Ep. 87 4 Steps to Emotional Regulation

This episode is all about how to actually settle yourself down when your nervous system has been triggered. Often when we stop and try to “take some deep breaths” to help bring ourselves back to reality, it doesn’t seem to work very well. Sometimes this is because when we take this approach, we might actually be resisting our emotions rather than processing them.

In this episode I give you 4 steps (and an informal 5th step) to give you a framework to help inform your brain that you are actually just fine.

Here are the steps:

1. Ask yourself if you are literally safe. (yes)

2. Ask yourself if you FEEL safe (likely not, which is why you were triggered in the first place).

3. Figure out why not (validate why you feel vulnerable).

4. Actively relax tension away in your body (this is where breath work fits in).

The informal step 5 is to check in to see if what we are asking of our self is actually too much. Likely, you are totally capable of it, but once in a while we need to know we have the out if we want it. But really, if you can take courage, you can get through it.

Taking these steps before you try to do breath work makes it far more effective. Listen in for a short-cut to this strategy I offer near the end.

For help figuring out this for yourself, might I recommend a free ⁠⁠Dance Strategy Call⁠⁠

If you want a ballroom community with a hefty side of mental and emotional resilience, join my Facebook Group, ⁠⁠Joyful Ballroom⁠

Welcome to the podcast, my friends.If you are new to the podcast, welcome. I can’t believe I have 87 episodes. That’s a lot. When I first started, it was kind of a struggle for me to get a podcast out every week, and I don’t hit it every week on the nose, but I try to about every seven to ten days, post a podcast. And sometimes I’m just surprised I’m still going. But working with my clients, working with private clients, working with dancers, stuff always comes up. I’m going to turn all this into a course pretty soon and make that available to everybody, and that is going to be super fun. I’m excited to do that this year.

But until then, the podcast is going to give you lots of free help. If you never ever need a private coach, I’m fine with that. If the podcast is all you need to get the best dancing out of you that you’ve ever had before, because you’re able to manage your mind and you’re able to manage your emotions, and you’re learning faster than ever, and you’re just fulfilling your potential, then awesome. Then my work here is done. So keep up the good work. But if you want extra help, I’m here for private coaching. For sure you should take advantage of a dance strategy call if you want to see if that’s a good fit for you.

But let’s get to the podcast. Today I want to talk about nervous system regulation, and this might not seem very interesting, but I think you will find it interesting, because so many of my clients, when we talk about those stressful moments where you’re at a competition and you’re actually nervous, you’re actually stressed, you’re actually under pressure, and you’re struggling to manage yourself, they want to know, what can I actually do in that moment to regulate myself? So let’s talk about these words a little bit. When I’m talking about regulating yourself, you can imagine sort of like a pressure valve. And when we are operating in a zone that’s kind of comfortable, it’s our zone of tolerance for stress, and we can kind of keep ourselves regulated, we keep ourselves in kind of a comfortable, more or less place. But when pressure gets high and stress gets high and it increases, then we start to get dysregulated, and then we need a way to get us back into a regulated state.

When we’re dysregulated, our brain kind of goes offline. So you probably have all experienced this. If you get into a situation where the pressure is a little bit high, and you’re like, all of a sudden, I can’t remember my choreography.All of a sudden, my brain emptied out. What’s happening is you got a little bit dysregulated. Your brain, your nervous system sensed danger in some way, shape, or form, and so it shifted into sort of a fight or flight state, and we got a little bit dysregulated, like I said. And then our cognition kind of goes offline. So this makes perfect sense to me. This is what’s happening to you. So our goal is we do want to stay in as regulated a state as we can so that that part of our brain doesn’t go offline, and we don’t forget our choreography, and we don’t get all discombobulated while we’re on the dance floor. So I want to talk to you about how to regulate your emotions, and I’m going to give you four steps.

Let me offer what this normally looks like. What this normally looks like is you might feel dysregulated, you might feel stressed, you might feel the nerves come up, and we’re struggling to manage ourselves. The brain is sounding an alarm. So something feels dangerous. And in the case of us at a dance competition, dangerous might mean vulnerable. It might mean new. It might mean unfamiliar. At the very least, it’s just not normal.

And so your brain is not accustomed to it. Your nervous system is not accustomed to it, and so it’s sounding an alarm, and that is why you feel stressed. That is why you feel anxious or nervous. That is why you feel the pressure. And you might even think, what is wrong with me? I shouldn’t be feeling this way. This is just a dance competition. Just a dancing. It’s not a big deal.It’s just a performance, or it’s just a lesson or whatever, a coaching session. Why am I so stressed? And you kind of judge yourself for feeling that way, and you’re feeling the stress. A

nd so you said, oh, yeah. People say when you’re stressed out, when you’re nervous, you should take some deep breaths. And so you try to take some deep breaths, and you breathe in when you breathe out and you kind of feel like maybe you’re hyperventilating because you’re trying to take these deep breaths in order to make this emotion go away. And there’s a need in there to make this emotion go away. And so a lot of times, those deep breaths aren’t working. And I think this is because when you’re taking deep breaths in this way, you are actually resisting emotion because you don’t want to feel nervous, you don’t want to feel stressed, you don’t want to feel anxiety.

And so these deep breaths are meant to take it away. And in a sense, we are resisting that emotion. And you might ask, well, yeah, isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want this emotion to go away? And ultimately, we do want to be in a different emotional state, but often we can get into a different emotional state without having to resist this one. And if you remember, in episode 46, I did talk about emotions and the four things that we do with emotions. Those four things are resisting, reacting, avoiding, and allowing. And our goal, really is to allow emotions so that we can process them so that they can pass through us. And when we resist emotions, they tend to persist. They tend to last longer.So, ironically, the more you allow for and embrace the emotion, the less you need it to go away, the faster it will go. And the more you resist the emotion and you deny it and you avoid it and you repress it, the longer it hangs around and the more it can actually intensify.

So in the situation that I’ve just described, where you’re in some situation where you feel a little bit stressed and your nervous system kicks on, and then we’re dysregulated and we try to take these deep breaths. It’s like your body, your brain has sounded this alarm. Like there’s something here we need to address. Something feels unsafe, and we’re trying to just breathe it away. We’re trying to just make it go away. And this is as if you have a car where it has an engine problem and the engine light has turned on.

And when we’re trying to address our emotions in this way, it’s like we’re trying to put black tape over the engine light. We don’t want to know that there’s anything going on in the engine. So we’re just going to put tape over the light. And now that seems like it fixed it. Like when my oil life in my car gets really low, or I should say my kids car gets really low, they have figured out how to reset the system so that it doesn’t say that you need to go get your oil changed, which I don’t recommend, because if there is an engine light going on or if there is an oil light going on, there’s something that needs to be addressed in the vehicle. And putting tape over it does not make it go away. There is still a problem. So we need to address the problem.

So I’m going to give you four steps to nervous system regulation, and I can already hear what some of you are going to say, which is because when I go through this, you’re going to say, oh, my gosh, are you seriously expecting me to go through this whole process when I’m, like, standing on the dance floor? And the answer is, not exactly, but I’m going to give this to you and I want you to see it, I want you to hear it, and I want you to find opportunities that you can do this in your life. And I am also going to give you a little bit of a shortcut towards the end.

But this is how you can regulate your nervous system. This is how we can set that alarm, listen to that alarm rather so that it can settle down, and then we can do some exercises to help settle your nervous system, and they will work so much better. Okay, so you’re going to do four things I should say.

The first thing is you’re going to ask yourself, am I literally safe? And in the case of us, when we’re talking about dancing and we’re talking about performances and competitions and all that, you are safe. You have a roof over your head, you’re probably not in danger. So we do want to ask this question, am I literally safe?

Question number two, do I feel safe? And the answer here is probably no if we’re dysregulated. Just these first two questions, asking yourself, am I safe? And you go, yeah, actually, I am safe. But do I feel safe? And we go, no, not quite. There’s something here that just doesn’t feel safe. Just asking those two questions can already start to regulate your nervous system because you’re starting to tell yourself you’re safe. And you’re starting to address it with this.

Question number two, do I feel safe? And the answer is no. I want you to know that safe can mean a lot of things. And in our dancing world, feeling safe can be all about vulnerability. And there’s a lot of stuff going on in dancing that just makes us feel vulnerable. So you could ask this another way. Do I feel vulnerable? Do I feel unsure? Do I feel safe. The answer is no.

Part three is we want to know why. And this is where we’ve figured out that there’s an alarm sounding and we want to figure out why. And this step is all about validating what’s going on. What about this situation makes sense why you would be dysregulated.So it might sound something like this. Why don’t you feel safe? You go, well, obviously I don’t feel safe. I’m going out on this dance floor and everybody is watching me and there are people literally judging me. So I’m going to be, at the end of this, judged and given a score. I’m going to be ranked amongst my peers. And there’s just something about dancing where I’m out on this floor and everybody’s watching me and it feels like I’m exposed and I’m trying things a lot of times that I’ve never done before, and that feels kind of scary. So it makes perfect sense that I don’t feel safe. This is very not normal.

And you just say whatever it is that feels vulnerable to you, that feels unsafe. I feel like I’m risking rejection. It feels like I’m going to get rejected. It feels like I might get embarrassed. And that feels scary. It feels like if I don’t do this well, on some level, I’m going to be banished from the tribe or people are going to judge me. And that feels very scary. It feels very unsafe. Of course I’m dysregulated. Of course I feel a little bit scared. Of course I am feeling this way. So this step three is all about I wonder why I feel this way. And it makes perfect sense. Not judging it, not I shouldn’t feel this way. What’s wrong with me? It’s just a dance competition. Who cares? That’s all very invalidating. That’s all trying to make the alarm go away. But this step is all about validating why it makes perfect sense that you feel this way.

Step four is that now that we understand what’s going on and why we’re sounding an alarm, now we can actively relax the tension in our body. So this is where you can take those deep breaths, and I recommend you just scan your body and you look for the places where you’re holding some tension. And it’s like, oh, I have some tension in my jaw. Take a deep breath. Relax the tension out of your jaw. Oh, I feel some in my shoulders. Like my shoulders have been creeping up to my ears. Find that tension, take a deep breath and relax those shoulders. Away from your ears and just go through your body and actively relax. If you’re in your hotel room, I definitely recommend you lay down to do this, especially if it can be on the floor, if you feel okay doing that, because feeling supported by the floor does something to your nervous system. Like so much of your body is in contact with the floor, that it can feel like we’re just supported. And it will help you relax certain areas of your body that are just harder to relax when you’re standing. So if you have that option, do that. But this step four is all about, okay, now we can take deep breaths. Now we can start to regulate in this way, taking those steps.

And I could call this an informal step five, but I think it’s worth mentioning that you can always tell yourself, remind yourself that we can always walk away, that we don’t have to be doing this. There is a point at which we are so dysregulated, some of us, that we dissociate, which means we kind of leave our body. And I’ve had clients describe this. It’s kind of like you’re not thinking about anything, and you kind of have this out of body experience, and it’s very disconcerting. And so some things are so stressful that our brain completely goes offline. And so it is worth asking yourself, is this too much?

I think for most of you it’s not. It’s a stretch. And we’re asking a lot of ourselves, and it’s challenging, but it’s not so challenging that we can’t do it. But I think it is worth asking yourself, is this too much? Because we can always walk away. We don’t have to do this. This is optional, but this is going to make you stronger. If you choose to do this, in the long run, this is going to make you better, stronger, more resilient. So are you up for it? And I think this informal step five has the possibility of eliciting some courage, because when we’re in a situation like this, I feel like what we need is just a little bit of courage. It’s a little bit of. Yes, this is a stretch. Yes, this feels a little bit unsafe to my nervous system. Yes, this feels hard. But I’m up for it. I’m up for what I’m going to get on the other side of this. And so I’m willing to garner some courage to make this happen. And that puts you in a little bit of a more empowered mindset as you think about this.

As I was thinking about this, I had a couple of things come to mind. One is that sometimes when I bring an issue to a friend or my husband, something I want to talk through, often they want to solve it right away, right? They can see the solution and they want to offer it. But here’s the thing. I usually have the solution. I already know. I don’t need a solution from somebody else. I’m smart enough to figure it out. I just want to be heard. I just want a chance to tell the whole story. I want to share what I’m experiencing. And I’m actually not open to help unless you’ve heard the full story. So I need to tell it and I need to process it before I can thoroughly access any of my own solutions or listen to yours.

And you might have experienced this: If you’re trying to help someone, you’re on the other side. You’re trying to help someone, trying to help them with their problem. And it just seems like as you try to give them solutions, they’re just batting away your solutions and they’re just holding tighter to the story. And it’s sort of this place for them of how can you advise me when you haven’t heard the whole story? You don’t have all the info, so they’re not going to be willing to hear the solutions.

If you don’t jump in with a solution right away, sometimes it feels like you’re agreeing with their drama, you’re agreeing with their thoughts, you’re agreeing with their story, and you kind of don’t want to do that. You don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. You don’t want them to go down that rabbit hole. So you’re trying to give them the solution right away. And so I want you to know that listening isn’t necessarily agreeing with their stories. We’re just holding space, we’re just holding this container to allow them to share what they are experiencing.

So why am I telling you this right now? What does these other people in this other situation have to do with your nervous system? Well, this is like your nervous system needs some of that same airtime. Like your nervous system is sounding an alarm and you’re trying to bat it away, you’re trying to solve for it. And the nervous system is like, I can’t turn this alarm off because you haven’t heard the whole story. You haven’t heard all the possible dangers that I need to warn you of. So I’m just going to keep sounding this alarm.

And when you go through this four step process, you’re giving your nervous system time to air out its alarm and tell you what the alarm is about, and then it’s your job to go: Thank you, nervous system, for trying to protect me. Thank you for giving me all that information and letting me know what’s going on. Makes perfect sense why you think we’re in danger here. I see it. Thank you. And I’ve got it. I’ve got us. We can do this. It’s okay. You can turn the alarm off now. And that’s where we do the active relaxing.

I want to give you a quick shortcut, because I know some of you, like I said, are thinking, like, there’s no way I’m going through all of that while I’m on a competition floor. So here’s what want to offer, because this is what one of my clients told me they did. When you are at a competition, you might not want to go through all of this. Although once you’ve heard all of this, I feel like you can go through it pretty quickly, and I’ll give you an example of that. But one of my clients said, “Amber, I went to a competition, and literally all I did was repeat to myself again and again, I am safe. I am safe.” She’s like, “On and on through each day, I just would remind myself, I’m safe. And every time I would start to feel myself get a little bit nervous or a little bit anxious, and it started to feel like I was going down a ramp and I was building steam, I would just take some deep breaths, and I would go, we’re safe. We’re safe.” And that alone helped her to stay regulated for that competition. If that’s all you can do, try that. But here’s what it might look like in, like, a shortened, condensed version.

Let’s say I’m at something. I’m dysregulated. I’m getting stressed out. This is what I might say to myself. You know what? I am actually safe. I just don’t feel safe because this is a very vulnerable thing to do. So it makes sense that I feel this way because this is just not normal. But I’m okay. We are safe. We can handle this, and we can totally walk away if it’s too much, but I actually think we can do it.

And just that simple sentence–few sentences–just that simple sentiment, gives you the opportunity to acknowledge that you’re safe. Give your nervous system a little bit of airtime, that it makes perfect sense why you’re nervous about this and why you’re acting this way. And then give yourself that pat on the back, that little boost of courage that’s telling yourself, we can do this. We’ve got it. This is a stretch, but we’re on top of it. Let’s go.

All right, so give this a try. I am dying to hear how this works for you if this resonates with you. So join joyful ballroom. It’s my free Facebook group. Let’s talk about it in there and give each other help. Give each other tips. I’ll see you guys in there. I’ll link it in the show notes. Thanks for being here today. I’ll catch you next time.

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Hi there,

I'm Amber haider

As an amateur ballroom dancer myself, I understand the issues that come up for dancers, the pressures of competing, and the desire to make the most of my ballroom experience. I also really like to WIN! As a Life Coach by vocation, I have the tools to cut through the mental garbage that is holding you back so that you can maximize your potential. Using my own tools, I have been able to skyrocket my own skills, learn faster, lessen the pressure, win more and have tons more fun. I can show you the way. Here’s a couple tools to get you started:

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