What does it look like to be resilient or to grow in resilience? Today we are going to focus in on growing resilience by mastering our sensations and utilizing our nervous system. Our body first experiences everything through our sensations. That is the primary language of our body and directly relates to how we experience stress, trauma, and calmness. Because of this it is very important to build resilience through our body’s natural language of sensations.
When I was first learning about sensations and resilience it was a foreign idea to me. It was strange to tune into my body and notice sensations I felt when stressed, relaxed, or triggered by a past trauma. But taking time to pay attention to our bodies and understand how it is communicating through internal sensations is essential to growing in resilience. For some of us it might be uncomfortable to pay attention to our body because of past traumas. So we have to be patient with ourselves. Healing takes time and is not a linear journey.
BEFRIENDING THE BODY
Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.
In my practice I begin the process by helping my patients to first notice and then describe the feelings in their bodies—not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on. I also work on identifying the sensations associated with relaxation or pleasure. I help them become aware of their breath, their gestures and movements.
All too often, however, drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel, are prescribed instead of teaching people the skills to deal with such distressing physical reactions. Of course, medications only blunt sensations and do nothing to resolve them or transform them from toxic agents into allies.
The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch. Individuals who lack emotional awareness are able, with practice, to connect their physical sensations to psychological events. Then they can slowly reconnect with themselves.”
Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
The ideal state for us to be in to grow in resilience is the resilient zone. This is a concept founded by Threshold Global Works. Being in this zone is important because it is where we can experience a natural eb and flow of stress and calm. This eb and flow allows us to experience stress but for it not to build up to unhealthy levels. When there is this type of rhythm our body is able to release the stress before it triggers us to be in survival modes.
This is a depiction of the resilient zone. When we are in the resilient zone we are balanced, adaptable, flexible, able to creative problem solve, and to respond instead of react. In this zone we function at our best. This is because we have full access to our brain and logical processing. When we are bumped out of our resilient zone, our brain signals to our body to release stress hormones, which limits our ability to logically process situations.
All of us have different capacities for how much stress we can manage. Author Matthew Bennett, gives a great visual in his books using cups. All of us have different size resilient zones like having different size cups that can hold certain amounts of stress (Bennett, 2017). When our cup is overflowing with stress we are out of our resilient zone.
How can we grow in our resilience or grow the size of our cup? One of the tools to use is attention. Paying attention to how your body responds to stress and relaxation. We can practice this by tracking or noticing the sensations in our body when we are feeling overwhelmed or when we are joyful or in a situation that brings us feelings of peace. Another tool is grounding. When you are feeling stressed or even just as a daily practice it is nice to take a moment and just notice the support of the floor or your chair. Put all of your attention to that support and notice what sensations you feel in your body when you do that. Notice you breath, your muscle tension, and sensations. Consider taking time today or this week to notice the sensations in your body and practice grounding.
Bennett, M. (2017). Connecting Paradigms A Trauma-Informed & Neurological Framework for Motivational Interviewing Implementation. Bennett Innovation Group, L3C.
Threshold Globalworks, founder of Social Resilience Model. Welcome To Threshold Globalworks – Threshold GlobalWorks
Van Der Kolk, B. (2021). Body Keeps the Score. Audiobook. Narrated by Sean Pratt.
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