaim your life from anxiety and depression. This is a big part of that equation, learning how to manage stress. So that's what today is all about. This is step three, which is all about management. 

So let's get on the same page with what is stress management. Stress management is the process of controlling your stress levels. And this includes techniques for identifying and managing the causes of stress, right assessing your stress bucket, as well as learning how to cope with physical, psychological, emotional effects of stress. Stress is a normal part of life, but too much stress like we got into last week can absolutely have negative impacts on your health and well being. And as we navigate stress management, it's important to note that if stressors are coming in faster than you can let them out. You are going to be left with a constantly overflowing bucket. This wreaks havoc on your physiology, it wears down your system and ultimately and often manifests as what gets labeled or diagnosed as anxiety or depression. 

I want you to think about it this way. Imagine you have a sprained ankle. And you are going to physical therapy a few times a week on that sprained ankle. And it's just not getting better. It's not getting better. It's not getting better. Some of you are like Oh man, I've got this sprained nervous system have stuck in activation aren't stuck and shut down. I'm struggling with anxiety or depression. And I'm doing some of these things that you're saying. I'm doing the shaking it out. I'm doing the deep breath and doing the swing and like I said Do you keep finding myself on the verge of a panic attack or feeling really overwhelmed? Why isn't this working? Well come to find out that this person has a sprained ankle, even though they're going to physical therapy, and doing those exercises, doing those stretches to help them heal. They're also leaving physical therapy to go on a three mile run every day. That three mile run on a sprained ankle is going to add a high enough stress load that the work that they're doing in physical therapy might never be enough to totally heal, then there needs to be some level of decrease of the stress load of resting of creating space for healing. In order for that to take place. And we again, we understand that with an angle, and yet so many of the people that we work with, get to this place where it's like, oh, man, like I'm doing the things because so many of you listening you're so used to doing more and more and more so you're like, Okay, deep breath, got it gurgling After I brush my teeth, check legs up the wall done, shaking it out, going for my walk getting morning sunlight, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun. You're doing all of the things. But what's not happening is, the less is getting serious about editing, and managing the stressors. So going to PT isn't enough to heal a sprained ankle if you refuse to stop running on it before it's healed. Doing these somatic practices are not enough sometimes to regulate your nervous system. If you refuse to take stress management. Seriously. 

These symptoms that your body gives you are not the problem any more than your car's check engine light. And don't get me wrong, I am just annoyed as the next person when my check engine light goes off in my car, because it's inconvenient. First of all, I need to figure out what that light even means, then I have to take my car somewhere I've got to spend time and money that I don't want to. But instead, I want you to imagine that you have a car that never sends you messages. It never tells you when you're running low on gas, or when it's time to change the oil, it never tells you when to put air in your tires, we can see pretty quickly that that would be much more problematic and inconvenient to run out of gas two hours from home or to have your engine cease because you didn't think to change your oil and time. Just like your car has needs and limits so does your mind. So does your body. And symptoms can be really annoying. But they are important, they are signaling something to you. And when you ignore those messages or dampen them with medication. The problem that they're signaling doesn't just go away, because the symptom goes away. Oftentimes that symptom morphs or it intensifies, because your body's job is to get your attention however it needs to, to motivate you to make the change so that it can return to regulation to homeostasis. And I feel like anytime I mentioned medication, I always have to put this caveat there have a I'm not a doctor, I'm not a psychiatrist, and I'm also not anti psych meds. There's a time and a place. But what psych meds do is they dampen symptoms. And sometimes our symptoms are so intense, that that's the intervention we need, I have been there. And the fact still remains that that the medication doesn't get to the root of the problem. We've got to understand our nervous system and stress physiology, and take a minute to zoom out to assess our past lived experience or current life circumstances. It's messy, and it's nuanced. But that is where true root healing happens. For some people, psych meds are part of that journey. For many people. It doesn't need to be if you can find the right trauma informed practitioners. But that's a conversation for another day. But that disclaimer, I feel like always just needs to come in to this place because I know that many of you who consume this podcast have are curious about or on psych meds. And there is no shame around any of that here. We will also have some very real and honest conversations about that here.

So, per usual, I've digressed. Let's come back to talking about step three in the stress bucket exercise. And before we get into those details, I want to do a very, very quick recap of what we have gone into so far. Step one of assessment answered that question of what is in my stress bucket. Zooming out taking a macro look at all of the things that might be contributing to your current stress load. Step two aims to answer the question of how do I know how do I know when my stress bucket is full or not? So this is that audit step, where you explored your unique stress signatures, and I talked about how you can use this question of how full is my stress bucket on macro, micro and medium levels in your life. Today, we're gonna dive into step three, which is managing your stress bucket. And I'm going to talk about three different ways that you can do that. What I refer to as poking holes in your bucket, scooping water out of your bucket, and how to give yourself a bigger bucket. And towards the end of today's conversation, I'm going to share with you four impactful tangible somatic practices to help you de stress essentially, for tools to poke some holes in your stress bucket to help you start managing that waterline starting today. And then we'll finish off the series next week with how to edit your stress bucket to bring down your stress load into potentially big and needed ways over time. So those first two steps were more of the awareness part of this exercise. And then steps three and four are much more action oriented. And as I mentioned, in part one, just again, a reminder, as you begin to put all of these steps together in your brain, these steps are not perfectly linear, there is going to be overlap in all of them. But the way that I've organized them, one through four seems to be the most helpful order for our clients to go through them. And just the way that I presented them here to you today. 

So the question that we are going to answer today is how can I how can you better manage stress? What helps you to decrease that waterline in your stress bucket so that you have more of a buffer zone for daily life stressors or the unexpected stressors that life throws your way. And so we're going to talk about three ways to manage stress better. So bringing up that mental visual of a bucket full of water, that bucket full of stressors. The first way that we're going to talk about how to manage those stressors is how to poke holes in that bucket proactively and reactively. So imagine for a second, you've got that bucket, you poke some holes in it, right, we understand we poke holes in a bucket, the waterline goes down. The second way that we're going to talk about managing stress is by scooping water out of your bucket. So again, imagine a bucket, you dip in a ladle or a soup spoon, you pull some water out, that waterline goes down. Cool. And step three is a bigger bucket. So you've got your small bucket that's almost full to the top, you've got a bigger bucket, sitting next to it. Take the water from the smaller bucket, pour it in the bigger bucket, there's more of a buffer zone at the top. And again, there is a place in the workbook that has most of these visuals, and a place for you to brainstorm what each of these might look like for you. 

So going into more detail with number one poking holes in your bucket happens when you engage in specific regulation practices that help you to de stress. These are tools that you've heard me referred to on this podcast before as reactive regulation tools, the oh my gosh, I'm there, I'm stressed and overwhelmed. Now what what are the tools that I can do in the moment to activate more of a parasympathetic state to move myself just a couple steps up that nervous system ladder. These are those somatic polyvagal, or vagus nerve exercises that really help you to discharge or de stress in the moment. Some examples of things I've mentioned on the podcast before are things like color spotting, taking a deep breath, physiological size extended exhales shaking it out, stepping outside, holding an ice cube legs up the wall. Really this list of regulation tools is endless. Your work here is in experimenting with practices, a variety of practices to figure out which ones are the best fit for you. Which of these tools help your nervous system to kind of go oh, okay, thank you, I feel a little bit better now. 

And what I mean by poking holes reactively or proactively is that when you first start using this stress bucket, exercise or practice in your everyday life, you are likely going to start with reactively poking holes in your bucket. Most of you if you're new to nervous system regulation to these practices, you are not going to think to use any of these tools or practices until you feel like your stress bucket is full until you have noticed that you are clenching your jaw holding your breath spiraling out into comparison until you've snapped at your spouse or your kid until one of those you know signature stress symptoms comes out. And that's going to be a red flag that's like oh yeah, those are part of my personal stress signal. Oh It's time to distress. And sometimes even even me, I'm advanced in nervous system regulation, I very, very, very much integrate all of this into my everyday life in some way or another. And sometimes I still don't catch my waterline rising in time. And I use all of those things, all of those different measures of my personal stress signature as red flags of like, oh, yeah, time to poke some holes, you need to let some water out, need to let some stress out of that bucket or else you are going to just continue to spiral, continue to stay tense continue to snap. And that's a toolbox that you just collect over time through trial and error through continuing to come to a podcast like this to join me inside one of our coaching programs, or another trauma informed or polyvagal practitioner. And that toolbox is going to morph over time to be full of really high payoff, somatic practices that you can start to personalize to your life and to your healing. 

Now, the longer that I've done this work, the longer our clients do this work, the more proactive I've become, or they become. For example, right now, I know that I am in just a busier season, I know that there's a lot going into my stress bucket right now. So whether I've actively noticed that my waterline is rising, or that my jaw is clenched, or that I have tension in my body. I don't need those always as red flags to regulate. I have instead built in a lot of daily regulation habits or rituals, a lot of the tools that I know work for me reactively I've built into my life proactively. Things like I have a standing desk. And so I spend a lot of my workday just swaying, I occasionally shake out, I stretch my body, I take a lot of deep breaths, more proactively regulating lifestyle factors, I have a high protein breakfast, I focus on regulating my blood sugars, I get morning sunlight, I go on a walk with my family after dinner most days. And so these practices proactively built into my lifestyle, these proactively poke holes in my bucket so that I have the capacity for more things to come in without overflowing. I don't have to wait. You don't have to wait until your stress bucket is full. To manage your stressors. I consistently throughout my day pretty much every day, have a number of different ways that I poke holes so that I can just keep a buffer zone at the top as big as possible as often as possible. And so one way to manage your stress load is to get really good at poking holes in your bucket. 

And one thing I wanted to elaborate a little bit on is the mix of stressors that are often in your bucket. I will sometimes categorize these as baseline stressors and daily stressors. So think about baseline stressors as stressors that you wake up within the morning. And I often look at these as a combination of what I call history, stressors and habitual stressors. So history stressors are things like your birth, childhood illnesses, surgeries, concussions, unhealed trauma, all of those things. And a lot of this stress load on your nervous system might not be things that you consciously remember, these are baseline stressors that are because of your history, because the things that you have experienced or been through. And then you have baseline stressors that are habitual stressors. So these are the habits that you have, or have had physiologically relationally environmentally or other. So things like how are your breathing patterns? How is your posture? What's the quality of your diet? How often do you say yes to things you want to say no to? Do you feel a sense of belonging? What are your exercise habits? How cluttered is your home, how safe is your neighborhood. So all of these things, these habits contribute to your baseline nervous system state. So another way of thinking about that is that they contribute to a baseline load of stressors in your stress bucket. Because remember, your nervous system is always evaluating for safety internally, externally and relationally. And so think about this, like, again, the water that you wake up with. And if your baseline stressors, if a combination of your historical stressors, if there's a lot of unhealed trauma and your habitual stressors, if there's a lot of dysfunction in your diet, in your breathing patterns in your sleep in your relationships, and you're waking up and not waterline is an inch from the top every day. Well, that doesn't leave a whole lot of room to manage your daily stressors. 

And so you if you're like yes, my baseline stressors are really high stress management is going to need to be a lot more of that scooping water, really getting clear on what some of that deep work is auditing your habits and your lifestyles to make a little bit more room, so that you're not totally overwhelmed by the daily stressors, which are things that are just part of your daily life making dinner traffic, work tasks, home tasks, conversations you might have also things that you're currently navigating for just a season, maybe that's grief, a breakup, getting laid off. And thinking about these daily stressors as ones that more or less reset from day to day. So again, stress is the water in your bucket when you wake up. And then there's your daily stressors. If your baseline stress takes up too much of your bucket, then you are left with little to no buffer space, and your daily stressors are almost always going to send you over the edge and keep you stuck in this chronic survival loop. So if you are somebody who is waking up stressed every day, it is either because your baseline stressors are too high. And we're going to talk more about what that means in a minute. Or it means that you need more coping skills, more ways of poking holes in your bucket throughout the day. So that you can go to bed at night and wake up in the morning with a sense of capacity, and reset. And the opposite of that is if you have or get to a point where your baseline stress is low, you've done a lot of the deep trauma healing work, you've optimized a lot of your lifestyle habits, and you get really good at poking holes in your bucket. That might be enough to manage your stress load, there might not be a whole lot of editing that you have to do there. 

All right, management method number two, what I refer to as scooping out the water. So again, imagine that ladle a big soup spoon dipping in scooping out that water. And this happens in two ways, we get to remove big chunks of our stress load by either number one seriously editing your inputs, which is what we're going to talk about next week. And number two, by doing the deeper work, the regulating and rewiring, this is the work that usually happens with a coach or therapist, this is the inner child work the limiting beliefs, the trauma healing. And now here is what you need to remember, you cannot do that deeper work effectively, when your stress bucket is already full to the brim. Again, I want you to imagine a bucket that is full to the top and then you put in a big spoon, it is going to overflow a little science lesson of displacement. That deeper work often disrupts our system. It is by nature dis regulating. And this is something that you need to have capacity for. It is so essential that you have some reactive regulation tools because when you step into that deeper work dysregulation occurs, what tangible tools do you have to help get yourself back to baseline. But doing that deeper, work gently, slowly over time, my recommendation is always to do it alongside a trauma informed practitioner will have huge impacts on stress management, and lowering your baseline stress. 

The impact of your historical stressors can be minimized, you're not stuck. It's not like well, that thing happened to me, I can't do anything about it. You absolutely can decrease the load in your bucket of historical stressors. By doing this work triggers can be minimized boundaries can get set, your system can be desensitized if it's become overly sensitized and exaggerates and assumes danger everywhere. And this is something that we specialize in with our coaching, while also layering in those habitual changes, helping you to take tangible steps towards more regulated living. And then the final management method I'm going to share with you today is getting a bigger bucket. This is something you have heard me referred to as capacity building. There are certain practices that you can do to increase your resilience to and capacity for stressors. Things like cold exposure, exercise vagal, toning certain breath practices. My personal favorite is community. Heart Rate Variability training creates a physiological system that is more resilient towards stress, it rebounds from stress faster, it is stressed less easily. Improving your stress physiology makes you more resistant to trauma. And these are very real and measurable practices. This is not likely where any of you who are actively feeling dysregulated more often than not are going to start but I do want to let you know that it is as possible, when you get to a place when our clients get to a place where they feel regulated more often than they are not, they're feeling regulated 50 to 60% of the time they have capacity in their system, they're not overwhelmed every single day. This is where and when we support them in integrating some of these stress management tools to improve heart rate variability, to create a bigger bucket for them so that they can take on bigger things in life without it feeling dysregulated. For them, these practices increase your ability to carry. And these capacity building practices are things that I will go into much more detail in future conversations. 

So what I just shared with you is how we guide our clients to managing their stress bucket in those three ways by poking holes, with small daily practices to discharge and de stress their system by scooping out stressors through editing, their stressors, habit, change in that deep work. And then third, by increasing their physiological capacity for stress through a variety of practices over time. And some of you might be thinking, whew, okay, that's a lot to take in, where do I start. And we start all of our clients first with discovering a few ways that they can poke holes in their bucket, the small ways to regulate their nervous system in everyday life. And I want to give you, four of those tools to try out for yourself this week, when you're feeling stressed. And some of these are suggestions. I think maybe even all of these are suggestions I've made on this podcast previously. 

But before I share them with you, again, I want to answer a question I often get asked and that is, Amanda, how do I know which tools are best for me? How do I know if a neck massage or physiological sire legs up the wall or whatever is actually helping me to be more regulated. And my rise members know all about the process of assess and reassess the number of times I have had them stand up in a coaching call, touch their toes, or tilt their head to do a range of motion assessment. The limit does not exist. We do this all the time. And I don't have the time in this conversation to go into this, assess and reassess process in detail. But I do want to promise you that sometime within the next handful of weeks, I will do a full episode on this process. But essentially, when your nervous system likes something, it rewards you with more movement, more range of motion, less tension, less pain, because it uses tension, pain, decreased range of motion to try to get you to do less, or to do different, an objective way that I have my clients measure the effectiveness of a particular drill or tool or practice is for them to assess their range of motion in some way. Do the exercise and then reassess. Using that same range of motion practice, to see if they were able to reach closer to their toes, maybe they had less tension. And this is really, really cool. And whenever I do it, there's always somebody who's like, this feels a little bit like witchcraft, but it's not. It's science. 

And this was actually something I incorporated into a US Air Force group training that I did recently, and watching their reaction to this assess recess was a really cool experiential way for them to begin to understand the way that our body store stress and source trauma and the ways that we can work with our body to de stress in measurable ways when we understand the mechanisms of that mind body system. Again, we'll go into a deeper conversation about that on the podcast soon. And then you can come back to these four practices again to assess and reassess when you have those details. But for now, as you go through these practices, I want to invite you to tune into more subtle signs of distress. So during or just after any of these exercises. Do you notice that you yawn or sigh, have a big swallow you might even get a little bit gassy or notice an urge to use the bathroom as your digestive system turns on a little bit. These are all signs of nervous system reset of your system becoming just a little bit more parasympathetic. You might also notice after one of these exercises that you have a little bit less pain and a headache backache neck ache. Also pay attention to subjectively how you feel. If after one of these exercises you feel even just a little bit more settled, present connected, calm or capable even just the tiniest bit 1%. You can note that as a practice that is effective for you.

So the four practices I want to reoffer you today. Number one, as you notice that your stress bucket is getting full, and you reactively want to use this tool or proactively, you're just trying to poke some holes because you know that the stress is always coming in. The first tool I'm going to give you is to take a deep breath. And some of you're like Amanda, that's too simple. Science doesn't always have to be complicated. Taking a slow, deep breath. Lots, especially lots of slow deep breaths accumulated over time, it stimulates your vagus nerve and improves heart rate variability, it improves vagal tone. And just try it. Take a deep breath and see if you feel any different afterwards. 

Tool number two is color spotting. So right now right here with me, when I say pick a color, what's the first color that comes to mind? Cool, that's your color. That's your go to Color every time my go to color is orange. So when I notice I am starting to feel really anxious starting to feel really stressed. I look around my environment and I count or I name all of the orange things that I can see. What this does is this elicits a distance viewing distance viewing reads as parasympathetic, it de stresses our system, versus looking at things like your phone or your computer to close all day. It also engages peripheral vision, when our stress response is activated, our pupils dilate, we get really tunnel vision. And so this works with our visual system to send signals of safety and de stress to our nervous system. 

Tool number three is a neck massage. So maybe you do this with me right now just take your hand and rub it down the side of your neck, you have kind of that chunky muscle that runs Starting near behind your ear all the way down to your collarbone. Go ahead and give that a little squeeze or a rub your vagus nerve innervates pretty close to the surface around that muscle. And so giving yourself a neck massage is a manual stimulation to activate the vagus nerve. Every time I do that, I noticed that I yawn or I feel a general settling in my body, I want to invite you to give it a try and see if you get any similar response. 

And the fourth and final tool or practice that I want to give you today is legs up the wall. You go you put your butt against the baseboard leg straight up. Or you can go to a chair or the edge of your bed or a bench and put your heels on a chair better bench making about a 90 degree angle with your legs. So what happens when you're in a stress response that fight or flight you have blood that rushes to your extremities to prepare you to fight or flee from the stressor? Well, when we put our legs up above our heart, gravity pushes that blood back towards our heart back towards our torso, our heart rate slows down, our breath rate slows down and that calms down our system. So maybe what you want to try this week is for five or 10 minutes a day. Maybe you do this proactively. Maybe you do this reactively you know I'm always stressed out at the end of the day, well try legs up the wall, and sit there and breathe. Try not to be on your phone not to be doing other things. Maybe you have your kid join you, you guys can chat do a little co regulation too. But see if we can just let gravity do the work. Let our physiology take care of itself and de stress our system in that way. 

So what I would love for you to walk away from today's conversation with is an awareness of the eventual goal to maybe scoop out water or to grow a bigger stress bucket. But I want to put particular emphasis on getting really good at poking holes in your bucket proactively and reactively. So give one of those four practices all of those four practices or try taking note of the ones that feel best for you and then building that into your daily life in some way. It is these seemingly small regulation practices layered over time, that make all the difference in the world in this work to bring it all together with our three takeaways from today's conversation number one, the goal with managing your stress bucket is to create as much of a buffer zone at all times as possible. And you can do this through poking holes scooping out water or eventually by creating a bigger bucket for yourself. 

Number two, start with getting good at poking holes, starting maybe with the four or one of the four regulation tools that I gave you. Quick reminder, a deep breath, color spotting neck massage, or legs up the wall. 

And number three, if you are looking for support in this work, this is what we do inside our coaching pro Gram's. I am also currently taking discovery calls for those of you who are interested in learning more about restore, which is our one on one anxiety and depression coaching program. And my promise is always that that is a pressure free call for me to just answer your questions and see if that might be the right next step for your healing journey. The spots that we have open for that one on one coaching program each month is very limited. And then there is rise. This is my monthly mental health membership and nervous system healing space and the doors to that are always open and there's a community always ready to welcome you in with open arms. 

So that's it for step three, part three of this series. Thank you so much for being here. And I will see you next week for our fourth and final step in the stress bucket series. 

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.

Transcribed by