One of my favorite things that I learned from becoming a Social Resilience Model trainer is the power of attention. This may sound like such a simple concept, but we can build resilience, decrease stress, build new habits, and retrain our brain simply by paying attention. This fills me with so much hope!! We don’t have to be stuck in a habit or way of life. We can retrain our brain!
Attention & The Brain
Our brain builds neuropathways to support the hobbies, habits, and lifestyles we give our attention to. This is why when we first start a new habit or activity it feels hard at first and it requires a lot of thought. But eventually as we keep doing it, it comes more naturally and we don’t have to think about it as much as we first did. This is because our brain has built a neuropathway in order for us to do the activity more efficiently.
Consider a time when you started something new. How did it feel at first? Was it challenging? After a month or two had it become easier? Does it now require as much thought as it did at first?
The Tool of Attention For Resilience
Attention is a key concept in the Social Resilience Model. Using attention to increase our resilience is a great way to increase our overall wellbeing. Here are some ways to use attention to help build resilience:
Attention to Tracking Your Stress. A big part of building resilience is tracking how your body experiences stress and calm. When we pay attention to how stress impacts us, it can become easier to notice and do activities that increases calm within ourselves.
Attention to Grounding. This is putting your attention to a solid surface around you. This is a great way to increase feelings of calmness within ourselves. When we experience calm instead of stress our body functions at it’s best. We think more clearly and thrive when we are not overwhelmed by stress.
Attention to Good Resources. This means putting our attention on the good things in our lives. The things that bring us joy and fills us with peace. This could mean thinking about your favorite pet, hobby, place, season, item, or memory. When we put our attention on these good things we can increase our calm and resilience.
Choose a way this week that you can practice using one of these tools of attention!
We talk about self-care often and it can sometimes feel like a cliche. Lately, I have been going through a difficult season, as we all do sometimes, and people have been telling me to take care of myself. Internally I question, what does that even mean? Self-care can look different for each of us and can look different across your lifespan. Here are some questions to consider…
What areas in your life are you feeling empty or drained in?
What does thriving in this season of your life look like?
Why is self-care important to you?
How can you intentionally practice self-care in a way that is helpful in your current season?
Self-care is more then bubble baths and ice cream. Self-care is taking care of ourselves in the areas that are most important to you. This can include taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, spiritually, sexually, or emotionally.
I love this idea of considering how building resilience is related to our self-care. Being intentional about building our resilience is a vital part of taking care of ourselves.
There are two main ways of building resilience and both of them relate to our self-care!
The first way is through sensation-based resilience which is all about increasing sensations of calm and decreasing sensations of stress. This directly relates to our self-care because being overwhelmed by stress can be unhealthy for us emotionally, mentally, and physically. Practicing skills of resilience can help increase calm and holistic wellness.
The second way is thought-based resilience, which is all about managing our thoughts and emotions to increase well-being. Being overwhelmed by our thoughts can increase stress within our body. How we think directly impacts our perceptions, actions, and the words we say. It also impacts how we view ourselves and interpret the world around us. When we use skills to increase resilience through positive and calming thoughts we are practicing mental and emotional self-care.
Tools of Resilience
There are many tools to help build and increase our resilience. Consider choosing one or two of these tools to practice this month!
Sensation-Based Resilience Tools:
Tracking calm and stress sensations within your body
One of the best things about the resilient zone is that it can grow! This is because our brain adapts as we grow in managing our stress.
The resilient zone is a concept from Social Resilience Model and is the space in which we function at our best. When I first learned about this it seemed vague. A simple way to think about this is that it is the zone where we experience balance between calm and stress.
This does require us to pay attention to our body and mind to see how we are experiencing stress and calmness. When I pay attention to myself I know I am getting stressed by noticing my heart is beating faster, having a pit feeling in my stomach, tightness in my chest, my body starts to clinch up, and my thoughts become scattered. In comparison when I am feeling calm I notice I’m breathing deeper, my shoulders and body relaxes, the tightness in my chest loosens, and my thoughts become more cohesive. This is what it looks like for me, but it is important to notice what stress and calm looks like for you.
As we build resilience we are able to tolerate more stress and have more balance. When our resilient zone is small we can become overwhelmed by stress more easily and it can become more difficult to calm ourselves. Often our resilient zone in smaller because we have experienced trauma in our lives or have been stuck in one of the survival modes, flight, fight, fawn, or freeze, for long periods of time.
Author Matthew Bennett talks about a great analogy of this concept using various sized glasses. In his book Connecting Paradigms A Trauma-Informed & Neurological Framework for Motivational Interviewing Implementation, Bennett discusses the concept that being outside of our resilient zone is like having a cup that is overflowing. When our cup or resilient zone is smaller it does not take much for the cup to overflow or for us to be overwhelmed by stress. But as we practice tools to build resilience our cup gets bigger and we can withstand more without being overwhelmed.
There are many ways that we can build resilience. But one of the most powerful things we can do is to notice and pay attention to our body and mind. Tracking within ourselves and paying attention to ourselves is powerful and can help us to see the resilience we already have and allow us to build even more resilience. This doesn’t have to be complicated and can be simply noticing or journaling about your observations.
Bennett, M. (2017). Connecting Paradigms A Trauma-Informed & Neurological Framework for Motivational Interviewing Implementation. Bennett Innovation Group, L3C.
Weathering through life can be so difficult. Throughout our life we display resilience by moving forward when things get hard. When we talk about building resilience, we are talking about how to expand our resilient zone. Living in our resilient zone allows us to not be overcome by stress or consumed by traumatic triggers. In the resilient zone we experience a balance between calm and stress. This balance allows us to creative problem solve, think clearly, and thrive. There are two main barriers to building resilience:
Stress: stress can be toxic to our physical and mental health. There is no way to completely avoid stress, but when we live in stress for long periods of time it can have a huge impact on us. This can be a barrier for us when trying to build resilience or even to experience balance of calm and stress. Often in these circumstances we can start to live in survival modes, which can impact our relationships, health, reactions, and the quality of our lives.
Unresolved Trauma: Trauma has an impact on our body in so many ways. It not only impacts us emotionally, but it also changes the way our brain processes information and circumstances. It can change how we interpret safety, our relationships, how we view ourselves, and others. Trauma has an incredible impact on our bodies. But there is hope! As we heal, process, and resolve trauma we can experience balance, safety, and building resilience.
These might seem like pretty big barriers, but here are some practical ways to consider overcoming these barriers!
The greatest combat for stress within our body is calm and relaxation. Try these things for increasing calm and decreasing stress:
Do a grounding exercise. This can be as simple as just focusing in on a solid surface supporting you or focusing your attention on one of your five senses.
Think of something you enjoy doing. This is also called resourcing. Think about your favorite hobby, memory, and place and allow yourself to think about all the things you love or experience when you are doing that activity.
Distraction can also be helpful. Sometimes shifting to thinking about something you are grateful for, something positive that happened during your day, or just doing a brain exercise can be a great distraction. When I need to distract myself I often choose a letter in the alphabet and think of or say out loud all the words I can think of that start with that letter. I love word games so this is a good distraction for me.
We can experience trauma in several different forms and trauma is unique to each person. Because of this there is no simple answer to resolving trauma. One important consideration when thinking about resolving trauma, is considering if you are still in the situation, relationship, or circumstance where you experienced trauma? Are you feeling safe? When we are in ongoing situations that are traumatizing it can be difficult to begin resolving trauma, Definitely if you are in a situation where you are experiencing abuse or exploitation, consider reaching out to a local domestic violence shelter, police, or the domestic violence hotline.
You are the expert of your life. You know what you need in a time when you have experienced a traumatic experience. But here are some things to consider when working to resolve trauma:
Practicing Acceptance: This does not mean condoning what happened, but to simply accept that this occurred and is apart of your story, but that it does not define your whole story. Accepting ourselves and our experiences can be freeing.
Recognizing Triggers: This can be difficult and is not necessarily easy to work through. But noticing what causes a survival response or what causes us to have a large emotional response can be helpful in seeing what is unresolved. When identifying these things it can feel overwhelming. Take time to notice and shift your attention to something else that brings your joy or something positive. An example of this is I recently learned of a policy at work that I was unaware of for years, but everyone else knew about it. Though this seems small and my response could have been to learn and then transition to practicing the correct protocol, I felt overwhelmed by all this emotion. In reality my reaction, emotions, and the negative thoughts that were triggered had nothing to do with the policy at work. It was really about something that happened to me years ago where everyone else knew something and I didn’t. Once I found out years later, I felt shame, embarrassed , and let down that I hadn’t looked deeper into what was going on around me. I did not know that previous situation had impacted me so much and it allowed me to recognize that it was something I needed to process and work through.
Mental Health Services: This is not a helpful solution for everyone, but it can be a helpful process to be able to work through trauma and make sense of our feelings and thoughts about what has happened to us.
Journal: Journaling can be a safe space to process and work through your feelings. Journaling has helped me get through difficult and traumatic experiences. You can start by just writing out what you’re thinking about, writing your story in third person, or just doing a word dump and just writing out everything on your mind.
One of the ways we can build resilience is through something called resourcing. It is a concept that I learned from Social Resilience Model that helps increase feelings of calm and relaxation.
The key to resourcing is to focus your attention on things or activities that bring you feelings of joy, safety, happiness, and comfort. The resource can be a pet, hobby, place, memory, or item. It’s not recommended to think of a person for your resource because often relationships have both joy, sorrow, and complex feelings associated with them and it might not bring about the same kind of feelings of calmness. When practicing resourcing you will want to focus on details about your resource:
Where do you enjoy your resource?
What details are associated with the resource, such as color, feel, or temperatures?
Think of how you experience the resource with your five senses.
The resource I often think for myself is bookbinding. I think of the process of sewing a journal and the feel of the waxed thread in my hands. I think of the sound of the paper when I cut it and the smell of the glue when I’m preparing the journal cover. For me I can’t see images in my mind, so I often look at my bookbinding supplies or pictures when doing this activity.
Resourcing can be a great habit to practice and way to cultivate resilience. It does take practice! To start practicing resourcing first pick a couple of resources. And practice thinking of different qualities of those resources. This could be a great activity to even practice through journaling.
We are designed to be resilient! This podcast discusses resilience, the resilient zone, the impact of stress hormones, and how we can build resilience. The two ways discussed to build resilience are sensation based and thought based tools. Below are other blog posts about resilience as well.
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.”
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.