Monday, September 7, 2015

Hardwired to survive

Note: Written 08/27/15 (forgot to post!)

I recently attended a training on the Community Resiliency Model – a means of aiding individuals and communities to live in what’s called “the resiliency zone” rather than in states of stress and/or shut-down by learning how to let our bodies do what they have been designed to do, namely, to gear up to survive a stressful event then to gear back down and restore a sense of peace and wellbeing.

We were marvelously designed to survive, knit that way in our mother’s wombs by our Creator (Ps 139). If we put our hand on a hot stove burner, for example, we reflexively take it off. We don’t need to think about what to do - our body senses the risk of harm and signals us to react, causing us to snatch our hand away from the hot burner.

If however, the stressor is something chronic like poverty, racism, oppression, or system dysfunction, our body will continue to sense the stress and signal us to respond (this is called the “fight or flight” response) but the stress isn’t resolved. It can’t be. What happens then is our bodies get stuck in fight mode or in flight mode. Sometimes, we end up in a freeze mode, a kind of coping paralysis, since our attempts at fight or flight have proven ineffective.

On any given day, circumstances lead us up and down through our resiliency zone: an emergency situation or a phone call bringing us bad news will activate us to cope (fight or flight). Prayer, time, and experience will restore our peace and well-being, enabling us to return to our resiliency zone and get on with our day. After a long day, being greeted by the smile of someone we love calms our nerves, and restores us to peace. Sitting with our beloved pets has been shown to reduce our heart rate and increase our sense of well-being. This is our resiliency zone.

We know that living in a constant state of stress affects our health: high blood pressure, heart problems, digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, sleeplessness, etc. The Community Resilience Model teaches us how to return to our “resiliency zone” a physical state which enables us to restore peace and wellbeing even when the stressors “out there” don’t change.

There’s one more component to this model that is really exciting – the brain science that supports it (you know I love this stuff!). When the body is in a fight or flight response, the thinking part of the brain is inhibited. As in the example of the hot stove burner, it isn’t helpful to consider the situation and how to respond when your hand is touching a hot stove. The brain naturally inhibits the thinking region to allow the reflexive response to happen.

When we sense a threat to our survival, we think less and react more. We’re hard-wired to do so.

If we can learn, then, to restore our bodies to our resiliency zone, our thinking brains can re-engage and we can reflect on what the problem is and how to address it from a place of peace and well-being, rather than from a state of agitation and reactiveness. This has amazing implications for individuals and communities – including our own.

The Community Resiliency Model was developed by the Trauma Research Institute.

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