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Lesson 21 - Regulating your nervous system for your money

Feb 27, 2024

Do you know how regulated you feel right now? 

What does that even mean? 

What does having a regulated nervous system mean? 

Imagine your body is like a well-managed team, and the nervous system is the communication and coordination system that keeps everything in order.

  • Sensory Input: Your team has "sensors" that detect any changes, like feeling hot or cold. These signals are sent to the brain for processing.
  • Integration: The brain thinks about these signals and figures out what needs to be done. For instance, if you touch something hot, your brain decides to pull your hand away.
  • Motor Output: Once the brain decides on a response, it sends messages to the muscles or other body parts to carry out the action. So, if your brain says, "It's hot!" your muscles move your hand away.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Your team is smart; it learns from experience. If something is still not quite right (like your body temperature being too high), the sensors and brain work together to fix it, just like adjusting the thermostat when a room gets too warm.
  • Homeostasis: The main goal of the team is to keep everything balanced and working well, like a thermostat keeping a room at a comfortable temperature. This ensures your body functions properly.

So, having a regulated nervous system means your body's team is great at sensing, thinking, responding, and keeping everything in balance for you to stay present and function well!

Imagine being able to sense when you are feeling dysregulated and your body knows what to do with that information!? LIFE GOALS!!! 

Even better, imagine when your body/brain start to give you negative messages and you don’t automatically reach for spending to regulate how you feel!?

Let’s geek out a bit with our brain and how our emotions affect our decisions. Did you know that your brain has a system that actually makes your decisions based on your emotions? It’s called the emotional brain. 

When we talk about making choices from our emotional brain, we're referring to decision-making processes influenced by emotions rather than just pure logic. The emotional brain is associated with the limbic system, a set of structures in the brain that play a crucial role in processing emotions and forming memories. Here's an explanation:

  • Emotional Input: The emotional brain is like your personal feelings manager. It reacts to different situations with emotions – happiness, fear, anger, etc. For example, seeing a cute puppy might make you feel happy.
  • Memory and Association: The emotional brain is closely linked to memory. It remembers past experiences and associates them with emotions. If you had a bad experience with a certain food, even the thought of it might trigger a feeling of disgust.
  • Decision-Making: When you're faced with a decision, your emotional brain often plays a part in influencing your choices. For instance, if you have positive emotions associated with a particular food, you might choose it even if there are other logical options.
  • Gut Feeling: Ever had a "gut feeling" about something? That's your emotional brain sending signals. It's not always based on clear logic, but it's a quick, intuitive response that can guide your choices.
  • Influence on Behavior: Emotions can strongly influence your behavior. If you're feeling stressed, you might choose activities or behaviors that provide comfort and relief, even if they're not the most rational choices.
  • Social Connections: The emotional brain also plays a role in social interactions. It helps you understand and respond to the emotions of others, influencing your choices to maintain positive social connections.
  • Balancing with Logic: While the emotional brain is powerful, it doesn't work alone. It often collaborates with the logical, rational parts of the brain (like the prefrontal cortex) to make balanced decisions. Striking a balance between emotions and logic is essential for effective decision-making.

Making choices from the emotional brain involves considering feelings, past experiences, and intuitions. 

We are often making choices about what we are spending money on with our emotional brain, especially if it is an addictive behaviour. 

Does it help support you knowing why you make some of the decisions you do about spending? 

Last year I completed the certification from the Trauma of Money and they have a tool they used called the Window of Regulation: 

Where do you think you land on this scale right now on the window of regulation? 

Falling within 4- 7 is where you are regulated enough and can function in making decisions with your money. 

Our nervous system goes through so much in the day, keep checking in as the day goes on. 

Have you ever had a moment where you spent money and you have no idea what you bought or why you bought what you did? I have. It was one of the most scary moments I have had.

I was sober from alcohol at this point so I wasn’t under the influence of anything, other than I was incredibly stressed out and unhappy. I had a bad day. I was completely dysregulated, I was for sure a 10 on the window of regulation tool. I knew I needed something to feel better. I remember pulling into the parking lot of my drug of choice at the time - Winners ( like TJ Max, Target, Homegoods ) and from there I don’t remember even driving home. I had spent $835.00 on things I don’t remember buying. I got home and my husband looked at my bags and said, “oh you went to winners”. It was that moment I found presence. I was so embarrassed and the shame train starting going pretty fast. I had purchased clothes, shoes and a new comforter for our bed. I went and returned it all the next day. It was a moment I remember so vividly when my husband brought attention to my shopping. I knew that I had a shopping addiction. 

I tell this story because I know that I had no practice AT ALL about regulating my nervous system. Presence when spending money was NON EXISTENT. 

So now that we understand what regulating our nervous system means and I have told my shame inducing story (yes it still brings A LOT of shame but now I know how to deal with those feelings), let’s talk about some tools about how to regulate your nervous system: 

The vagus nerve is like a communication superhero in your body. It's the longest cranial nerve, running from your brainstem down through your neck, chest, and into your abdomen. Imagine the vagus nerve having two branches, like two superheroes working together. One branch is like the "Calm Hero," responsible for promoting relaxation and peace. The other is the "Alert Hero," ready to step in when you face challenges or stress. Simple actions like taking slow, deep breaths can activate the "Calm Hero” and slow down the “Alert Hero”, the “Alert Hero” can have a rest! 

Activating your vagus nerve is a signal to your body that everything is okay, and it's time to relax, which helps regulate your nervous system. 

Here is a great article that gives you some incredible exercises and explanation of your vagus nerve: 

Vagus Nerve Stimulation How-To (And 8 Exercises to Try)

Some of the things they mention in this article are: 

Physical ways to activate vagus nerve: 

  • Gargling: Gargle with water in the morning and evening when you brush your teeth. Aim for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • Singing: Doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune (or make dogs howl with your pitch), turn on your favorite song and belt it out.
  • Om-ing: Yes, the same om associated with yoga practice . Sitting in a quiet space, chant a long “om.” You should feel a vibration around the ears, which will connect to the vagus nerve. A study in the International Journal of Yoga found that chanting ‘om’ was helpful in deactivating certain parts of the limbic system in the brain involved in stress and emotional responses, such as the amygdala.
  • Laughing: Watch a funny TV show or movie and actually LOL at the funny parts. Or, get together with that friend who you always get giggly with to get in an extra good laugh. 

Some psychological exercises could be: 

  • Gratitude journaling: Sit down before bed or when you wake up and write down three things you’re grateful for, whether they’re big (your family) or small (that nourishing oat milk latte this morning). Repeat this daily, weekly, or a cadence that feels right for you to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Deep breathing: The Box Breath is one breathing exercise that D’Elia Assenza likes. (Also called a square breath.) Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4. Repeat as many times as you need. Deep breathing tricks your body into thinking, “I can’t possibly be running for my life if I’m breathing this slowly.”
  • Meditating: Meditating can take many forms and does not have to be long and drawn out, but “contemplative practices,” such as meditation and yoga, have been found to bring calm, in part, by activating the vagus nerve, according to research . Spend five minutes on an app like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer for short guided meditations.
  • Exposing yourself to things that are beautiful, such as a sunset, spending time in nature , looking at pretty pictures, or playing with your pets: Anything that brings forth positive emotion will help activate your happy place. 

A really beautiful spiritual tool I use is the RAIN technique that was made by Tara Brach. This is one of the biggest tools I use to regulate my nervous system. 

The acronym for RAIN means: 

R - Recognize (name it)

A - Allow (experience it, let it be present)

I - Investigate (deepening attention to why this is happening)

N- Nurture (Bring in self compassion)

Here is a great resource from Tara’s website if you want to understand this more:

I love the acronym of RAIN as I find it takes me from one end of the Window of Regulation to the other! 

Another tool I use is extremely simple, I often will just simply ask myself, What do I need RIGHT NOW? What would feel NOURISHING to me right now. What does my nervous system need right now? What does my heart need? 

Even if you start with these questions to start to be present to what is happening within yourself body, mind and spirit. You have to start somewhere ❤️

Let’s create calm and presence within ourselves so we can start to feel excited about the decisions we are making about money!