Transcript for Episode 5: Self-Regulation is a Limited Resource

Allison Sweatman & Andrea Coston

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Here’s the transcript for episode 005 of the Trauma-Informed Everything podcast:

I’m Allison and I’m Andie and welcome to trauma informed everything.

On this podcast we examine how trauma shapes our individual family and societal experiences. We demystify trauma and promote a world of trauma informed everything because like it or not trauma informed everything. As always remember our disclaimer? Everything we say is for informational purposes only, and nothing on this show is meant to replace treatment from a licensed mental health professional. Thanks for listening and enjoy the show.

Andie, what’s your favorite book about trauma? Seriously, do you even have to ask? I mean, Allison, do you even know me? Well, what’s mine


I mean, exactly. That’s what I thought. Okay. Okay, how about this? On the count of three? We’re both gonna say our favorite trauma book. Cool. Cool. Yeah. Okay. All right. Ready? 123 the body keeps the score. I know, right? Oh, good. No. It took me months to finish because there was so much good stuff to absorb and learn and fly. Yes, me too. That’s why when I recommend it to people, I tell them to take their time. It’s gonna be a lot. You know what I mean? Oh, totally. Oh, wait, wait, wait, here’s an idea. Here’s how I did hear me out. Okay. Okay. You ready? Pretty good.

Let’s let’s you and I get some folks together to read a process and apply the concepts from the body keeps the score. Hey, why don’t we

Start in the fall. Oh, that sounds like a good idea. Okay, okay, but seriously, y’all. This book is thick. It’s important, and it’s key for understanding trauma in the real world. That’s why we’re choosing it for our first ever fall book club starting this September. We’ll have regular online gatherings printables to help you process while you read journal prompts, and more. We want you to get the most out of this incredibly important piece of trauma research, so we’ll be there with you every step of the way. To sign up, click the link in the notes for this show or go to Allison Sweatman comm slash fall book club.

Welcome back to trauma informed everything. Today we are talking about the nervous system even more, we just had a episode about the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system and today we’re going to talk about regulation and co regulation.

Have those nervous systems? And I just want to ask you, Andie, how is your nervous system today?

It is ready to engage.

No, I had no sleep last night. So when I have no sleep I am my sympathetic nervous system is on deck is the best way to describe it. Yep. Ready to go? Hmm, how about you, Allison? Oh, I’m a little better. I started the day with a mishap spilling my coffee all over myself and having to make more coffee. And so I think that initial stressor might have been, you know, influencing my nervous system, but I have since calmed down and recovered, so I think I’m doing good. So maybe, maybe I as a more regulated presence can help you co regulate as we record this. Your voice is already soothing. I feel like I don’t like the calm app.


Close your eyes.

Take a deep cleansing breath. No, I’m just kidding. Hey, if you want those meditations, check out the Patreon. We have a really good meditation on there right now. Well, let’s jump in. So like I said, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are what we talked about in the previous episode. So that is Episode Four. If you want to go get a little primer and check that out. Definitely go have a listen. So in short, though, what nervous system do we want to be in or have activated the most? parasympathetic, the parasympathetic gives us the ability to rest and digest. And overall just regulate and stay in a good place, just feeling good, not feeling like we have to be in fight, flight, freeze or fun, which those are the reactions that help us survive, and that’s the sympathetic but the parasympathetic is the goal. And so we wrapped up

The last episode by telling you some ways that you can activate your parasympathetic to help you rest. And so when we talk about the parasympathetic, a lot of times the language that we use is regulation versus, you know, rest. It’s not that you have to be like taking a nap or having a night’s sleep, you can you can regulate. And a lot of times what we’re feeling when we regulate is our parasympathetic nervous system kicking in. Before we talk about co regulation, we have to talk about self regulation, that’s kind of the the goal of all of this is to be able to regulate oneself. And when we talk about self regulation, we’re not just talking about one specific type of regulation, but we’re talking about emotions and behaviors. And those often go very hand in hand, which is, I think, pretty obvious, and also thought regulation we’re talking about but that’s a lot harder to observe. Like, I can’t read your mind, Andie

I don’t think you want

to be up.

But your thoughts do affect your behaviors by way of your emotions. So we’re going to talk about emotional effect, which just means what emotions you’re showing on the outside. And then behavior is just whatever comes along with those emotions, whatever you do in response to them. So self regulation is necessary to participate in society. That I think is pretty obvious.

Yes, you can’t be in the customer service line and go on a full on Ranger. Right. Right. That indicates a lack of self regulation. Yeah. So to participate in society. That’s this is why we have boundaries and laws and these ideas of what’s socially acceptable and not socially acceptable in terms of how you behave to other humans. And, you know, to be honest, some laws and boundaries have been made.

Because of one person in power, or one group of people in power, who decided, you know, based on their, their own beliefs, that that should be a law of the land, but there are a lot, a lot of laws, a lot of widely accepted, acceptable and not acceptable behaviors and boundaries that are good to have because they tell us, hey, you can’t hurt that person that way. You can’t treat that person that way. And it requires self regulation to keep us from doing that. So it’s important to remember that self regulation is a limited resource. Would you agree, Andie? Um, yes, because I’m running on low sleep. So I know right now that my self regulation is a limited resource, which is fine today because I only have one kid at home today. So I might be able to make it. Yeah. So you can adjust you can like and adjust. You can adjust your life to the fact that you’re already starting out the day with

reserves. And I think you know, as parents, we do this every morning we wake up and you can kind of adjust your, your schedule your day, depending on what your kids need. Like you can tell when your kid is going to have a rougher day or you’re going to have a rough day. And we naturally we’ll plan our days or adjust our days, because we inherent like we instinctually know, are my reserves low or can we

do a lot today and that’s a positive coping mechanism is what that is, I mean, adjusting your expectations for the day, you’re figuring out what is in your control and adjusting accordingly because you know, hey, my kids having a really rough day, so I’m more likely to have a rough day. That is going to require more of my reserves. So you can you know, maybe postpone a meeting or something like that, or make box macaroni and cheese

To change the meal plan or order out if you’re able to order out. So that is a, I would say, a positive coping mechanism for limited reserves. So let’s talk about an example. When I say that your thoughts, emotions and behaviors are all connected in terms of your ability to regulate them, and then that ability to regulate them is a limited resource, you have limited reserves in any given day with which from which to draw on those reserves. Then, let me give you an example of what a day might look like to just and I’m going to give you an example with an adult and then with the child because when we talk about regulation, that is something we learn beginning in infancy and it continues throughout life. I would like to jump in here and say, I believe that it begins in utero.

Yes, say more about that needy. So when we are in the womb,

Our heartbeats are literally regulated by our mother’s heartbeat and what she eats affects us how she breathes affects us. If our mother is, you know, stressed, then we as an infant will receive more cortisol where if she has a very calm and peaceful pregnancy, then we’ll receive more serotonin. And this affects how we as a developing baby, learn to regulate or be dysregulated. Absolutely, absolutely. And so that reminds me of something else. That’s really important. If you go looking for any research, any studies related to co regulation, the way that we measure regulation is with something called RSA, which is respiratory sinus arrhythmia, which is just the way that your heart rate and your respiration sync up. And so, whenever we measure the CO regulation ability between two people at all, but especially

Between a parent and child, which is where most of the research lives.

That is what we’re talking about. So you’re absolutely right. The the method of measuring the ability to co regulate is something that can be measured in utero so absolutely begins in utero. That’s, that’s a really good point. So here’s an example for an adult, we’re going to start with an adult. So you wake up in the morning, you go to work, you’re 10 minutes late. And your boss gripes at you, like first thing in the morning for being just 10 minutes late. So this leads that that leads to thoughts of self loathing, maybe anxiety over losing your job. And these thoughts, you start to maybe, you know, quell them a little bit, you start to have some control over them, and then you can’t regulate them anymore. It leads to you having those thoughts throughout the day. And then you get in the car to leave work and you feel as though you might just really break down because of

how stressful The day was after that initial set off, but you are able to hold yourself together. So on the way home, you decide to pick up your favorite dinner, and you go to the restaurant, you get it and you bring it home and you realize they gave you completely the wrong order. It’s not even something that you like to eat. And so you throw the meal in the trash, you take a deep breath, and you try to calm down. And then you go to take a shower, like you go to take a hot shower to try to calm down that I would say as a positive coping mechanism, right? You go to take a shower, and your hot water has been turned off in that moment, you realize you forgot to pay the gas bill. And so all of these things add up all of these factors in your life add up and all the regulation reserves that you have had been spent on keeping it together when all of those things happen. And so what might happen next would be a behavior that normally you can reign in that you’ve been trying to control. And maybe that behavior is binge eating, maybe that behavior

Is bingeing TV and honestly, sometimes I think binge watching Netflix can be a positive coping mechanism, if it is like, if it is a conscious decision, but in this moment, it’s like you have that’s not something that you believe will even help you right? So but you just do it kind of almost mindlessly. Maybe it’s texting an ex that you swore you wouldn’t ever text or calling again. And no, you know, it’s destructive to reach out to them. But you do it anyway. Because these behaviors, these thoughts, these emotions have been regulated throughout the day as best as you possibly can. And then you get to the end of the day and your reserves for regulating are gone. So you reach for a behavior. You don’t necessarily reach for a behavior, maybe with a coping mechanism, but you participate in a behavior that normally you would be able to regulate. But you just do it. And it’s because you don’t have those regulating reserves left. The way that we can prove this is think about at noon that day at noon.

That day if you had a thought to text your ex you absolutely would not have done it you would have been like that’s ridiculous and you would have kept yourself in check you can regulate that behavior. But at the end of the day like that you’re less likely to regulate it. So just go to bat.

My dad had a saying growing up and and he it came out during like the teen years, and it was nothing good happens after 10pm Yes, it’s because those those stores are gone. Yeah, we’re exhausted. We’re tired. We make dumb decisions. I mean, yeah, texting your ex. That’s never did that in my youth. I still text my ex but he’s like in bed next to me. So it’s fine.

Let’s be clear. Let’s be clear. I was your ex now. He’s your okay. Yeah. Now he’s my husband.

We had a we were on a break. Okay.

Yes, yes. all that to say this is neurological.

As well this is not just like, like when I talk about reserves I’m talking about actual capacity in the brain to regulate and keep you from engaging in behaviors that you know are not acceptable or that are harmful for yourself or others.

Hi, friends Allison here. Our Patreon community is growing and it is so exciting. Andie and I are sharing weekly resources meditations journal prompts, and even a morning show called allien Edie in the morning, community, anyone? If you know, you know, anyway, we would love for you to join us. We’ve got three tiers that offer you fantastic value, whatever your budget, just go to patreon.com slash trauma informed everything. It’s felt just like the show, so it’s easy to find. You can also find a link in the show notes right in your app. I’ll see you there.

So another example. And this is really common when we talk about foster care and adoption. And that is this phenomenon and it’s treated like a phenomenon, but it has a really good answer. And the answer is self regulation stores. And that is when a child in foster care or who has been adopted, goes to school for the day and they tend to do okay at school, even though there’s like some trauma, maybe some potential triggers throughout the day, but they keep it together, they hold it together. That’s the language we use throughout the day, and then they get home to just completely break down like emotions, behaviors, it just completely all goes out the window, and they just start maybe acting out in ways that are that would be unacceptable no matter what environment they’re in, but it’s happening at home. It doesn’t happen at school and a lot of times the conflict there the rub is that people don’t believe the the foster parents or like the support

Is not there because the child doesn’t exhibit that behavior in other places. And so this is not something the child necessarily has control over because self regulation stores run out and they use them all. They spent them all, if you will, by the end of the day, by the end of the school day, so then they get home. And it all comes out on the adoptive parent or the foster parent.

And so this can actually be a good thing. If you want to frame it this way. And if it’s helpful to frame it this way, it in terms of attachment and trust, this means something good It’s not easy, and it’s not a good thing to experience but in terms of attachment and trust, it indicates trust and felt safety, which is huge, huge. When you have a child who is exploding at school. Well no thank you doing well at school coming home in an exploding This is This means that that place that home

Those people have become safe to them.

And it’s so hard in that moment to especially if those coping skills that they have or you know, what comes out sideways when they get home is violent or harmful to others in the family, it can be very difficult because you have to set boundaries and you have to protect the other people in the home. Mm hmm. But you also need to acknowledge that that child is in pain. There are techniques there are things you can do in that moment to give outlets like I had a friend who gave her son, some, some outlets for his anger that were perfectly safe. They got this role of perforated paper and he could rip it off and crumble it up and throw it as hard as he wanted to, you know, and they and they just acknowledging, hey, we know you need to get this out. Let’s go in here.

And they were with him, and you can throw you can even throw this ball of paper at me it’s not gonna hurt me, you know, and it’s not like we’re doing this in jest like this is not funny you know. But this is an outlet for you This is acknowledgement of the fact that you are angry these emotions and these behaviors are coming out.

And I understand it and because I understand it, I want to help you do it in a way that’s safe to yourself and to the other members of the household. And there there are so many other things too, a lot of times it’s just sensory seeking. So at the end of the day, they know they’ve been they’ve a child has been trained or taught that they can’t,

they can’t fulfill their sensory needs in school so they get home and a lot of times those behaviors are literally just a need for sensory input. And so things like weighted blankets or little like swaddle type things are good for younger kids. Well older than you would think a child would

Want to be swaddled but it actually can make their bodies you know, come back whenever they have just like flipped flipped their lid as we say. So lots of different things can be going on there. And also it doesn’t have to just be school we should say that that’s that’s what people normally talk about is the child held it together at school but say they go to grandparents for a day every week. Yeah, the grandparent is like, well, he’s never like that for me.

I don’t ever see that and, and it’s just like

it’s important. It’s important that we know that’s perfectly normal and we or whoever is the parent or the primary caregiver does not have to feel badly about the fact that their child doesn’t show those behaviors for grandma or the babysitter or whoever. It’s not something that you have to feel bad about like down on yourself as a parent.

You can’t be bummed about it because it does suck. Sometimes

you have every right to be bummed about it. But it’s important to know that that does not mean you’re failing as a parent, it actually means the opposite. If your child is acting out in your home again, you’re the safe place. elephant. I want to go back real quick. You were talking about sensory seeking, or the sensory when they get home, you know, sometimes that looks like they need sensory output. And so I know, foster parents and you know, kids who have this dysregulation, it can be ADHD or odd or trauma, but they will purposely when the child comes out of school or comes back schedule, a sensory output, like

whether it’s a sport, or even when they get home, they have to ride their bike.

I know. I have heard of a story where one

sent a book I read this, this boy would come home from school and he would

Turn on screamo music and jam out on his drums. Mm hmm. And in the mom, she didn’t agree with the music. She didn’t like the noise. But she knew it was what he needed. Mm hmm. And he would walk out an hour later and, you know, be able to cope the rest of the evening. Mm hmm. I really love that example, because it shows that we have to sometimes compromise on the things that we find to be acceptable.

So that we can see just the humanity of the children that we’re raising and there and see them meeting their needs for being okay. As exactly that and not as defiance just for the sake of defiance, or just negative behaviors, or anything that just makes us feel anxious.

comfortable. I mean, I think of like, kids who have sensory needs for chewing. What are they chewing on? Like, I had a child who we went through with, literally for a while we were going through a shirt every day. Because the collar and the sleeves would be torn to shreds. Mm hmm. And so things that, you know, we as parents would be like, Oh, come on, why are you doing that and you’d get frustrated. You’re literally spending money on clothing.

You know, kids who have temper tantrums in the middle of a grocery store. You know, these kids are seeking, they’re overwhelmed. If they’re grocery shopping, they don’t want to be there. They’re bored. The lights maybe overstimulating to them the noise. And so you have this child. I mean, I have older children who get overwhelmed at the grocery, I get overwhelmed at the grocery.

Exactly. Yeah, you can walk out with like half the cart full of tequila.


bad choices when I’m overwhelmed.

Yeah. So this just goes to show you that this whole idea of holding it together throughout the day, when you are in fight or flight, especially if we’re talking about a child who’s been through trauma, who’s been holding it together throughout the day they get home. And really

finding that outlet for that pent up frustration can be important for just transitioning into what could be a time of regulation as a family. And so all that to say, adults and children as well for both for both. We have limited reserves of that self regulation that we ourselves can draw on throughout the day. But there are strategies to employ so that children and adults I think a lot of times we we talked about this with children, but we don’t talk about it enough with adults. There are strategies

For you to keep yourself from unnecessarily spending those self regulation reserves, because unfortunately, we don’t have control over everything that causes us to spend those reserves like, like, for instance, in that story, the the boss, no control over whether or not the boss is going to be a jerk, you know, and, and all these other things and sometimes thoughts if we’re a person whose thoughts can race, we might not have as much control, like our reserves might not be able to come in and help us control those thoughts and regulate those thoughts. So all that to say what we can control is routine. Right? So like we can give ourselves routine. Yes, a lot of times those regulation, reserves are spent on just making decisions like executive functioning throughout the day. So if you can have enough decisions the night before, you can have enough decisions made for you the next day. And I know this sounds so Elementary, but it’s true, as many decisions as possible for the first time

hours of your day, if they can be made ahead of time, so that it’s a little more turnkey, so that there’s no reserves being used on choosing what to wear, choosing what to have for breakfast, all of those things, then that can help you save those regulation reserves for when the boss is a jerk, or your favorite meal is wrong from your favorite restaurant or things like that, that you have no control over. Mm hmm. And so we talked about that with kids a lot, but I don’t think we talked about it enough with adults. Is there anything like that that you do for yourself, Andie? I need to do more. Hmm, yeah, I’m reminding myself of how much I need to do. I have I struggle with this. This is if you’re listening and you don’t know me, I am adopted and I have trauma. So regulating my schedule, regulating my reserves, in appropriate amounts has always been a struggle for me. I have several diagnoses that make this a struggle for me as well. And so there are

Things that I have naturally built in to keep myself regulated. One of those things is that I am not a morning person, but just naturally My body is not a morning person. So as much as I can, I will make sure that in the morning I have time to wake up. So I’m not you know, jumping in the shower and rushing to get the kids to school and automatically jumping into a stressful situation. I kind of like prep myself for the day. drink my coffee slowly so that when we jump into the day is routine. I’m ready for it. I love that. I love that. I think that’s so huge to know yourself. It doesn’t have to be that you plan out what you’re going to wear what you’re going to eat all of that. But just to know what you need to be okay even if hits the fan first thing in the morning with the chit once the children arrive like you


there’s four of them. So the possibility the probability of one of them.

Having a bad morning is pretty good. Absolutely. So I think that’s great. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about is just knowing that on any given day, it’s going to be limited. So what can I do to kind of get ahead of that?

That’s our show for today. If you enjoyed the show, please take a moment to rate and review it on your podcast platform. Yes, please do this helps others find the show and we would be really grateful. So if you have any questions for us, please send them to us at trauma informed everything@gmail.com. And we just might answer them in the future during our q&a segment. Thanks for joining us and remember, trauma informed everything and we really do mean everything

Transcribed by https://otter.ai