Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bouncing Back - My New Favourite Book on Resilience ...

Hi Everyone!

I'm writing this week's post to the delicate strains of hammers, drills and crashing tiles as a family of local roofers prepare to replace my roof. My body has never liked unexpected, uncontrollably loud drilling noises (likely the remnant of too many dental visits with insufficient freezing) and, normally, I would have left the house for the day but some unexpected commitments have kept me here.

Fortunately, I've been reading Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being by Linda Graham, PhD, MFT, so I have a number of excellent coping strategies at my fingertips to calm jangled nerves.

Published last year and readily available online and at your library, this easy-to-read, resource-rich, and enlightening book draws from the wisdom of ancient contemplative practices, relational psychology and modern neuroscience to teach us how to rewire our innate resilience systems, systems that may have gone astray through early conditioning in less-than-ideal environments.

In introducing her chapter on Losing and Recovering Our Equilibrium, Linda says:

"Keep calm and carry on" was one of the mottoes of the British government during World War II. When we feel we are under siege, ourselves, enduring our own personal version of the bombings during the Blitz, we need to call on the CEO of resilience (the prefrontal cortex of our brains) and use body-based tools (somatic resources) to regulate the progression of worry, fear, and panic in our nervous system that could cause us to freak out or fall apart. The somatic intelligence that flows from a well-functioning prefrontal cortex allows us to stay calm, stay steady in our wise mind, and deal.
That place of calm steadiness that the prefrontal cortex reliably returns us to is a physiological state known in modern neuropsychology as the window of tolerance. This is our baseline state of physiological functioning when we're not frightened, stressed, overtired, or overstimulated. When we're in this window, we're grounded and centred, neither overreacting to other people or life events nor failing to act at all. Being able to meet the storms and struggles of our lives from that place of steadiness, and being able to return quickly to that window when we are pushed out of it, is the somatic prerequisite of resilience.
She goes on to say that her book teaches us how to:

*  Use body-based resources like breath, touch, and movement to quickly return your nervous system from overreaction or shutting down to your baseline equilibrium, the calm that allows you to carry on;
*  Resonate with the calm in someone else's nervous system to calm your own;
*  Use relational resourcing to activate the release of the natural hormone, oxytocin, the fastest-acting mechanism in the human brain to counter the effects of the stress hormone cortisol, and return us to a state of calm and connection;
*  Use body-based tools to rewire old, conditioned responses to your survival reactions, so that they no longer derail your resilience. 

Full of practical, hands-on exercises, this book will soon become a psychological life-saver for anyone recovering from compassion fatigue or other forms of posttraumatic stress. Let me leave you with one of Linda's deceptively simple exercises as an inducement to read the rest of this excellent book:

Resonating with the Calm of Others to Calm Ourselves Down
The next time you're in a situation that might cause your own nervous system to rev up and push you out of your window of tolerance, like flying during a thunderstorm, you can practice picking up the vibe of someone else's calm to keep yourself calm. In this exercise, it's the physical proximity of the calmer person that is helping you regulate your own nervous system, even if the person is not someone you're close to personally. Of course, you can rely on the calm of people who know you well to help yourself calm down, too. You can even use memories of people who care about you and support you to calm yourself.
1.  Pick a partner for this exercise. If you're in a public place, this person may not even know you've chosen her. First, notice and name the stress response in your own body - mild, moderate or severe.
2.  Tune into the calm you can pick up from the other person; synchronize your breathing with hers, if you wish, and receive her calming energy into the energy field of your own body. Continue receiving her calming energy until you feel calm again. 
3.  Reflect on your experience. Notice whatever calming your body was able to do. 

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