How to Find Resilience and Well-being in Times of Coronavirus
In these times of global lockdown as the novel coronavirus sweeps through the world, it’s more important than ever for us to understand how stress impacts us and how we can mitigate its effect on our health.
In this conversation with Elizabeth Stanley, Ph.D., we explore the relationship between stress and trauma, the two parts of the brain that are involved in the stress/trauma response and how mindfulness can help us resolve past trauma and mitigate the effects of stress.
The Relationship Between Stress and Trauma
Neurobiologically we now know that there is a continuum from stress to trauma. Whether or not an event is experienced as traumatic depends on how what Liz calls the “thinking brain” and the “survival brain” interact when something stressful happens.
The thinking brain is all of our conscious thinking, while the survival brain controls the automatic stress response. If the thinking brain and the survival brain both feel helpless, the stress arousal gets into the range of traumatic stress. The response of the survival brain has a lot to do with past experience, which is why different people can experience the same event and have very different reactions to it.
Unfortunately, sometimes our response to calm the thinking brain can be counterproductive for the survival brain. Spending a lot of time on social media and doing research on the coronavirus helps the thinking brain feel like it’s taking control, but can trigger the survival brain as memories of past trauma resurface (albeit often unconsciously).
The Potential in Trauma
The potential when these traumatic memories come up is to work with them so they can begin to release. Once we have enough attentional control we can work through these memories by ourselves, fostering our sense of agency, which widens our window of tolerance for stressful events.
When we’re in chronic stress the thinking brain function gets degraded. The problem then is that we find it harder to do the things we know help us mitigate stress. The key to not going into chronic stress is to train survival brain agency and the main thing that fosters that is to have repeated experiences of experiencing stress arousal and fully recovering.
Window-widening habits for survival brain agency:
- Start training attention to target objects that helps the survival brain to feel safe
- Getting enough sleep
- Getting enough cardiovascular exercise (e.g., high intensity interval training)
- Take time to connect every day (even with social distancing)
- Eat a diet supportive of microbiome
As coaches it is very important to have a wide window and the greatest level of integrated trauma possible, as our clients come to us with their survival brains asking, “Am I safe here?”, and will pick up on possible fragmentation in us.
Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma, by Elizabeth Stanley