Simple and highly effective tools to manage stress and create emotional self-regulation
March 16, 2023
Episode #94: Simple and highly effective tools to manage stress and create emotional self-regulation
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About the Episode:
Modern life is full of everyday stressors that build on each other and can manifest as chronic stress in our brains and bodies.
Unless you choose to live a remote monastic life, you will experience these stressors.
In this episode, I teach you 7 super simple and highly effective tools that you can use throughout your day to manage your stress response. Each tool takes less than 10 seconds to practice and is backed by neuroscience.
Listen in and choose your favorite one to start using today.
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This podcast is for all women, those that identify as leaders and those that don't, yet. You'll learn how to let go of guilt and self-doubt so you can show up with confidence everywhere you go. No more questioning if your idea is good enough to share, if it's worth it to speak up, or if you're a good enough leader. All that self-critical B.S. stops now. Listen in as masterful educator and Harvard grad physician, Dr. Vanessa Calderón, teaches you how to let go of the things standing in the way of your success as a leader. Get ready, this podcast will accelerate your personal and professional growth.
Dr. Vanessa Calderón, MD, MPP has over 20 years of leadership experience. She is a Harvard grad, ER physician, Life and Leadership coach, and a mother of 2. She's a first generation Latina and is dedicated to uplifting her community. She's the founder of the Latina Leadership Accelerator, where she uses education and coaching to support the personal and professional development of women at all stages of their lives and careers.
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Full Episode Transcript:
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94. Simple and highly effective tools to manage stress and create emotional self regulation
Welcome to the Empowered brain, the only podcast using science, psychology and coaching to help you rewire your brain and create a life you love with your host, Dr. Vanessa Calderon, a Harvard grad physician, master coach, and mother of two.
Hello, sweet friends, how is it going? I am so excited to be here with all of you. So today's podcast episode is going to be a little different. It's going to be entirely skills based. I'm going to teach you a bunch of different tools that you can use to regulate your own stress response. Why does this matter? This matters because human experience stress all of the time, because life is full of stressors. That is like the biggest understatement of the year, we all experience stress from the moment we wake up if we you know, sleep past our alarm.
If we sit in traffic, if we get to work, and there's no parking, if we then are running late if we're on the way home, and we've realized that we don't have anything for dinner, we are all experiencing stress throughout the entire day. And the human stress response, it is not wired for chronic stress. It is however wired for acute stress, it's wired to help you run away from a bear. It's it, you know, it's helpful in those instances. That is what it was created for to keep you alive. But back during our primitive days, when we had to run away from a saber toothed Tiger, for example, we were able to go and rest immediately after and regulate our own mind and body. But nowadays, we don't have the luxury of taking a long nap in the middle of the day. And we are experiencing chronic stress over and over and over again. And that chronic stress is wreaking havoc on our brains and bodies. I bet you could give me multiple examples of how chronic stress has affected you. Where do you feel it? How has it affected you. If you are someone that experiences autoimmune rashes like eczema or psoriasis.
My sense is your rashes flare up, when you're stressed out when you don't get enough sleep. If you are someone that you know experiences that stress on your shoulders, my sense is you have really sore back, or tight muscles or chronic pain. For me, for example, I experience a lot of my stress inside my jaw, I clench my jaw when I'm stressed. And how I know that I've been experiencing chronic stress is because they start to have toothaches, because I clench my jaw so bad. In fact, the very first time that I had experienced chronic stress it for so long, it was so prolonged, and I was so disconnected from my body. I didn't even realize what was happening until I was at the dentist because my toothache was so bad. It was bananas. That again was my big aha moment in life. And I realized Holy smokes, I don't want to live with this level of stress in my life. And I don't want to be disconnected from my body.
So your mind and your body are intuitively connected, my friends, they're super connected, okay. And when we experience stress outside of us, our body feels it, our Body Keeps the Score. There's a book by that title Body Keeps the Score. One of my favorite books about doing your own internalized trauma work.
Okay, so I'm going to teach you a few skills and the skills are awesome. They're super simple, and they're highly effective, which is why I want to teach them to you. Because I'm gonna teach you a few different ones, because I want you to choose one or two that really resonate with you that you feel like yep, I can get behind this. Yep, I can try this. And I want you to practice it for yourself so that you can regulate your own stress response.
Okay, so I'm going to do a few under breathing a few under tactile So using our fingers in our feet, and as a few vision exercises. So no matter where you are, whether you're in a busy meeting, if you're on a zoom call, if you are in front of the stressor, like you're having a difficult conversation, for example, you can use any of these tools to help regulate your stress response. Okay, let's start with breathing. So, breathing, I have an entire episode on on a breathing exercise that I teach. It's in the 20s episode in the 20s. It's a self regulation exercise and it goes in depth to four by four breathing, so I'm not going to go in depth here. But if you want that one, go to my early episodes is episode 20. It tells you all about the human stress response and how to manage your stress response using four by four breathing. So I'm not going to do that one here.
Okay. But I will do the second one which is 10 second belly breathing. Okay, so, for breathing, what you want to do essentially is whenever you feel like your body is stressed out. So how do you know your body is stressed? First, let's take a pause. And I want you to ask yourself, What does my body do when I get triggered? What does my body do when I get stressed, I set for me I clench my jaw. But the other thing I also do is I ball up my fist. And it is so convenient because my hands are behind my back. So no one can see my fists that are balled up. And I have a little tight smile on my face. But there's a smile, but my jet my butt, my jaw is clenched. And I think it's so convenient. Because in my head, no one can notice that I'm super stressed or triggered.
So what do you do? Does your chest get tight? Do does your shoulders get a little heavy? Do your ears get read? What do you do? So I want you to notice what you do. If you're not sure what your body does when you get triggered, then I want you to take this week as an opportunity to just be in tune to yourself. Set the intention to notice, what do I do? What is my body do when I get triggered? Maybe you just get this little discomfort in your stomach. Maybe your voice gets louder, maybe your breathing changes. If you're still not sure, ask a loved one or someone that sees you regularly. If you have a roommate, for example, or a romantic partner, ask them because my senses, they probably know what your body does when you get triggered because they see it.
Okay, so once your body gets triggered, and again, the reason why I want you to know what your body does is because your body is reacting before your brain has had a chance to fully process what's happening. So before you realize you've been triggered, my jaw has already clenched. My, my hands are already balled up. before I've even recognized I've been triggered. And then I'm like, oh, here I go. And it's usually that cue in your body. That is the cue to your brain. Oh, wow, I just got triggered. That's because that stress response that has kept us alive for centuries and centuries and centuries, is so hardwired, that it's part of our primitive brain. It's not part of our, you know, our more advanced formative brain or prefrontal cortex that separates us from all other mammals. It's part of our primitive brain.
It's hardwired and it goes off immediately, instinctively, the second that we sense threat. So the seconds that we the second that we sense threat, our body's already reacting before our brain has had a chance to realize Holy smokes, hold on, I'm not in danger. Okay, so as soon as you realize what your body does, I want everyone to know what your body does. If you don't know again, figure it out this week. So for me, for example, as soon as I feel my jaw clenched, I start to self regulation tool. Alright, so the first self regulation tool we're gonna learn is under breathing. Again, if you want to learn the four by four breathing, go back to one of my earlier episodes, it's in the early 20s. And it's called self regulation, and how to manage the stress response.
Alright, so the second one we're learning is belly breathing. So belly breathing is something you can do at any time. And what it essentially does is it engages your diaphragm. So the reason why it matters for you to engage your diaphragm is because when you engage your diaphragm and breathing and you fill up your belly, like it's an actual balloon, your exhales are way deeper. Your exhales are longer and deeper, and inhalation matters. But what matters more is exhalation is breathing out because breathing out triggers our vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve turns on the part of our brain that relaxes our bodies, our parasympathetic nervous system. So what we want to do is we want to take a deep inhalation that triggers your belly triggers your diaphragm so that when we exhale out, we relax your body. And all you need to do is take a deep breath.
Feel your belly filling up like it's a balloon, five seconds in, five seconds out. That's it. Five seconds in, five seconds out. If you are at a place where you can try this right now. Put one hand over your chest, one hand over your belly, take a deep breath and right now and feel for most of you, you feel your chest rise. Because belly breathing is not something that we do instinctively, it's something we've got to practice, because our body wants to work as efficiently as possible. And the most efficient way for us to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is what we do with breathing is through our chest. So what you want to do is you want to put your hand on your chest, your hand on your belly, and feel your hand that's on your belly move up and down. You can try by just going out pushing your abdominal muscles out and in. Try that for yourself right now. Push her and then you can feel what it feels like so that when you breathe in, you feel your belly actually expanding. That's what you want to do. You want to fill up your belly envision it like it's a balloon, fill it up and breathe it out. Again, that turns on our parasympathetic nervous system or relaxation response. And when that happens, it turns off the fear part of our brain our or amygdala. And we turn off our stress response. So all of these exercises essentially do the same thing.
They all decouple, they turn off the human stress response. And they allow us to then respond to whatever stressor whether it's a difficult conversation, whether it's an annoying colleague, whether it's somebody cutting us off in traffic, it allows us to respond to all of those things with our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that separates us from all other species, which again, is really important, because we always want to come from that part of our brain. That is our executive function. That's what allows us to experience you know, positive social judgment and all of those types of things. Alright, so we talked about breathing. Next, we're going to do vision exercises. Okay, so the first vision exercise is facial details. Now, I use this a lot when I am working with patients. And if I'm working with a patient, and they're doing something that's triggering me, like they're yelling, or screaming, or whatever, I will regulate myself by looking at their face with curiosity and compassion. Again, it only takes about 10 seconds.
And what you want to do is you want to appreciate that person in front of you look at the color of their eyes, notice the beautiful wrinkles on their face. What else can you notice about them. And then what I say to myself in those moments is their beating heart, just like mine. They're beating heart just like mine, it reminds me that they are a human being. They've had their own life experiences, I might not understand them. But I will honor them, and I won't judge them. And it helps me create compassion in those moments. So that's a vision exercise that you do by looking at the person's face and their facial details.
Okay, the next one is if you are in front of a computer, so most of us sit in front of a computer for many hours of our day now that the world is virtual. So when you are in front of a computer screen for a long time, and you catch yourself getting triggered, maybe it was an email that you just got, maybe you're about to jump on a Zoom meeting with someone that you really don't want to meet with. What do you do? So in those in those moments, what you want to do is you want to stop typing, and take 10 seconds to look around your computer screen with curiosity. What colors do you see? What small details? Haven't you noticed before? Oh, look how beautiful my background is. I love that pink color. I didn't realize how they blended. Again, what you're doing is you're bringing awareness into this moment. And when you bring awareness into the moment with curiosity, it does the same exact thing. It turns off your amygdala and it helps your brain rewire in those moments to sufficiency. Like I am Okay, in this moment, you are grounded again.
Okay, so the next one we're going to do is sound. And then I'm going to save all of the tactile exercises for the next episode. Okay, but the next one, we're going to do our sound. So when we do sound, what you want to do is you just want to listen quietly. So sometimes I do this if I am about to get onto an elevator to go to a meeting. Or if I'm in a really loud room, and I'm nervous about who I'm meeting. So sound is a really good one. Now all you need to do is you need to sit quietly. And for five seconds, you want to listen to all of the sounds around you. And try your best to listen to the sounds that are furthest away from you first, listen to all the sounds that are furthest away from you first. What are you hearing? Are you hearing the leaves outside? The birds rustling? Are their cars driving by? And then for the next five seconds, you shift your focus, and you listen to all of the sounds that are closest to you? Or their glasses that are jingling? Do you hear people walking or their conversations you're listening to? What is it that you hear? Again, same thing turns off your amygdala and reground you into this moment to create awareness.
Every time you turn off your amygdala, you are strengthening your own self resolve and ability to regulate your stress response. You are training your brain to know that I am in charge. Not my amygdala, not my primitive brain, not my fear response. I am in charge. I can regulate my stress response whenever I need it. Whenever I need to turn that off, I am in charge. Okay. I said I was going to Do tactile later, but I'm just gonna give them all to you now. All right, there are three tactile exercises. The first one is probably my favorite. Because it is so simple. It's a two finger touch, all you need to do is rub your thumb slowly across your index finger. And you want to do it slow enough, so you feel every ridge of your fingertips. And that's it, all you need to do is do that for 10 seconds. And it's the same exact thing.
So sometimes I do that just to ground myself in the middle of the day, I'm in the middle of all these meetings, I've got a call to do and recording a podcast episode. And when I go from one task to the next, before I jump into that next task, I take 10 seconds, and I practice that two fingers on touch rubber thumb slowly across your index finger. I'm doing it right now. It's so simple, it's so easy, and it is so effective. Again, turns off your fear response research centers you rounds you. The next one is similar to that one, but you can get both of your hands together, you rub the fingertips of both hands together. And you want to do it slow enough so that you'd feel the ridges of your fingertips. So this one is a good one. Again, anytime you're feeling stressed, but I use it. Also, when I'm about to go into a Zoom meeting. Or if I'm in the middle of a Zoom meeting, nobody can see my hands and I'm rubbing my fingertips together like that. I also do it in between patient encounters, if I'm a little stressed, or there's a lot going on, and I want to reground myself, that's another good one to use. Alright, the last tactile exercise is what I call fingers and toes. So what you want to do is you want to put all of your attention first on your toes, do this right now if you're in a space where you can practice put all of your attention on your toes.
So normally, what I do is I put both of my feet flat on the ground, if I'm standing, it's easy. If I'm sitting, I just make sure that both of my feet are on the ground. And then I tried to find each one of my toes just for five seconds. If I try to find each one of your toes. And then do the same thing with your fingertips, I try to find each one of my fingertips. Sometimes I do that by just putting my hands on my lap and pressing down with each fingertip. Or sometimes I just touch my fingertips with my thumbs so that I can find each one. And you do each one of these exercises for a total of 10 seconds. So toes for five seconds hands for five seconds, the fingertip one where you rub both of your hands together 10 seconds total to finger touch 10 seconds total. The sound while you're listening five seconds to listen to the sounds away from you five seconds to listen to the sounds closest to you. Same thing with a computer screen. Same thing with the vision exercises for the facial details when you have somebody in front of you. Same thing with the belly breathing. So notice how simple and how highly effective these exercises are. And that they only take 10 seconds. That's it, they only take 10 seconds. So there is no excuse for you not to be able to use them. Really all it takes is remembering that they exist.
Remembering that you have the resources that you need to manage your stress response, you can turn it off at any time. And the reason why it matters so much for you to turn off your stress response on command whenever you want is because your outcomes in life will always be a function of two things. Your outcomes in life will always be a function of whatever event life throws your way. And how you choose to are. Now AR can be how you choose to react to that event, instinctively react with our primitive brains, the way we're hardwired, or it can be how you choose to thoughtfully respond to that event. Thoughtfully respond to that event. And my sense is most of you want your outcomes in life to be something that you choose, you want to be intentional and thoughtful, which is why these self regulation tools matter so much. Plus they wire our brains to create a brain that thrives with modern life stressors. All of these things is like how you can practice. You know, some people ask me, you know, I've been practicing meditation for years and years and years.
Why do I need the self regulation tools? And what I've realized is self regulation is this beautiful connection with meditation in the moment. So I've been meditating also for about 10 years. And I love my meditation practice. And when I started practicing self regulation, it was an entire new level. Because now I was taking 10 seconds a day to really tune into my body to sit with my awareness to get curious. And I was using just simple things around me to do that. My breath, my fingers, my toes, the beautiful sounds around me what I see in front of me Using all my senses to get curious, it is so powerful. If you do this, and you practice this over and over again, your brain will also remodel, it takes about 21 days or so for you to practice this consistently. But when you do that you create a habit, your brain remodels. And then you are able to turn off your stress response on demand. It is incredibly powerful, my friends.
Okay, I created an entire PDF and worksheet. It's beautiful, it has all of these exercises on them. And it will be in the show notes of this episode. So to find that, go to the shownotes, click on the link there, you'll get taken to the website, episode four, or the website for this episode. And you can download the PDF there. So enjoy that PDF, you can pin it in front of you, you can take a picture of it so you have it on your phone and use it so that it really supports you in creating that kind of life that you want, where you are well balanced, where you are not being run by stress. Alright my friends, if you want help doing this on the regular learning how to practice these things, all of the time, learning how to use these tools to become more effective to get more done in life to achieve your goals, and to live a wholehearted life.
Then I want to invite you to join us in the journey where we are taking all of these things that I teach, we are practicing them we are learning how to make them habits, and we are rewiring our brains to become our most compassionate, effective and empowered selves. Alright, so your friends I will see you next week.
Hey, sweet friends, if you love what you're learning, then you've got to join us in the journey. It's my all inclusive program and the best community out there giving you the education you never knew you needed to help you create a life you love. Join us at Vanessa Calderon md.com forward slash join. I'll see you there.