Podcast Transcriptions

Pursue What Matters

Episode 176: 3 R’s for Responding to Stress

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 Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you ready to really help yourself and those you love cope more effectively? So what happens when it comes to coping is there’s a mismatch between what we need and what we’re trying to do to help ourselves. And this is so sad because you really are trying to help yourself. But join me today as I share a roadmap for responding to stress that leads to more resilience. We’re going to we’re going to match up your needs and your coping skills.

Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters Podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So last week, we focus on the stress activation system and why it’s so important to pay attention to, we talked about predictable stress activation, which can lead to a more sensitized stress activation, which is problematic, right, that’s where we start to get some of the chronic effects of stress. And we talked about a predictable stress activation system, where the stressors are controllable, predictable, and moderate. And this actually leads to tolerance for stress. And in a very real way, we become better at stress. So one of the things that I talked about last week was the sequence of engagement to really help yourself when your stress system is activated. And we talked about three R’s, we talked about regulate relate, and reason. And I really made the case for why you really need to first attend to regulate before you move to relate. And before he moved to reason, in order to effectively lower that stress activation. And this can be so helpful, not only for your own stress coping, but for those you lead and those you love. And every week with a podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead by helping you lead with clarity, which is all about connection to purpose, leading with curiosity, which is all about building self awareness, and self leadership. And that’s what we’re talking about today. And then the third way is leading and building a community. Because as you understand this for yourself, you can also better show up for those you love with love and those you work with who hopefully you also love those you work with, maybe maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

But let’s go ahead and do a deep dive in to into the three R’s. So again, the first R is regulate the second art is relate. And the third R is reason. And so today, with this deep dive, we are going to really focus on the specific coping skills and activities to really target this area. And make sure that you’re helping yourself. And so if you want a review of kind of the explanation of the three R’s, definitely go back to last week’s podcast where I spell that out and kind of make the case for how that works in your brain. And, and that will really give you some of this context if you miss that. So let’s first start with the first R which is regulate. So this is where we’re focusing on input from the inside world, which is your body, right? That’s interoception. And from the five senses, and this is input from the outside world. So think about, you know, whatever experience you’re having, through your five senses is input from the outside world. And whatever you feel within your body is input from the inside world. And this term for that is intro ception. So recognizing that this sorting happens at the bottom of the brain. So what happens in the brainstem and the diencephalon. So right at the base of that brain.

So this is where basic regulation happens. Think about breathing temperature, heart rate, arousal, sleep, appetite, and movement. This is all happening in these two brain regions. And so when you are very stressed, your attention should go to the basic tasks of regulation, because that’s what your brain and your body needs to be able to work towards integration of the stress processing of the stress and regulation. So what are the basic tasks of regulation? So first of all, I want you to think about the functions of the brainstem and the diencephalon, which we talked about two weeks ago. So first, you’re gonna work on paced breathing. There’s a reason your phones and your watches all have these breathing apps because it is one of the most effective have ways to help your body regulate in the face of stressors. So you can also alter temperature. So you think about the Iceman right Wim Hof and the cold showers the cold baths, there are lots of benefits to, to those activities. A big one is, you know, the altering of temperature helps you to regulate, right, it kind of forces attention, right, if you are taking a cold shower, it forces your attention. And, you know, if you can also bring in some pace breathing to the activity, that is that becomes really beneficial.

You know, I regularly take cold showers, and boy, it’s helpful, but it’s helpful with lots of other things as well. So if you think about inflammation, that sort of thing, but some ways that you could alter temperature, you can hold ice, for like a minute, you don’t want to hold it too long, obviously, because you could get some, some skin damage, you could walk outside. So if you think about in the middle of the winter, one of my favorite things to do, you know, especially if I’m just like feeling a little agitated, is to go outside in the cold weather now, right, like I bundle up, but that cold weather really helps to regulate me. So I’ll do a short walk in in the weather. Also, right? Like the warm temperatures, also, if they force your attention to what’s happening within your body, so I do a lot of hot yoga, and it works in the same way. Right? It can be uncomfortable, it’s really good for distress tolerance, it’s very good for stretching, right, because you got warm muscles. But it forces that attention to, to to breathing and to regulation, it can be really helpful. And so sometimes, you know, running your hands or your feet under cold water can be helpful soaking your feet in some cold water for, you know, like 30 seconds to a minute can be helpful.

Some other activities of regulation include changing your body position. So moving from standing up to sitting down or laying down, it alters your perspective, but it also can help with some of these basic regulatory functions. You know, we think about heart rate, we think about cardiac function, you can also slow down your activity to lower your heart rate, right, elevated heart rate really signals the body that you are in danger, and it will result in a surge of cortisol. So you could also just sit and you could, you could count your heart rate, you know, you could do that the old fashioned way to do you know, six seconds and then add a zero to the end. Or you could track that on a phone or watch and really pay attention to, Okay, how’s my heart doing now? Okay, I’m going to check it in a couple minutes. And you are by your attention to that regulation, you’re helping your body to regulate, you can lower your arousal. So go to a dimmed room, go to a small room, close your eyes, lay down in a quiet room, wrap yourself in a nice, warm, big blanket. You know, weighted blankets are pretty popular for stress coping, that any kind of nice heavier blanket will do. Sometimes you’ll pay a lot of money for a blanket that’s labeled weighted blanket. And I find my favorite blankets at home that are a little heavier, are really good. Right it also so we think about the weighted blanket brings you into this present moment, it brings attention to the inputs within your body and from the outside world. So right the weight of that blanket, and can you find comfort in that.

So other activities of regulation, let’s think about sleep. If you are deprived asleep, if you’re exhausted, because of the challenge you’re facing, lay down for a few minutes. Even if you don’t sleep, that rest will be helpful. You know, I go pretty hard and pretty fast at work, you know, trying to be efficient, trying to get a lot of things done, because I don’t want to, I don’t want to have a long day at work because I want to you know, spend time with my family. And I have the opportunity to do that which I’m really grateful for. But what that means is that when I’m at work, like I’m really focused, and I’m really working pretty, pretty diligently and if I’m not careful, I will notice at the end of the day, like my heart rate is really elevated. And I’m not particularly anxious about anything. I’ve just been driving hard at that pace. And so one of the things that I’ve tried to do recently is to take breaks during the day, you know, two minutes of paced breathing, taking a few minutes before I leave work to do some pace breathing, doing some pace breathing on my drive home, that’s something that I can do pretty easily. And then almost The first thing I do when I get home is I lay down for a few minutes. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I nap, but I always lay down. And to me that is an acknowledgment that like, I’ve been going pretty fast, and I need a little bit of a reset. And sometimes I like if I come home, and it’s like, I’m still agitated, and I don’t lay down, it’s like, oh, like, Am I hungry, and I might get something to eat, but it’s like, I’m not hungry, like I really just need to lay down and lower that arousal. And so you know, going into a dead room, laying down for a few minutes can be really helpful. You know, in not, so the sleep is in that di encephalon region, as is movement. And so one of the things that has been found to be very helpful for stress coping, and also for Trauma Recovery, is the use of rhythmic movement. This helps to increase predictability and lower physiological arousal.

So one of the ways maybe he’s heard of this, especially with trauma treatment, is EMDR. It includes rhythmic movement, it’s not totally well understood how EMDR is effective, or how rhythmic movement is helpful. But if you think about, you know, back, if we think about, like our native experience, right, with kiddos, with babies, what do we do we rock a baby, that rhythmic movement is soothing, it kind of perpetuates, right or duplicates, the, the experience in the womb, right, where there’s a lot of rhythmic movement. And so you know, for those mothers among us, you might find yourself rocking, with your your hands empty, right, like maybe you don’t have a baby any longer, your babies have all grown up. But that rhythmic movement can be very soothing. A few years ago, in my MBA program, I was doing a public speaking course. And so lots of really great feedback and focus on my public speaking. And so you know, I had to record myself and got a lot of great feedback from my peers and from my instructor. And one of the first pieces of feedback that my instructor gave me is she said, when you get nervous, she says, It looks like you when you get nervous, you start to rock yourself as though you were rocking a baby. And sure enough, I looked at that video, and I absolutely was that rocking motion, just you know, a gentle kind of sway to sway on my hips was something that I did to kind of help soothe myself in that moment. Now, of course, it you know, if you’re not careful, that draws attention to itself and gets in the way of you delivering your message. So I did work on changing that behavior. But I do still notice that for myself, you know, in conversation or, you know, if I’m feeling upset, like, oh, sure enough, I’ll start kind of rocking back and forth. We think about rhythmic movement that can be helpful.

So yoga can be very helpful for this, right. It’s very rhythmic, it’s paced, and it also helps you with that breathing. One of the things that I have found recently, so this is something I did a lot as a kiddo, but I have kind of come back to it for soothing is swinging on a swing set. So we have an elementary school nearby. And so you know, often we’ll take our pup to, to the school to play around, and she kind of becomes free pup because we can take her off the leash, and she can run around. And you know, instead of being a 13 year old, golden retriever, she kind of suddenly transforms before our eyes into a young puppy again, and I also kind of transform, I often sit on the swings and will swing and I started noticing that I really liked it, it felt good. And it brought back good memories and also just, I felt calmer in my body. And so that’s something that I started doing regularly. Taking gentle walks can be really helpful as well. You think about exercise, right? But like balanced, balanced, move it movement and rhythmic movement especially can be super helpful. So once your heart rate and breathing are stabilized, right, because we want to focus on that regulation and heart rate and breathing are down in the brainstem. So we’re going to focus on those before we would look at moderate movement. But once those are stabilized some moderate movements, such as exercise or a walk or swinging on the swing sets can be very helpful for moving through that stress cycle. Right. So that paced, moderate predictable movement, right?

So think about stress activation, that’s predictable. It really helps you to discharge the high levels of cortisol in the body, right? Because you’re having a full body stress response. And so you know, it makes a lot of sense that using some energy to discharge the stress energy can be very helpful. But again, we want to make sure that heart rate and breathing are stabilized before we would move to moderate movement because if If we, if we move to moderate, if we move to movement, before we were regulated with our breathing, and our heart rate, chances are we would just become more sensitized to that stress, like we’d actually have a harder time overcoming that stress. And so the key with the exercise is that it is moderate instead of stressful, it’s controllable, and it’s time limited, and that you have permission to stop. When you’re done. Even if the class isn’t done. Even if there are other people, you know, there’s more time on the, on the treadmill, or whatever. And so, another activity for regulation is getting something to eat and drink, especially if you’re having a really big stress response.

Often, you know, it’s easy to get dehydrated, it’s easy to forget about eating. And so taking a few moments settling down, getting a nice big drink of water, getting something to eat can be super helpful. And so those are all skills that really are designed to help you regulate. Also, you know, I didn’t mention this, I’ll mention it. Now. Meditation is part of regulation, right? And so it’s a present, mindful awareness of your breathing. And so meditation can be used, you know, in all of these in all of the three R’s, but I just wanted to mention that for sure. Meditation can be part of the first our regulate. Okay, now let’s go to our second our which is relate. So if remember, if you remember, from our conversation last week, this is where we think about loving connection, attachment, comfort and empathy. And so first and foremost, let’s think about self compassion. We want you to show up for yourself with self compassion, I can understand why that was hard, right? So you can communicate to yourself like, of course, I’m upset about that situation. Let’s remember the three components of self compassion. One is self kindness, can you be gentle with yourself. Second is common humanity, to be able to acknowledge that others have felt this kind of pain as well. You’re not alone in your pain, you’re not alone in your suffering, that can be very comforting. And third, mindful attention of your experience without minimizing your pain, or dramatizing your pain. So that mindful attention and again, that’s where meditation can be quite helpful. Another skill that can help you with relate is the rain meditation for Tara Brach. So Tara brach has, has got a lot of wonderful meditation teaching. She’s the author of radical acceptance and radical compassion, and rain is her thing. So rain is an acronym. And this would be a meditation that you could take yourself through anytime you’re having a hard time. And, you know, I certainly use this one a lot. I really like it. I think it’s simple and useful. So are is recognize and this is where you want to recognize your emotion. You want to recognize what’s happening within me, like what are the inputs that are coming into my brain in my body, so ours recognize a second is allow, so you allow your emotion, and most of us have been taught that some emotions are not acceptable that we need to shut those down. That’s where we get caught in emotional, emotional numbing, but no part of healing part of stress coping is to allow our emotions we allow big emotions, extreme emotion.

So sometimes you feel hurt. Sometimes you feel love, sometimes you feel anger and rage. And we are going to recognize and allow all of those emotions in to our mindful awareness. Right? So we’re recognizing like, Yeah, I’m feeling really upset about this situation. And then I stands for investigate. So this is where we investigate the emotion in the body. So this is think about interoception. So where am I feeling the hurt in my body? Where am I feeling that tension, right? So maybe your neck is locking up? Maybe you have a pit in your stomach, maybe you just have an aching throb in your chest, right, we do feel emotion in our bodies. The bad news is most of us are very well attuned to that interoception. And so it takes a little practice to develop that awareness. So that’s one of the reasons rain is really helpful, because it helps us to recognize emotion, allow emotion, and then investigate that emotion in the body. Like, where am I feeling hurt. And then n is nurture with self compassion, right to be able to say, You know what your loved you, you are cared for. And I love you, I care for you and I’m going to comfort you so the rain meditation from Tara brach can be super helpful in relating so we’re relating to ourselves, but there are also ways that you can use rain to relate to those you love. So another activity and other coping skill that can help us with relate is compassionate connect Seeing with another, so someone who can be present with you in your pain for that, for that loved one, we don’t want them to minimize problem solve or compare, we really want to be focused on empathy, not sympathy.

Empathy is really understanding the emotion of the experience, you don’t have to have experienced the same thing to be able to recognize the pain in another. Empathy allows us to connect with others, while also keeping a healthy separation between your own emotions and the emotions of others. So sometimes when we over identify with the pain of a loved one, we, we, we don’t keep a healthy separation, and we have lost in their pain. And so that healthy separation ensures that your loved one will indeed be a support, rather than someone that actually ends up making you feel worse, or going down into the pain with you. We don’t necessarily want that. So when we think about compassionate connection with another, it always includes good boundaries. It includes good listening, empathizing, encouraging, supporting love, and I think there is also a place for perspective, but that’s what we want to think about that more with reason. And then of course, affection, right, so sometimes we just need a hug, sometimes we just need to sit in presence with another person. And so that is our second our relate. And those are several skills that can be very, very helpful. So now let’s look to our third R, which is reason. So once the first two R’s have been attended to, you can now turn your attention to reason. But it’s important to remember this might be hours or days later, this one can take some time. And it’s not just it’s not a one way trip, right. So you might do some good work around regulation and then relating, and then you need to move back to regulation. And so this is where we have that ongoing present awareness of your needs, so that you can meet your needs where you’re at. And just because you go back to regulate doesn’t mean that you’re falling back or that you know that it’s a problem, it’s just an acknowledgment of this is what you need in this moment. So you might also find that you approach reason and become a little bit overwhelmed. That’s okay, go back to relate and regulate as your foundation that happens for me a lot where, you know, I’ve done a good job with regulate, I’ve done a good job with relate. And then I moved to reason, and I get overwhelmed again. And so often I will go back to relate or I will go back to regulate, right, I’ll go back to, to maybe my girlfriend and say like I’m feeling overwhelmed again. And that can be enough to be like, okay, like, we can connect around that and we can bring in love and compassion. But just remembering, right? And trusting that reason will be here when you’re ready for it.

So you don’t need to rush that process. But when we think about reason, some of the questions we’re asking is how can I make sense of the senseless right when we think about challenges, and especially if we think about traumas, they are senseless, they should not have happened? And yet it did, right? So a challenge that maybe you didn’t plan on or you know, a very painful experience at loss or death, an accident, right? It wasn’t supposed to happen. And yet it did. And so you need to find a way to integrate this new experience into your into your reality, and you might not want to but guess what, it’s out your door. And that’s your job, your view of reality may need to be altered. In order to accommodate this challenge, this stressor that you’ve experienced, right, one of your take homes might be, I know that I can’t always be safe, because I had this experience where I wasn’t safe. And that doesn’t mean that you lead a fearful life. But it does, it does acknowledge that your reality has been altered, and you can’t have the same view that you had before. And that can that can actually help you to mourn with those who mourn that can help you to have greater compassion and empathy for others. So when we think about reason, therapy can be really helpful here. I don’t think it’s always necessary, right? I mean, I like therapy, I’m a fan of therapy. But if you’re having a hard time with reason and making sense of your experience, this is where I would recommend considering therapy, it can be super helpful for bringing in perspective for normalizing your stress response, and for separating what’s understandable from what’s helpful, right. And so it’s understandable that you might want to slash someone’s tires.

But let’s think about something that might be helpful and doesn’t include you ending up in jail for vandalism, right? Like therapists are really good at that and helping you kind of walk through that. It can also help you take empowered action in keeping with your values well, right right now I just want to slash their tires, but that probably will end up making me feel worse. At the end of the day, I’ll feel really good for a few minutes. But then I’ll feel worse because it undermines the values that I treasure. Something else that can be helpful for making sense of the senseless is journaling. Journaling is very powerful for bringing in perspective. But don’t try to journal when you aren’t regulated. Because that’ll backfire on you. You can also develop a plan to manage similar situations so that you feel better prepared, this is a way that we bring that we bring more predictability to stress activation, you can also establish new boundaries for specific relationships, hey, based on that experience, my boundary with you is much more firm, because I’m learning from that experience. And what you did was not appropriate. So it helps you to establish new boundaries. And it can also help you to prioritize safety while not hiding from life, right, because one of your new realities might be I know that bad things can happen. And so you might be a bit more attuned to safety, but we don’t want that to become a pattern of avoiding life. So therapy especially can be helpful to find that that fine balance there so you can stay out of an avoidance pattern.

So there you go, those are three those are several skills to help you with reason. And so again, we did a deep dive into three R’s to help you with stress coping so we want you to meet yourself where you’re at. And these three r’s that order of regulate relate and reason can be super helpful. So head on over to the show notes on my website to find the resources for this episode. You can do that at www.drmelissasmith.com/176-3rstress .So one more time that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/176-3rstress. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.

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