236 Tuning into Your Nervous System to Avoid Burnout with Michelle Grosser

Tuning into Your Nervous System to Avoid Burnout with Michelle Grosser


Discover how to manage overwhelm and foster productivity without the descent into burnout, as I welcome Michelle Grosser, a former trial attorney turned life coach, into the fold. With a focus on the critical importance of a regulated nervous system, Michelle unravels the intricate tapestry of our internal workings.. From awareness to implementation, she arms us with three tangible tools to help steer the nervous system back on track, ensuring a harmonious blend of high efficiency and calm composure.

In this episode, we cover:

  • How our bodies’ natural fight or flight responses can leave us feeling immobile in the face of stress
  • Actionable strategies such as breathwork, mindful movement, and soothing temperature changes to signal safety to our bodies and restore cognitive and emotional function

Connect with Michelle:

Mentioned in the episode:
Exclusive "Heal Your Burnout" private podcast: www.michellegrosser.com/burnout
Call Mom weekly podcast: www.michellegrosser.com/podcast


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Megan 00:00
Hey friends, I have a real treat for you today with our guest. I love sharing very pragmatic tactical tips that we can do to help us stay less overwhelmed, to ultimately get the things done that we want to get done. But Michelle is going to come in and actually talk about our nervous system and how it plays in to overwhelm, to not feeling productive and, most importantly, she is going to share three tools. You can pick which one of the three that you can start using today, any time you're feeling overwhelmed. Welcome to the Work Life Harmony podcast.

I'm your host, Megan Sumrell. I'm the creator of the top program and top planner teaching all things time management, organization and productivity for women. I'm also a mom and wife and, just like you, I'm juggling hashtag all the things while running multiple businesses and a family. And guess what? You don't have to feel constantly overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out. There is another way. When you have the right systems and tools to plan and manage your time, you can live a life of harmony. This is your show to learn from me and other amazing women how to master your time, planning an organization to skyrocket your productivity so you can have work life harmony. If you're ready to stop feeling overwhelmed. This is the show for you, and if you're new here, I'd love to get you started with my work life harmony assessment. All you have to do is DM me on Instagram at Megan Sumrell, with the word harmony, and my team will send it right over.

Hey, everyone, welcome back to Work Life Harmony. I am really excited to introduce you all to Michelle today. I talk a lot about productivity. I talk a lot about tips and strategies to help us not feel so overwhelmed, but I really take things very much from a pragmatic, tactical systems and processes thing. But there's a lot of brain science and things that are going on inside of our bodies that can support us with that, which is where Michelle is an expert in the space. So welcome to the show, michelle. I would love for you to kind of explain to everyone what you do and a little bit about your work.

Michelle 02:04
Sure, thanks so much for having me. So I am Michelle Grocer, I'm a mom and a wife and I live with my family in Miami and for the better part of the last I guess 12 years now, I've been a practicing trial attorney, so someone who has very much been in my brain of productivity and logic and analyzing and all of these things and loving the tasks and all of this stuff. And then, right at the beginning of the pandemic, I kind of had this moment where I really started for the first time asking myself if the practice of law was something that I actually wanted to be doing or if I was doing it for so many other reasons and was noticing this trend that, like myself, so many other moms were really feeling overwhelmed and marriages on the rocks and trying to homeschool and write all the stuff we were all going through and I was like man, how can I be part of the solution?

And I had zero experience in any of this space. So I'm like I'm going to take a course about how to become a life coach, just so I can kind of get some tools to really help some women. And I went into it thinking it was going to be very much like law school, like I would just learn some rules and I could help women with anything. Execute yeah, that's right. And it was a year long program. And I tell you what I went into that thing and my whole world was turned upside down, every single paradigm. I held all the labels that I thought around what was good, bad, strong, weak, productive, unproductive Just really an invitation for me to look at that from a different lens.

And when I realized is I was in such a deep burnout because of what I thought was productive and how I thought I had to show up in order to be quote, unquote productive. And I had two small kids and as I started to learn about burnout and all these different ways it was manifesting in my body physical symptoms, emotional symptoms. The underlying theme was all in our nervous system. So I just got really curious about the nervous system. I spent a whole year studying just the nervous system and since then for the past I guess three or four years now I've been teaching high achieving women how to regulate their nervous systems, really to help them combat anxiety and overwhelm and burnout so they can show up way more powerfully in all of their spaces, actually be more productive in a way that is sustainable With a regulated nervous system. So that's what I'm teaching and what I'm passionate about, and it's what we're going to talk about today.

Megan 04:44
Oh, I love that and one of the things that really piqued my interest. I mean, I am a huge believer in mindset work. I love seeing that we're talking about this more, especially for women, especially for moms, but I think that in some cases I see the pendulum swinging too far over that. The key to productivity is mindset work and only mindset work, whereas I think there's a lot of things that come at play, and so I love that you say mindset work is, while it's great, is not always enough to help us with productivity. So what do you mean when you talk about that, and what else do we need to be considering?

Michelle 05:26
Yeah, so that's really good. I think two things are coming to mind. The first thing is that there are three stages or three levels to change. So if we want to see any change in our life ie if it's increased productivity or implementing a new system or whatever it is any sort of change there's three things that we've got to do. So the first thing is we have to have an awareness that we desire to change, right. Unless we have an awareness that things are going to change, awareness always precedes choice. Right? We can't intervene in a world that we can't see. So that's first. So we know something's not working, we want to change it, and then the second step is we have to gather information on how we want to change. And man, we are so good at that.

Megan 06:06
Right, we actually got a dope stay there forever, a proud one.

Michelle 06:09
Stay there forever, right, it feels really good. We listen to all the podcasts and we read all the books and we buy all the planners and we do all the things, and so many of us aren't seeing the change because we get stuck in that spot and we don't go to step three, which is that we've got to take action. Right, so that's how our depth actually implement this stuff. We actually have to get uncomfortable. We actually have to change things up. So I think that's the first part around mindsets. We can have the right mindset IED and step two and understand conceptually all of these things, but we've got to take action and so often we struggle taking action because of the state of our nervous system. So when we have a better understanding of how our nervous system functions, it really allows us to understand the role that mindset plays.

But then what else is going on in our body? So what's so fascinating and this really changed a lot for me is that when we talk about our nervous system, 80% of the nerves in our body are what we call afferent nerves. That means that 80% of the messaging going on in our system is going from the bottom up, so from our body up to our brain. So if our body, for some reason, is sensing that something is going to be uncomfortable or unfamiliar or unsafe or difficult or whatever, 80% of the messaging being sent up to our brain is no stop procrastinate, this is too much, we're going to do this later, or whatever that is Because it's bottom up.

Megan 07:41
it means it's going all the way through.

Michelle 07:45
So if we're only doing mindset work, that leaves that remaining 20% of our nervous system, that's top down from our brain down to our body. So that's why, if you think even of I mean procrastination is a great example of that you can say all the things man, I got to get this done today. Get off the couch, michelle, stop scrolling, michelle, or whatever it is. If your body's not on board with that messaging that's a four to one tug of war You're going to lose most of the time.

Think about it, even in our somatic cues. If you've ever been really nervous before having to public what do you mean by somatic our body-based cues of what's going on in our body, right? So a subatic cue that we're feeling uncomfortable might need that. Our heart starts racing where palms get sweaty or we notice our voice kind of gets shaky, we can have the mindset to be like Michelle, you're prepared for this speech, it's gonna go great, nothing's gonna happen, right? You've done this a hundred times. But if our body is not on board with that, we can say all of those things and that doesn't necessarily call us right down because we think that our body doesn't speak a verbal language.

So we can have these mindset things and these affirmations and say all of these things, but our body does not understand words. Our body communicates differently. Our body communicates through sound, through movement, through gentle and appropriate touch, through breath. So having tools in our back pocket we have the mindset work 20% it's very important. And having tools to communicate safety to our body brings our body to regulation. And when you have both of those factors interplaying to send messaging of like hey, it's go time, we got this, have access to the parts of my brain that let me fix straight and show up and get stuff done, that is powerful.

Megan 09:40
Oh, I love this, so I always go straight to the very pragmatic, tangible systems. All of that and one of the ones that most of my listeners are probably familiar with is my signature three step ditch the overwhelm process. That is a very tactical. Here's what we can do when we're feeling overwhelmed, but I know you said there's some body work that we can be doing when we're overwhelmed. To support that as well. So is there anything that you can share with everyone that they can be thinking about to bring into that process?

Michelle 10:08
Yeah, sure. So overwhelm is interesting because our nervous system operates in three different circuits, so we have an understanding of each of these circuits and we can recognize when we're operating in these different circuits. Then we can do something about it when we're noticing that we're feeling overwhelmed. So one of the circuits if you think about a car and pushing the gas pedal that's called our sympathetic nervous system. Right, that's when we're feeling real.

Megan 10:39
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Michelle 10:39
Yeah, so like inches, all this, inches energy or this really like maybe anger or edginess or irritability, but it's like this really active.

Megan 10:47
That's what I default to.

Michelle 10:49
Yeah, sure. So we feel jittery right. And then there's another circuit that we call our dorsal vagal circuit and that's like kind of like the bridge right. So when we hit.

Megan 11:01
That's how I say people fear. Paralyzed, because you're an overwhelm, you don't do anything, and so this is what that is okay, interesting. So, we would dip in that or dissociate.

Michelle 11:09
This is when we're in a deep level of burnout right, or just be uneven function. But what happens when we're stuck in a state of overwhelm Is we're actually stuck between those two circuits. That's why overwhelm is so paralyzing, but we have all of this energy that comes up. It's the gas and the breaker being pushed to the floor at this time and it's so frustrating because we have all of the stuff we wanna do and we have all this sympathetic energy and it's like I got so much to do today but I'm still gonna sit here and I've been on my phone for 20 minutes just doing nothing and I don't even know where to start. So that's an understanding of what overwhelm is doing in our body. So, yes, having-.

Megan 11:47
I really want our listeners to even rewind and go back and hear that again, because everyone women in particular they always think it's their fault, I'm doing something wrong, what's wrong with me? And I love everything that you shared. Actually, your body is doing 100% what it's designed to do. There's nothing wrong with you on why you can't get going when you're overwhelmed and all of that, and so I think you sharing that is so important because now it's almost like oh, okay, well, great, I'm normal, my body's doing everything it's supposed to do. So now that we know that, now we can be like okay, well, then let me learn what I can do to help my body, that's great, that's right, it's a biologically appropriate response.

Michelle 12:31
Right, yeah, but here's the thing is that the way in which our body was designed to function I mean, just think about it through evolution, right, I don't know, thousands of years ago, we experienced a stressor.

So, let's say, it's like, I don't know, we're running from a tide or a line or something, and our body shoots us into that activating energy, into that sympathetic nervous system. We got to hit the gas and we're gonna fight or we're gonna run right, fight or flight. What happens, then is we actually had to do that. We actually had to fight the right, the pure stressor. And then, all of a sudden, eventually, right, the stressor would dissipate, you would escape, you would defeat the line, whatever it was, you would process it with your family, you would eat a hot meal, you would sleep and your body would return back to baseline stress level. And that's how a healthy nervous system functions. We experience a stressor, we can respond appropriately to the stressor. It goes away, we come back to baseline stress level. However, now, as a working mom in 2024, we're under chronic stress yeah, never stop.

Megan 13:30
And it's not a line, a line, a line, a line, a line.

Michelle 13:32
Right, it's the deadlines and the kids and the financial issues and the health issues and all the shuns and all the expectations that we put on ourselves. So we get into this sympathetic state but we don't have the tools to come back to baseline stress level, to signal to our body hey, you don't have to run from a threat anymore, you're safe. So that's what we want to have tools for. When we're in overwhelm, it's just, we're just signaling to our body. It's okay to come out of a stress response. You don't have to respond to anything in this moment. You're gonna be okay. You don't have to respond to this email right now or you know that thing bad's gonna happen, whatever it is. So let's talk about what some of those tools might be.

The easiest one that you can use anywhere is really just your breath. We have it everywhere that we go. It's discrete. So really just paying attention right, noticing a lot of this stuff, just bringing your awareness to it, will be very regulating to your nervous system. How am I breathing? Right, if I'm feeling overwhelmed and my breathing is very shallow and very quick, that signaling to my system that there's something going on here for stress? But if I can slow my breathing down. If I can breathe from my belly and not from my chest, that signals to my body hey, there's no threat here. We can get to a place where we can leave that alone and put all our other systems that aren't just for survival into action and we can access our highest levels of communication and empathy and compassion and logic and all of these different things that we can't really access when we're in fight or flight.

So one of the most powerful breaths and you only really need to do this two or three times and it can bring huge amounts of regulation to your system is called a physiological breath. And what happens is you breathe in through your nose as deep as you can to breathe all the way in, and when it feels like you're at the end, you do one more really deep breath to fill all of the blood and then you breathe out through your mouth very slowly. Man, you do that two or three times and through your nose as much as you can. One more deep breath and out through your mouth. Do that a few times and you'll notice the difference in the state of your nervous system.

Movement is really powerful. So for me, one of the ways that I find that helps to regulate my nervous system when I'm feeling overwhelmed. So this is simple stuff. You guys Dance, like put on your favorite song and two minutes shaking around and watch. Then you sit back down at your desk and you're like I got this right, I'm gonna bust it.

Gotta do today and it's so different. But you're just releasing and discharging a lot of that pent up energy in your system that allows it to regulate Temperature. Change can be really powerful in regulating your nervous system. So that's why sometimes, you know, a hot bath can be very soothing. Or if you find that you need like a little pep of energy, cold right, eating something cold, drinking something cold, even taking a bag of like frozen peas out of your freezer and holding it on the back of your neck will activate your vagus nerve, which brings a sense of regulation to your system. So you know you can Google regulation resources. I have a whole list, but the key is not to have 700 things that I can do when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Megan 16:42
Because then you're gonna be overwhelmed on which one to handle.

Michelle 16:45
Yeah, but to have two or three things in your back pocket and you're like man, this works for my body and my system, helps me get to where I need to be, to think straight and do what I got it to.

Megan 16:56
Oh my gosh, I love that. So for folks that are familiar with my three step to two-year-old process, I feel like now we might need to make it four steps, Step one being. Pick one of these, whether it's the breath, whether it's the temperature change, or whether you need to put on your favorite tune and jam out for a few minutes before you jump in to step one. I could see that being a massive game changer for everybody. Oh my gosh, I have learned so much today from you. Again, I can get sucked into the studying of mindset that I've studied a lot on the brain science behind productivity, but never this connection with our actual nervous system and where that fits in. So for folks that are interested in learning more about this, where would you send them? What are some great you mentioned? You have some resources to help with all of this.

Michelle 17:49
Yeah, so I host a podcast called the Call Mom and the whole podcast. We just had Megan on the podcast, but the whole podcast is about learning how to regulate your nervous system. So I teach tools. Twice a week we're on there giving you practical tools and handles, like we just talked about, to help you regulate your nervous system. And then we have a private podcast. It's called Heal your Burnout. So for those of you that have experienced burnout or are curious, if you're experiencing burnout, you can also find that at the Call Mom podcast there's a link in all the show notes to access five part private podcast called Heal your Burnout. And then you can find me on michellegrocercom or on Instagram at michellegrocercoach.

Megan 18:35
Oh, fantastic, we've got all the links in the show notes below there and I love. When I found your podcast and like just the title alone the Call Mom already like I just felt like this, you know, like this breath of okay, like I can be relaxed, we got this, we can do this. So even that alone, I think, is enough to help reframe a little bit of how we're navigating day to day life. So, thank you, and I'm sure none of you listening will be surprised to know that I think my default is going to be putting on a pink song, cause she's my favorite, and dancing it out a little bit anytime. I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Michelle 19:17
But I love that. Perfect on brand yes, very much.

Megan 19:22
All right, thanks so much, Michelle. Getting on top of all things time management, organization and productivity doesn't have to stop just because this episode is over. If you want one tap access to all of my training and current top podcasts, go to the app store or Google Play and download the Pink Bee app. It's one word, the Pink Bee. It is jam packed with simple yet powerful tips and strategies to get you out of overwhelm and end to harmony. And if you have a question you want me to cover on a future episode, go to iTunes and ask your question in the podcast review section. And while you're there, don't forget to leave a five star review, Thank you.


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