Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast

4 Basic B's of Mental Health

November 28, 2023 Amanda Armstrong Episode 41
Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast
4 Basic B's of Mental Health
Show Notes Transcript


One thing I hear a lot from people who come to work with us are, “I’m tired of just talking about how I feel, I want to actually DO something about it.” Talking is a really important and special part of healing and it’s not enough if your underlying physiology is depleted, hypersensitive, or packed with unprocessed trauma.

Getting into the DOING alongside the talking, processing, and space holding is something my coaching methodology specializes in. It’s not always a sexy to say, but behavior change is an essential part of what we do and the way we work with clients & sometimes the places we start seem almost too plain or too simple to matter but the science is clear:

There is a strong link between anxiety & depression and things like sleep, food, breathing and boundaries.

In this episode we'll dive into the nitty-gritty of small daily habits that when repeated overtime make all the difference in your healing. You'll also learn why relying on therapy alone might not be enough to address your mental health concerns. And, of course, we'll leave you with some practical tips on how to optimize your body for better mental health.

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CLICK HERE for full show notes + 3 takeaways!

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.





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. 

One thing I hear a lot from people who come to work with us in my mental health coaching practice is something like, I'm just tired of talking and talking and talking about how I feel I want to actually do something to start to feel better. Now talking is a really important and special part of healing. And it's not enough if your underlying physiology is depleted, hypersensitive, packed with unprocessed trauma. Getting into the doing alongside the talking processing, Safe Space holding is something that my coaching methodology specializes in. And it's not always sexy to say, but behavior change is an essential part of what we do and what needs to be done when working with clients who are struggling with anxiety and depression. And sometimes the places that we start seem almost too plain or too simple to matter. But the science is very, very clear. There is an undeniable correlation and link between anxiety and depression and things like sleep, nutrition, breath boundaries. And we have so much evidence beyond simply looking at treating anxiety and depression as a brain based or psychology only problem. And yet, most of our mental health care providers out there are not trained in physiology. And I know this because first I have been a recipient of care in the mainstream mental health model. And secondly, now as a mental health professional, I am consistently and regularly approached by therapists and other practitioners who want to learn more, who are seeing the limitations of a strictly talk therapy based model who are frustrated that they didn't receive any education on the nervous system or somatics, on their path to licensure. And I hope it's obvious that I am in no way downplaying the importance of or the impact and significance of therapists or therapists. And it's been really cool for me to see that so many of them are seeking out more education and training to incorporate these things into the work that they do with clients as well. 

But in my opinion, it is a major problem. When people supporting people with anxiety and depression, do not understand or have the ability or training to or choose not to bring physiological pieces into the conversation. When a provider doesn't understand the nervous system, or how trauma is stored in the body, or the impact of dysfunctional breathing, inadequate sleep or poor blood sugar regulation can have on our system, there is a major gap in the support that's being offered. A 21st century health care model should not still be fragmenting physical and mental health, you could spend and many of you listening here have a decade in therapy, talking about your thoughts, your feelings, childhood experiences, and still be struggling with anxiety or depression or panic attacks. Because you aren't getting enough sleep, or you don't have the somatic tools to regulate your nervous system, or your social media consumption is leaving you dopamine deficient. Or it could be because you've skipped breakfast in the morning or you just grab a bagel that could be sending you on a blood sugar roller coaster for the rest of the day. 

And those physiological factors can all show up as what we often categorize as symptoms of anxiety and depression. anxiety when overstimulated and underslept is order, not disorder. Depression, when dopamine and micronutrient deficient, is order, not disorder. That activation or shutdown of your system are appropriate ways of your body responding. And as annoying and frustrating as those symptoms might be. They are there to signal to you that something is off the same way a check engine light on your car might and here are just some of the things that research has shown us and I will link the sources to many Have these show notes as well. But less than seven hours of sleep a night can significantly increase the risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression. People with chronic insomnia are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression, and 17 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. So if you are somebody who struggles with anxiety and depression and you are not sleeping well, it's quite possible that all of the talk therapy in the world won't be enough. Because what's making you the most vulnerable to these symptoms is your physiology, not your psychology. And, of course, it's nuanced. For many people, sleep disturbances come as a result of chronic stress or trauma. So doing that deeper healing work absolutely has a place but it must be supported by and alongside optimizing something like sleep. 

In another recent study, we see that physical activity was shown to be one and a half times more effective than counseling or leading medications for symptoms of anxiety and depression. And one of the researchers on that study said physical activity is known to help improve mental health. Yet, despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first choice treatment. It goes without saying, we all know what the most mainstream first choice treatment is. And it is not an incentive for physical activity. Another study showed that even a small amount of physical activity as small as a 15 minute brisk walk a day had a measurable positive impact on mental health. 

More research shows us that people with anxiety and depression often have shallow rapid breathing. When you understand your body's physiology. Of course, we know that that's how we breathe when we are in a sympathetic state. And more studies show that optimizing daily breathing as well as using breathwork protocols have been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. 

Oh, but wait friends, there's more. It is well established that there is a link between poor glucose control or blood sugar management, and an increased risk for mood disorders like anxiety and depression. And we when we hear blood sugar management or glucose control, we often think about this in the context of individuals with diabetes. And we know that people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience anxiety and depression as people without diabetes, blood sugar management being a big part of that. But blood sugar management doesn't just apply to individuals with diabetes. It applies to every single one of us with a human body. I'm willing to bet that the majority of you listening here today have never considered that skipping breakfast or just grabbing a piece of toast for breakfast might be contributing to your anxiety. And like why would you nobody has ever taught you how your body works or told you about the research around food and mental health and a portion of that being about blood sugar management. So poor glucose control is When blood sugar levels are not well managed. And this can happen throughout the day with a diet that is high in sugar or carbohydrates, because it can cause really frequent spikes, sugar and carbohydrates spike our blood sugar levels, and then it can often cause drop offs. So skipping meals can also cause blood sugar drop off not exercising enough because exercise helps to improve our insulin sensitivity. And so if you are somebody who wakes up skips breakfast, or exclusively grabs traditional breakfast foods like bagel, toast cereal a bar, you are setting yourself up to ride a blood sugar roller coaster of spikes and crashes all day long. And if you are under eating or skipping breakfast, then you are starting your day off from a place of physiological and nutritional energetic depletion. Our nervous system reads depletion as a threat. And then if you top that off with the coffee that you chugged, with maybe a splash of sleep deprivation. Those are perfect conditions for anxiety for an physiological activation of your nervous system. 

And I am going to get a little more fiery for a minute. Our health model, at least here in the United States is a business that is largely driven by the pharmaceutical companies. There is no money to be made by teaching you how to choose a more nourishing breakfast option. Learn to breathe more optimally. I rearrange your day to prioritize going for a 15 minute walk. Those are also things that are hard for medical providers to prescribe to put into any kind of a protocol. And as always, when this topic comes up, I am not anti psych meds, there's a time and a place. But I want you to consider for a minute. What if before putting people on psych meds, we taught them about how their mind and body works. What if we had a system that supported them in optimizing the basics of health. And then if they still felt like they weren't seeing enough improvement, the meds conversation happened, or at the very least, when psych meds are prescribed, you also got personalized and compassionate support at looking at your daily habits, and considering how that might be contributing to your stress physiology to your symptoms. And there might be some of you out there who got that experience. But by and large, the vast, vast, vast majority of people who seek out mental health support, do not get that people need skills over pills, skills, education and support to understand and interpret your body signals, to be empowered to take care of yourself and to work with your body. This is why I do the work that I do. This is the work that we do with people in our whole human whole life approach to healing that gives mental and physical health an equal seat at the table. 

Because I lived for so long, truly ignorant to the importance of sleep or a balanced breakfast. Of course, I heard it said that you should get eight hours of sleep but no one ever followed it up with the because. And of course, like you I saw the words balanced breakfast plastered on cereal boxes, without really understanding that cereal is often the least balanced breakfast option out there. I lived for so long, just figuring that if I wasn't hungry, or if I got just enough sleep to get me through the next day, then that was enough that it was fine that it wasn't a problem. I am so frustrated that not once did my doctor, a therapist or psychiatrist ever asked me? How many hours of sleep I was getting at night before slapping me with a diagnosis and prescribing me pills? Not once did they run a blood test to see if there was a hormone imbalance that might be causing some of my symptoms or a major vitamin deficiency? Not once did they ask me about the quality of my friendships, or my nutritional intake, and all of those things contribute to dysregulation to symptoms of anxiety and depression and my personal experience in therapy. I often felt like we were just digging and digging and digging, looking for the problem. Or maybe the childhood trauma that I just couldn't remember. When in reality. My system was debilitating ly overburdened with stress not because of what happened in the past. But because of the way I was living my life in the present, under sleeping under nourishing overworking, over exercising constantly self sacrificing, living on nothing but a glucose rollercoaster and a brear. Of course, I had anxiety. And of course when all of those things went unaddressed for long enough my system shut me down with depression. That is order not disorder that is a system that is functioning exactly as it's designed to not one that's broken. And yes, part of my healing journey has been to heal from trauma. But that deep hard work means so so much more when I am living a life conducive to regulation, health and well being.

So that's what I want to support you on what today's conversation so many of you listening, I have spent years trying to heal in your heads. And I want to invite you into an experiment of taking the next few months maybe even year to also make a priority out of healing in your body starting with the very basics with what I have started to call the four basic Bs and this is something I am going to be bringing into my Rise Membership and some really impactful and tangible ways early next year that I'm excited about. I I hope some of you choose to join me there. And I know that as I introduce these, there are going to be some of you thinking, Amanda, I've been through some stuff in my life, I am currently going through some stuff. There's no way it's that simple. There's no way it's that easy. What I'm about to share with you might sound basic and simple in theory. But behavior change is not often easy. Because any kind of change disrupts our system a little bit. And many of the things I'm about to tell you, you've already heard, you already know. And yet, you might not be doing anything with that knowing I hear so many times a week from people something like I logically know what I should be doing, I just can't seem to get myself to do it. And that's because the way that we teach and support people in behavior change kind of sucks. More on that in a future conversation. And I'll caveat this with for most of you listening, these four things are not the full scope of what's under the surface of your symptoms. But I can pretty much guarantee that if you move in a positive direction with these things, you won't get worse. And consider for a moment what if healing doesn't have to be so complicated? What if it isn't about finding the magical mystical answer, but instead about stepping back in to the basics of being a human. 

So here are the four basic B's bed, breakfast, breath, and boundaries. First of all, I love alliterations alliterations. Analogies bring me so much joy. But these four B's are core tenants to wellbeing, and are usually very much within your capacity to optimize in some way. When it comes to supporting clients with behavior change, I take a tiny habits, baby steps 1% at a time approach, personalizing the How to each of our clients unique life circumstances, preferences, current capacity. And I can't get into the how with you via podcast, if you want that support. That's what we do every single day inside our coaching programs. But instead today I want to present more of the what some of the basic physiological facts about each of these categories, and then just make some suggesting starting points with some reflecting questions. And I want to start with the end in mind. 

So as you listen, I want to invite you to choose one to try to improve one of these basic Bs just 1% Please do not leave this conversation and try to overhaul your life, it will blow up in your face and stress out your nervous system, likely reinforcing stress and survival mode. Because that's what happens when we try to take on and change too much too fast. So pick one bed, or breakfast or breath or boundaries. And really the most effective place to start is usually with bed or breakfast. Because for clients who spend enough time with us breath kind of corrects itself over time, we spend a lot of time and coaching calls and in different practices, focusing on Breath and breath awareness. And then boundaries are here because cultivating a sense of belonging. Knowing how to create safe spaces in your relationship with other humans is as crucial to our well being as everything else on that list. But that work can get a little bit stickier. And I really love to start small, simple, making those early behavior change attempts as easy as possible to collect some wins. So here are some quick guidelines for each of these and maybe some suggested places to start. 

Number one is bed quantity and quality matters. The goal with sleep is to get seven to eight hours most nights and here are a few things that support better sleep. Number one morning sunlight. Can you get outside to get 10 minutes of natural sunlight in your eyeballs in the morning. This helps to set your circadian rhythms it promotes a healthy morning cortisol release. The second thing is being mindful of your tech time what is it that you're doing past 9pm most nights are you bringing your phone in bed with you? A switch that I made that has changed so much for me is as often as possible. I'm off my phone by nine and I plug it in on my dresser not my nightstand when it's on my nightstand I reach for it on my dresser away from where I'm going to bed Third thing that can help you optimize sleep is to make your room as dark and quiet as possible. So when you go to bed tonight, you turn off the lights, How dark is your room? Can you do anything to make it darker? How quiet is your room? Can you do anything to make it quieter if you live near a busy street or road, there's some good research around brown noise or white noise while you're sleeping. So optimizing the conditions, even looking into optimal temperature, to have a bedroom app for quality of sleep, there's a lot of good research around that. And another thing that you might be able to do if you're somebody who just gets in bed and feels wired. There's somatic discharging or regulation practices you can do before bed legs up the wall is another one and I have inside my Rise Membership, a lot of guided practices specifically to helping people get optimal sleep. 

All right, moving on to breakfast. In the wise words of my now doctor, two eggs is not enough to feel you through the first third of your day. Also, traditional breakfast foods, spike blood sugars, anything that's high in sugar, carbohydrates, think about traditional breakfast foods, croissants, bagels, cereal, all of this can increase anxiety throughout your day. So my recommendation here is to eat a high protein breakfast. Yes, even if you are not hungry, breakfast is essential, so that you are not starting your day from an energetic and nutrient depleted place. And to give you just a couple ideas, my two favorite breakfast right now are two to three eggs with leftover meat from dinner the night before and veggies mixed in. So it's really hearty, and an English muffin or sourdough toast of some kind. The other thing that I love to do, and again, inspired by my current doctor, who when I told her what I was eating for breakfast, basically was like absolutely not. That's not what we're doing moving forward. Her recommendation was leftover dinner. And so that's a suggestion I want to make is, what if you just made an extra serving of dinner the night before. And the reason being that dinner typically consists of a good balance of protein, carbs, vegetables, and healthy fats. So it's all about balance when you are eating to optimize blood sugar regulation, we want to have each meal and even each snack be a mix of protein, carbs, that getting a good amount of vegetables in there. And you can just do a quick Google search for snacks to regulate blood sugar or breakfast to regulate blood sugar. And there's a lot of great resources out there on the internet. What can you do to be more intentional about giving your body what it needs to feel safe inside is really what we're trying to do here.

Then there is breath. Functional breathing is deep, slow, steady inhales and exhales through the nose. So maybe take a moment to just reflect when you breathe all day every day. Because the in and out your nose, in and out your mouth. Does your chest and shoulders move up and down? Or do your does your belly expanding contract? Would you describe your everyday breathing as more short and shallow, or is Every Breath You Take throughout the day or the majority of them deep slow steady in and out through your nose. Because so many of us have developed patterns of short shallow breathing or mouth breathing as a result of stress in our lives. And so retraining more optimal breathing patterns can have really significant impacts on your baseline nervous system state. And a great place to start if you want to choose to be more intentional about breath is that anytime you feel the urge to use the bathroom, also tune in to your breath. I love to use a body cue that just comes on its own, to also invite me to tune in more intentionally to something else that I'm trying to optimize. Or you could even on your way to the bathroom or while sitting down doing your thing. intentionally take three to four deep breaths. And just notice how it feels different in your body before versus after you took some of these deep, slow diaphragmatic breaths. 

And the fourth category is boundaries. I'm not going to spend a ton of time going into boundaries right now. This category is here to really hold the place for how important community healthy safe sense of belonging community and friendships are to our overall well being. And also part of behavior change is cultivating a skill to be able to set boundaries with ourselves. And so in the spirit of what we're talking about today, one of my recommendations might be to try to set boundaries with your phone, can you go phone free from 9pm to 9am. Try it for a few days, try it for a week and just see what happens. Also, in looking more into the personal relationships you have in your life, I want you to consider any relationship you have that's particularly draining, maybe this week, only take calls from that person if you have the capacity for it. Or maybe only show up to an event, if you actually want to boundaries are all about having your own back and protecting your peace. So how might that look different and just a small way in your life? 

So right now together, I want to invite you to take a minute to reflect Which one do you want to start with? Bed? Breakfast, breath? Boundaries? What might you be able to do to get to bed a little earlier? If that's what you choose? Can you start making an extra serving of dinner? To eat in the mornings? Does it feel possible to go for a daily 15 minute walk? Maybe focusing on your breath while you do and movement isn't one of the things that we covered today. But maybe you do feel called to do something there? At the beginning, I mentioned that study that showed that even that 15 minute daily walk was effective at decreasing symptoms. So choose one. And then ask yourself, how would I like that to be different? What small change can I make to take one baby step towards a more ideal situation in that area? Can I make that behavior any smaller? What about even smaller, like so small, it's laughable. so small that you could still do it on your worst Mental Health Day. Cool. Once you figure out that small, start there. And do that until it becomes your new normal. And then make another small 1% shift. We want to install the tiniest, easiest habits and then optimize them over time. And if you are somebody who is sitting there like I don't know, I still don't know what the right thing for me to do is or how to go about doing it. I would love to support you inside Rise, my monthly mental health membership and nervous system healing space. This is so much of the work that I do and love everyday there. 

Now the three takeaways from today's conversation number one, if trying to heal in your head is falling short or feeling frustrating. This is my invitation to try healing in and through your body for a while. Maybe you don't have to keep digging so hard into your past. But instead can focus on ways you are supporting yourself in the present. 

Number two, the four basic B's are Bed Breakfast breath and boundaries. This is my invitation again to choose one. What small shift can you make in optimizing that? Can you make that new behavior any smaller. And if you think that this approach is too simple, like I have said in episodes in the past, try me give it an honest go get support in making these changes and making them stick. And if after a few months of getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, or if after a few weeks of eating a truly balanced and nourishing breakfast you feel worse, you can go right on back to doing what you were doing with my blessing. I promise so much healing is in simplicity is in the basics. 

And number three, your physiology drives your psychology. The research is clear that a modern 21st century health model should be one where brain health and body health are inseparable. This is exactly what we do at Rise as we and if you're feeling called I would love for you to join us. 

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 eyes, 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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