What gives us the flexibility and resilience to cope with the ongoing pressures and stresses of our lives? Sometimes we are totally thrown off course by a dead battery, forgetting an appointment or a tense misunderstanding with a co-worker or friend. Other times life sends us shocks and tragedies that nothing could have prepared us for. All stresses, whether annoyances or bigger traumatic events, cause unregulated surges of cortisol that knock out the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. Over time, if we experience these cortisol waves regularly, they compromise our immune system, our health and our overall ability to think, enjoy and function. Considering the frantic pace of life that many of us lead, it is lucky that there are some strategies that help people to navigate what Jon Kabbat-Zinn and Zorba the Greek call “The Full Catastrophe” of being alive.
A new book by Linda Graham, Bouncing Back: Rewiring your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, is chock-full of exercises and easy-to-read science that helps you choose a neural diet (a new term to me too!) that enriches your coping capacities.
For instance – – – hanging out with good friends or your dog releases oxytocin, the wonderous neurotransmitter that calms down your whole nervous system. In fact, even thinking vividly about being with that dog or imaginine being cared for by someone you admire can do nearly the same thing:
“We can give our brains baths of oxytocin whenever we are with someone we truly love and who truly loves us. Neuroscientists have demonstrated many times that even remembering or imagining someone we love is enough to release small but regular doses of oxytocin.”
Similarly, choosing to be with people who have a calm, empathic presence helps soothe your frazzled nerves and help you to re-wire your reactivity patterns. In addition, Graham extolls the virtues of mindfulness – slowing down to notice and welcome whatever the present moment offers:
“Research is increasingly showing that practices of mindfulness and empathy are among the most powerful agents of brain change known to science. Both can catalyze brain change and guide it in a positive direction. Both strengthen the functioning of the pre-frontal cortex to rewire old patterns.”
Here is Linda giving us a taste of one of her exercises that builds self-compassion and connection:
In a similar vein, the lovely Selkirk Retention Committee meets regularly all year to explore research and initiatives that might keep Selkirk Students thriving and successful in their chosen programs. We have talked a lot this year about the stresses and mental health concerns that many Selkirk students are dealing with daily. We also recognized that the more we, as staff, are sane and happy and love our lives, the more we have available to offer students and our workplace. So we started our Planning Day with a basket filled with ideas of what we do to keep our resilience batteries charged. Here are some of the Retention Rejuvenation Tips:
- Close my door and listen to the Cohen Brothers sing TRUE GRIT!
- Play with my new Puppy . . . . .
- Walk in the Forest.
- Close my door, breathe and re-group for a few minutes when I am overwhelmed!
- Write three things I am grateful for every day in my Gratitude Journal.
- Jump in the car and go somewhere where there is no Cell Service!
- Zentangling (see earlier post)
- If things are really wild, I call my Mom, or someone I know cares about me . . . . .
- Spending time working in my garden calms me right down.
Here are some of the Retention Crew (Jane Green, Joleen Kinakin, Allison Alder and Kim Verigin) hard at work and two great works of art from the Creativity Forum anonymous artists that worked with the Art Therapy students to capture some of the themes around self-care:
There were lots more great resilience ideas, but what are the things that you do that help you keep on keeping on???