Train Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress with Dr. Elizabeth Stanley [Episode #415]
Welcome to the Feel Good Podcast with Kimberly Snyder. Our goal is to help you be your most healthy, confident, beautiful and joyful! Our topics focus on health and wellness (physical, emotional/mental and spiritual), holistic nutrition, medicinal plants, natural rhythms and cycles, beauty, meditation, self care and rituals, spirituality and personal empowerment.
Feeling Good means we are healthy, balanced, peaceful, confident and joyful, right in the midst of our perfectly imperfect lives. Feeling Good requires us to tune in and nourish our whole selves, which is made up of the four Solluna Cornerstones: our food, our bodies, our emotional well-being and our spiritual growth. Feeling good naturally leads to also looking good, in a much more powerful way from glowing skin created from within, a beautifully healthy body, radiant energy, and a greater level of overall well-being and personal growth.
Every week, we provide you with interviews with top experts in their field to support you in living your most beautiful, inspired and joyful life, with a focus on physical health, wellness, meditation and spirituality and personal empowerment.
I’m your host, Kimberly Snyder, founder of Solluna, New York Times best-selling author and nutritionist. I’m so grateful and honored we found each other!
I am so excited to have my very special guest, Elizabeth A. Stanley, who is an award-winning author and U.S. Army veteran, an associate professor, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, and a certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing. Listen in as Elizabeth shares how her background influenced her philosophy, tips on how the Mind Fitness Training can be applied, and what it means to widen the window. Get ready to start feeling good today!
Elizabeth shares her background as a US army intelligence officer and how this influenced her philosophy…
Why it’s a positive thing to release and talk about our personal issues…
Common stresses and trauma that people have that they may not even identify as stress and trauma…
We share a real world example of trauma and how Elizabeth would apply this in a real world situation…
Details and tips about how long the healing process takes when applying Mind Fitness Training…
What narrowing the window means, and how to do this in our personal lives…
If traumatic patterns are more encrypted in your brain as you age…
About Elizabeth A. Stanley
Elizabeth Stanley, PhD, is an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University. She is the creator of Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), taught to thousands in civilian and military high-stress environments.
MMFT research has been featured on 60 Minutes, ABC Evening News, NPR, Time Magazine, and many other media outlets. An award-winning author and U.S. Army veteran, she holds degrees from Yale, Harvard, and MIT. She’s also is a certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing, a body-based trauma therapy.
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Kimberly Snyder: Hi Beauties. Welcome back to our Monday interview podcast. I have an amazing guest for us today. Her name is Dr. Elizabeth Stanley. And she is an award-winning author. Her new book Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma is just out now. And she is a US army veteran, an associate professor, and the creator of mindfulness-based mind fitness training.
Fan Of The Week
So before we get into this very interesting interview, Dr. Stanley has many, many insights to share with us. I just want to give a quick shout out to our fan of the week. His or her name is… sometimes it’s hard to tell, Dfarrah17 and he or she writes, “Kimberly is one of the warmest, and most informed wellness players out there. I listened to multiple episodes a day and often repeat some. Not only will you learn so much about food and movement, but also how your body, mind, emotions, feelings, hormones and attitude are connected and affect your health. She’s real, relatable, and feel like you’re hanging out with a close friend. Can’t get enough.”
Kimberly Snyder: Dfarrah17 thank you so much for your beautiful review, sending you a huge virtual hug. I am so grateful for you, beauty. I am so grateful we are on the path together, that we are here supporting each other. So I hope that we get to meet in person as well, one of these days, one of these events, one of these cities. But in the meantime, thank you so much.
Share The Podcast and Leave a Review on Itunes
And beauties for your chance to also be shouted out as the fan of the week, please just take a moment or so out of your day, head over to iTunes and leave us a review. They could literally be a sentence or two, but it’s such a great way to support the podcast, and to help other beauties just like yourself find this information which can really help benefit their lives.
Kimberly Snyder: So again, so much gratitude in advance. Please also be sure to subscribe to our show, that way you don’t miss out on any interviews, any Q&A a podcast Thursdays. And it keeps me tuned in with motivation and inspiration so that we all just keep growing and learning together, and it’s a really great self care practice to do for yourself.
Interview with Elizabeth Stanley
So all that being said, I have Dr. Stanley on the line, and she has told me before interview, she is super chill, super casual. So even though she has a very fancy, very impressive bio, I’m going to be calling her Liz during this interview. Welcome, Liz, to the podcast.
Elizabeth : Thank you so much, Kimberly. I am so happy to be here. Your perspective on this podcast is so aligned with mine, and so I was so excited for this invitation.
Kimberly Snyder: Oh for sure. For sure, Liz. I went in a very different direction with my last book, since my mom had recently passed away within three days of my son turning one, and my life just got turned upside down, and I started to really understand more of the effect of stress and trauma on our bodies, on just our emotional ups and downs, and how much that impacts our wellness. So, this whole topic is of huge interest to me personally as well as well I’m sure to all of our listeners.
Elizabeth : Yes, stress and trauma affect all of us, and we have so many stories we tell ourselves about how we’re not handling it well, that I really wanted to be able to share with readers some of the science behind it because it can be so empowering to understand why our minds and bodies do what they do. I’m sorry to hear about your loss. And-
Kimberly Snyder: Thank you.
Elizabeth : … that’s a real big set of transitions at all at one time, Kimberly.
Elizabeth shares her background as a US army intelligence officer and how this influenced her philosophy
Kimberly Snyder: It really was. But… and thank you for that Liz. There’s been a lot of processing things since then, and I do believe it’s… Ooh, talk about widening, it’s widening my heart. It has deepened my compassion, my empathy. I still feel very connected to my mom. So, thank you for that. And Liz, I am really interested in your background. Before we get there’s so many… Flipping through your gorgeous book here, which so well researched and I like that there’s a really big section of prescriptive to do’s. I want to get that in just a short minute or so moment. But I’m really interested in your background in the army. And here it’s saying you were serving as a US army intelligence officer, you are an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown, which by the way is my Alma Mater. So, tell me about how working in the military has influenced your philosophy.
Elizabeth : It’s a great question. Actually there’s nothing that I write about in this book that I haven’t actually learned from my own mind and body. I started as an army brat. There have been nine generations in my family that have served in the US army.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow!
Elizabeth : It’s a really long lineage, and I’m the first woman of that lineage. But coming from this lineage of warriors, it also has a shadow side. And the shadow side is the intergenerational trauma that results from all of these, up until me, men who were coping with incredibly stressful and traumatic experiences like combat without really the tools that they needed. Because at the times many of them lived society didn’t offer them yet. So, I had a lot of stressful and traumatic experiences really early in my life.
Elizabeth : And then when I served in the military, I had stress and trauma while I was deployed abroad. And I kind of exacerbated all of it through coping habits that I think many of us rely on. I suppressed my emotions, I compartmentalized my pain, I overrode my body’s limits. I just kept pushing it under, and it’s a really common coping habit in our culture. People call it powering through, or suck it up and drive on. I was the queen of that way of being. And at some point my body was just done. It gave out, and I had a whole range of physical illnesses. I had a near death experience when I was in Bosnia. I lost my eyesight even, and all of these things… it’s come back, I mean it was a temporary condition. It’s-
Kimberly Snyder: Wow.
Elizabeth : Found out later on, it was linked to Lyme disease. But underneath all of these different things is something that you talk about a lot on your show, which is one of the reasons I was happy to be here. I was just plagued by chronic inflammation, my microbiome was completely whacked out. I was overriding so much that eventually I developed PTSD, and depression as well. So my mind and body were way out of whack, and in my own healing journey I spent some time in Burma as a nun. I-
Kimberly Snyder: Oh my gosh! That’s not in the bio, I love that little twist there.
Elizabeth : That was not in the bio. It’s in the book, but it’s not in the formal bio because-
Kimberly Snyder: Love that.
Elizabeth : … there were a lot of people that they’d get a little turned off by it. I knew you wouldn’t, and your listeners won’t. But I’m being more open about it now, just like I’m being more open about the fact that I had PTSD. We have so many ways that our society compartmentalizes these things, but we’re whole people.
Kimberly Snyder: For sure.
Elizabeth : It’s important to own all these parts of ourselves.
Kimberly Snyder: So Liz, thank you so much for sharing that so openly from your heart. I do think we hide things because we fear judgment. And I will also say this recent book of mine that came out was in my fifth book, and it’s the first time I even talk about having eating disorders, which I had in high school because I was hiding it, judged myself, didn’t want other people to think that there was something wrong with me, and would think badly of me. But you know what? Now that I can talk about it and not hide things, it just feels so great. It feels like a huge release.
Why it’s a positive thing to release and talk about our personal issues
Elizabeth : Yes, it is a release because when we’re coming from wholeness, we actually can really truly show up all parts of us. And all parts of us are important to what we have to offer. It took me a really long time to understand that my vulnerability was not something that needed to be hidden, but that it actually is deeply informative of what I can offer in the world. And I think it takes courage to share what’s going on, but I think that it lets us be authentic, and we have a lot of power in our authenticity.
Common stresses and trauma that people have that they may not even identify as stress and trauma
Kimberly Snyder: Now, your work is focused on stress and trauma. And already… since we started the podcast, I’ve talked about losing my mom, you’ve talked about experiences in Bosnia and in the army. I mean these are very obvious sorts of stresses and traumas in our lives. But I was also reading, Liz, too about just subtle forms of neglect. For instance, let’s say you didn’t have a parent that was always around, or in touch with their feelings. And so growing up, maybe you felt isolated, or maybe say if you had a boyfriend like that. Can you explain a little bit about… for all our listeners out there who are saying, “Oh, well, I didn’t have somebody die recently, or I’ve not been in the army.” Can you talk about the common stresses and traumas that people have that they may not even identify as stress and trauma?
Elizabeth : Absolutely. I’m so glad for that question. The thing that strikes me the most when I teach mind fitness, both in the military and other high-stress places and also on campus when I’ve taught to doctors, and to people in business, is how much everybody is comparing their own stress and trauma to everyone else. And in the process of doing that, they say things like, “Oh, well, I didn’t lose my eyesight. I wasn’t in Bosnia. I haven’t seen combat, I wasn’t raped, I’m only dealing with garden variety anxiety, or making sure that I’m putting food on the table, or just juggling all of these work deadlines. That’s no big deal.” And the minute that they do that, there’s a part of me that wants to cringe, and it’s part of the reason I wrote this book. It’s because our thinking brains, which are making sense of our lives, and it’s the part of us that is having these comparing and evaluating and judging thoughts. That isn’t what controls whether we have stress or trauma.
Elizabeth : And what controls whether we have stress or trauma is our survival brain. It’s the unconscious part of our brain that is constantly assessing a situation to see if it’s dangerous or threatening to us. And if it, for a variety of reasons, often from our long life conditioning, feels challenged by whatever is happening, even if our thinking brain is writing it off as no big deal, or, “I should be over that, or it’s not nearly as bad as so-and-so has it,” it doesn’t matter that our thinking brain is saying that, our survival brain can still be producing stress arousal. When our thinking brain has this other narrative like, “Oh, well, my situation isn’t really that bad.” It’s overriding, and neglecting, and ignoring what’s actually going on in our survival brain, in our body in that moment.
Elizabeth : And that is one of the reasons why we turn stress on, and then we never recover and turn it off because we are completely overriding the experience of our survival brain in our body. And so I really want listeners to understand that it doesn’t matter what our thinking brain may think about what’s going on, what matters is what emotions we’re having, what physical sensations we’re having. Those are the cues that we get that tell us in our body what’s going on in our survival brain right now. And when we try and kind of reframe it and tell ourselves, “Well, this isn’t really so bad, and I can call on this person to help me, or… ” Those things can be helpful for having agency to problem solve, to figure it out, but those things are not going to resolve the stress. What’s going to resolve the stress is paying attention to what’s going on in our bodies, and helping our survival brain to feel safe.
We share a real world example of trauma and how Elizabeth would apply this in a real world situation
Kimberly Snyder: So, Liz, sorry to interrupt. I love this whole concept. Hearing you talk about it, can I give you a real world example based on what you just said and then you could show our listeners how you would apply this in a real world situation?
Elizabeth : Absolutely.
Kimberly Snyder: Okay. So again, from a personal standpoint, because it’s just me and you having this conversation. Subtle trauma and… everybody’s parents do their best of course, but let’s just say everybody, and I hate to say… I used to feel so guilty when I would say anything like this because I’m like, “Oh, I’m not blaming my parents. I don’t feel angry at them, I think I have amazing parents, I love them both,” but they were busy, they were both working. And so I was a latchkey kid for many years. And I would come home, and then they would come home sometimes and be tired, and I wouldn’t really talk to anybody about my day. And there was some sort of pattern there about not being heard, and it created a lot of sensitivity, and I just felt kind of invisible sometimes. And again, I just feel like I wasn’t really heard or seen.
Kimberly Snyder: So to this day when somebody… in a conversation and it’s usually pretty innocuous, but if I see something and then they kind of… what I perceive as dismissive, or they interrupt, or they just turn it in a different direction, their mind’s on something else, if I feel not heard or seen today, it really triggers me. It makes me angry to your point about physical cues, I’ll feel my heart starts racing. I’ll feel my breath, it gets short, I feel it in my body. So, with your philosophy, and all your different tools in your mind training, what would you say… this is a simple example and of course I just use myself. Everybody listening can insert their own childhood stuff, or whatever comes up for them. What’s the way out of that? Because here I am as an adult and that happened when I was 12.
Elizabeth : I so appreciate this example because it’s[crosstalk 00:19:22]
Kimberly Snyder: It’s subtle, yeah.
Elizabeth : It’s very subtle and yet it highlights something that’s super important about our neurobiology, which is that all of our patterns for coping with stress and trauma were initially wired in our close relationships in childhood, especially with our parents. And so it’s not surprising to me that similar situations will trigger that for you, because that’s deep conditioning that gets globalized to all aspects of our life. And most of us don’t think about how our childhoods still affect us today, but they do. And the thing that also strikes me about your story is there’s also a level of… it sounds like, I don’t want to project here, but it sounded like there was a feeling of helplessness-
Kimberly Snyder: Yes, yes.
Elizabeth : … and powerlessness and… You needed something and you weren’t getting it, and couldn’t figure out how to get it in that moment. So whenever we’re feeling powerless or helpless, that is, when our survival brain feels that way, that is what kind of tips the scales from stress into trauma. Trauma happens and then the survival brain feels powerless, helpless, and lacking control. So the best way to work with it today is, as you’re noticing those triggers happening, and then you’re noticing those things in your body, the first thing to do is to just acknowledge with your thinking brain, “Oh, I’m activated right now. I’m angry.” And you can notice all of those different sensations, the racing heart, the butterflies in the stomach, the sweaty palms. And then the next immediate thing to do is to help the survival brain do one round of recovery. And what I mean by that is to help the survival brain, in this moment that you’re noticing that you’re feeling powerless again in light of not being heard today, to help the survival brain realize, “No, right now I actually am safe.”
Elizabeth : So instead of directing your attention to your thoughts about not feeling heard, in that moment it’s almost better to direct your attention to ways that can help your body feel safe and supported. And in the book I teach two exercises, and one of them I have as an audio file that people can download off my website, and we’ll talk about that later. But you can direct your attention very deliberately to feeling the contact of your body with your surroundings, with the chair, with the floor. And as crazy as this sounds to thinking brains, it really is stable and safety for the survival brain.
Kimberly Snyder: Interesting. So if from a physical standpoint, here’s my body here, now I’m safe this person isn’t going to hurt me with words, you’re saying go to the physicality.
Elizabeth : Go to the physicality of your body being supported by its surroundings.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow, that’s interesting.
Elizabeth : Really bring your attention to the feeling of contact, the sensations of it, the pressure, the hardness, the dampness, the softness, whatever it is that you’re noticing. Really direct your attention in that way. And as you do, your survival brain can get out of this feeling of powerlessness, which it had been cued by feeling not heard. And instead it will get to a sensation of, “Oh, I’m grounded,” and that will help it do a micro round of recovery. And then you might notice a variety of sensations associated with recovery that most of us don’t even understand what they are. I have a chapter about that too. You might yawn, you might have some tears, you might feel your body get a little shaky, you might feel a wave of heat. And all of those are ways that your survival brain is saying, “Okay, I’m safe, I’m grounded again.”
Elizabeth : And then in that moment, that’s the moment when you can really begin to think about, “Okay, I wasn’t feeling heard here. What could I do to help myself feel heard?” So, now you’ve taken care of the survival brain. Now you can go to thinking brain strategies like, “Okay, what do I need to say to this person so that they understand that I was hurt? And they understand what still needs to get conveyed.” Sometimes when we’re not feeling heard… This is a different point, but I do think it’s really relevant, sometimes when we’re not feeling heard, it has nothing to do with us actually, and it has to do with what’s going on inside the mind and body of the person we’re talking to.
Kimberly Snyder: Right, right.
Elizabeth : When we’re met with indifference, or sarcasm, or hostility, or withdrawal, people just walk away on us, any of those things, we usually take that really personally, but it’s not about us. It’s actually about what’s going on inside that person in this moment. And I explained in the last chapter how our bodies and minds are interacting with each other in this way because stress, arousal, and emotions are contagious. So, you can begin to work with that as well. And sometimes just acknowledging, “Oh, the way that they just responded to me, that had nothing to do with me. That had to do with what’s going on inside them.” Sometimes just having that awareness is enough for us to no longer get triggered by this old sense of, “We haven’t been heard.”
Details and tips about how long the healing process takes when applying Mind Fitness Training
Kimberly Snyder: Well, it sounds like that first step though of being in your body, connecting to your body is crucial for breaking that reactive pattern where you snap, or in my case like, “God, I just want to get away from that person or whatever it is.” Well, how long would you say that process is? Are we talking 10 seconds? Are we talking five minutes?
Elizabeth : It really depends upon how activated we are right now. And also depends upon how often we use this. This is a practice, and the more we use it, the quicker it becomes because the more we’ve trained our survival brain to respond to it. So, initially it might take a minute or two. I’m to the point now where I can be triggered in a conversation while I’m still talking, all I have to do is really feel my feet on the ground. Just take even half a second, and really touch into my feet in my shoes on the ground, and then my whole system begins to settle, and I can continue the conversation, but I’ve been doing this along time.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow. So are you saying, Liz, your processing time gets reduced, but in your work have you found that it’s possible to remove these sensitivities that stem from childhood, or is it more that we learned to cope with them better?
Elizabeth : I think it’s a little bit of both. What’s interesting, when I was suffering from PTSD, I had this misconception that there would be this one big cathartic healing all at once.
Kimberly Snyder: Right.
Elizabeth : And that isn’t how it works. Just like it took all of these moments, many, many, many moments in childhood where we felt neglected, or invisible. All of those moments together over time created conditioning, right? So in this way it takes all of these moments over time where we are doing it differently, where we are showing our survival brains that we have agency. That’s what creates the shift. And after we’ve done it, in any time we’ve been stressed, it doesn’t have to be a big traumatic thing, it can be any little time we experienced stress. If we do some recovery, over time it can be enough that we can completely uproot that conditioning.
Kimberly Snyder: Wow.
Elizabeth : But until we’ve uprooted it, we can certainly be working it with more ease each time we use these tools.
Kimberly Snyder: So when you mentioned your mindfulness-based mind fitness training, is that… we think of fitness is going to the gym, or doing some sort of consistent exercise routine. Are you suggesting working with it and just… what if you don’t… I guess my question is, what if you get triggered today, let’s say, and then something doesn’t trigger you for two weeks, or a month, so you can’t say, “Okay, every day I’m gonna work on this,” which is how my brain goes down I’m like, “Okay, I want to tackle this and do it.” What do you do if these triggers come sort of sporadically?
Elizabeth : Yes, that’s a great question. So just like with physical fitness, that you go to the gym on a regular basis so that you’re having the strongest muscles, and the most efficient cardiovascular system. That you do it even on days when you’re not having to do a big long hike, or lift a bunch of heavy weights, you do it on other times just so that you have that adaptive capacity available to you. It’s the same way with the mind, and that’s why I called it mind fitness training to make that parallel. So anytime you experience any stress arousal for any reason, and it can even just be physiological stress arousal, like raising your heart rate and breathing rate when you go running, for example, you can still use these same recovery tools, like the one that I talked about for the triggering situation.
Elizabeth : I call that exercise ground and release. And it’s in one of the chapters in the third part of the book, you can use ground and release anytime you have raised your heart rate. Even if it has nothing to do with something that sort of psychologically triggering, and in fact it’s best to use it initially just after you’ve been working out, or jumping rope, or walking briskly up and down the stairs and you’re slightly out of breath. It’s great to use it just after that so that you don’t have all of the kind of triggering story going on. You’re just working with the sensations in the body, and your body-
Kimberly Snyder: I see.
Elizabeth : … is getting used to that. So that then when you do have a big trigger, your survival brain has already been conditioned to be able to use technique.
Kimberly Snyder: That is powerful. That makes a lot of sense to me. It’s at your fingertips. It’s not like, “Oh yeah, what do I do again? I didn’t do this for six months or three months.” I think you mentioned, Liz, there was another technique. This one is amazing. I’m totally going to put this into practice, this idea of feeling my feet, like you said, feeling contact. Is there another simple… I mean your book, I mean it’s so amazing. There’s so much research behind it. So I don’t mean to say simple as in simple. But I mean because I know there’s tremendous amount of work behind it, but is there another tip you could give us when we start to feel that, “Ooh” that reaction start to rise up in us?
Elizabeth : I think the most important one is having trained ourselves to be able to direct our attention away from the thoughts, and actually into the body.
Kimberly Snyder: Okay, okay.
Elizabeth : So, the mind fitness training course has… mfit has a whole sequence of exercises. The first two are in the book, and I have a short five minute audio exercise you can get on my website, which is the very first one in the sequence, it’s called contact points, to train your attention to be able to pay attention to these places of contact. That’s kind of the baseline for everybody. And then there are ways to adjust it. I think the second important point I would make in terms of a quick tip right now for when we’re really triggered, is that whatever tool we pick when we are stressed needs to be a tool that is aligned with the truth in our survival brain right now. So let me unpack that for a second.
Kimberly Snyder: Yes.
Elizabeth : I know that sounded really dense, but let me break that up. So, our survival brain… Let me use an example from my book. It happens often, but it’s one that I actually use in the book, a story of one of my students. He had had anxiety his whole life, he’d been diagnosed in middle school… he’d been medicated since middle school, and he had done a lot of therapy, and he’d done a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy, and a lot of CBT techniques are all about training the thinking brain to kind of reframe the situation, and see it more positively and figure out what to do about it. But when we’re super anxious, when we have a lot of stress arousal going on, there’s a lot of stress hormones coursing through our body. In that moment our brains can get very panicky, and it can make the anxiety kind of go on steroids almost.
Elizabeth : And when he had had a kind of perfect storm of the day, and he came home, and he was really anxious, and he had a meeting the next morning, and he knew that when he was really anxious he had a hard time sleeping, and he was worried about going to bed and not falling asleep. And he tried to use the ground and release exercise, and it didn’t work. And so then he felt really powerless about it, and he didn’t know what to do. And so he turned on the television, and made some dinner, and distracted himself with TV and then he went to do ground and release again and it still didn’t work. And that sort of sent his anxiety really off the deep end. And then he couldn’t use any of his cognitive behavioral techniques, none of them were working, his mind was racing, and he just couldn’t make it refrain. He couldn’t figure out how to make it better.
Elizabeth : As it came to see me the next day, after his meetings and after he’d had a really hard night, he was like, “What should I have done?” And I said, “Well, when you have that many stress hormones coursing through your body, you can’t help the survival brain necessarily get safe just by sitting still. So, you have to pick a tool that’s working with where your body and mind are in this moment. And in that moment you had all these stress hormones coursing you needed to move and extend.”
Elizabeth : So before he could use gratin release, before he could do something that was going to be calming, he needed to actually sweat. He needed to go out and work out, and he didn’t because I had at another time told him, “You shouldn’t work out within three hours of going to bed because it makes it hard for your system to fall asleep and get restful sleep.” I was like, “Well, if ice doesn’t work in a situation where you’re already have all those stress hormones coursing through your body, then you really do need to move them.” So, this was a longer story than I expected to tell you, sorry Kimberly that-
Kimberly Snyder: No, but it’s very practical. I appreciate it because I was just thinking when you were saying that, “Does this work for everybody?” What about those of us that are really in our heads a lot, can you really just break that connection, or what are other tools? So, I think this is great.
Elizabeth : So, whatever tool you pick at the moment that you’re feeling stressed, it has to be aligned with what’s going on in your body in that moment. If your body is jumping with all these stress hormones and you are restless, and you have your heart beat really fast, and you’ve got butterflies in your stomach, the best thing in that moment is to get an exercise, really move your body, and then you can sit down and journal. And then you can sit down and do ground and release. If you try and go right away to something that’s going to try and figure it out, just in your brain, you’re actually going to make the survival brain feel less safe, because tool you’re picking is not aligned with this message that your survival brain is trying to give you. So then you have to start by picking a tool that is listening to the survival brain. That has to come first.
Kimberly Snyder: Well, yes I can see that working. Let’s say there’s something running through your mind, and then to your point you could go for walk, or you could do something, and come back to it. But what about that example where you are in the middle of a dinner party conversation, and somebody triggers something. Would you suggest maybe removing yourself for a moment, going to the bathroom, kind of moving your body a little bit just to have a little break if you can’t fully exercise?
Elizabeth : Absolutely. I have been in situations like that where I have actually been triggered at a dinner party. And the best thing you can do is say, “You know what, I just need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be back in a minute.” Take a walk to the bathroom, shut yourself in. It may be that you need to take off your heels, and jump up and down for 30 seconds to get your breathing rate up a little bit, and then sit down on the toilet with the seat down, closed toilet. Sit down on it and let yourself have a moment to recover. And then if you have a chance and can make it even longer, go stand outside for even 30 seconds and let just a little bit of fresh air and some plants and trees nearby. We’re always resonated-
Kimberly Snyder: I love that. I love nature part.
Elizabeth : Yes, we’re always resonating with things around us, and nature is, by nature, regulated. So if we’re in nature, we’re going to move towards regulation ourselves because we’re going to be resonating with it. And then you can go back into the conversation and yeah, it doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be two minutes.
Kimberly Snyder: I love that. That is super, super helpful. Thank you.
Elizabeth : You’re welcome.
What narrowing the window means, and how to do this in our personal lives
Kimberly Snyder: Now Liz, the title of your book is Widen the Window, what do you mean by narrowing the window, and on the other side, widening the window? What window are we talking about?
Kimberly Snyder: [crosstalk 00:37:15]What’s going on here?
Elizabeth : The window is such an important concept for me that I used it as the title. So, the window is the window of tolerance that each of us has to stress arousal.
Kimberly Snyder: Okay. Okay.
Elizabeth : When inside our window, our thinking brain and our survival brain can be working together as allies instead of adversaries. When we’re outside our window, we are more likely to either have… They kind of get into a competition. So, we either have thinking brain override. That’s when we’re suppressing our emotions, and overriding our bodies, and overriding our pain, and compartmentalizing. Or we can end up on the other side wherein survival brain hijacking, where stress and emotions are driving our decisions, and leading us to be really reactive and impulsive. And when we’re outside the window, that’s also when we’re more likely to engage in kind of those stress reactions, cycle habits that aren’t good for us.
Elizabeth : That’s when we rely on caffeine, and tobacco, and other substances, and adrenaline-seeking behavior. That’s when we’re more likely to be violent and self-harming. That’s when we choose things that are going to… they may feel better in the short term, but they’re going to actually be adding to our stress load over the long term. So-
Kimberly Snyder: I see.
Elizabeth : … everybody has a window. Everybody’s window is initially wired in childhood. Everybody’s window can be narrowed, and I have several chapters where I explain how we narrow the window over time, and everybody’s window can be widened. That’s the most important piece. We can make choices. We can’t control the stressful or traumatic things that happened in our life, but we always have control over our everyday choices. And our everyday choices play a tremendous role in our windows width. People who have wider windows are more tolerant of uncertainty, they can keep their deliberate thinking brain functions online even when they’re in the middle of stress, they can recover, and they are much more able to access choice.
Elizabeth : They’re more comfortable with change, they’re more comfortable when plans get interrupted and things don’t go the way they wanted them to, they have a lot more ability to sort of be flexible and adapt. And people with wider windows are much better able to give and receive social support [inaudible 00:39:56] stressful situations. And that’s really important because we’re wired as social animals. So we do need to rely on other people, and both depend on them and also offer support to them too.
Kimberly Snyder: So I’m a big believer, Liz, thank you for explaining that. That’s beautiful. I love this analogy. I’m a big believer… There’s a really big difference I see in my work between chronological age, and biological age, and depending on your lifestyle, and how you take care of yourself, just because your birthday is a certain day, a certain year, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fall into all these statistics of the masses, right? We can really just balance, or microbiome live a really great life, eat nutrient dense foods, all these different things.
Kimberly Snyder: So, I preface this by saying as a generalization, when you are going through that list, one thing I hear about a lot from many of our listeners is, “My grandparents or my elderly parents are not open to new ideas. They don’t want to try going plant-based, or they’re not open to this or that.” And I’m wondering your research… because you said everybody’s window can widen. Is there something… I mean other than the obvious, for some people have done something for a really long time and they get stubborn. Is there some sort of timeframes, and life cycles that this is more applicable to, or do you feel it’s individual?
Elizabeth : In terms of being able to widen the window?
We discuss if traumatic patterns are more encrypted in your brain as you age
Kimberly Snyder: Yes. Yeah. Sorry, that was kind of a confusing question. I mean, there’s this generalization that again, our grandparents, our elders are not as open. They’re not able to get past certain things, or so we think, or so we believe, “Oh, this is in them. This is just how they are,” versus, “Younger generations tend to work on themselves more.” They work to heal trauma, they work to change patterns. Is there any physiological reason that as you… with chronological age as you are older, these patterns are more encrypted in your brain? Or is it more of an attitude thing? I just… If you know what I’m saying, how people say, “Oh, older people are more stubborn, and they always look at things a certain way.”
Elizabeth : Yeah. Well, our minds and bodies, in any moment, are the accumulation of all of the choices, all of the injuries, the infections, the physical traumas, the betrayals, all of those things and how we’ve responded to them, they make up the structure of the mind and body we have right now. Both the detrimental choices as well as the beneficial ones. So someone who is in their 70s has many, many, many more decades of that kind of structuring dynamic and inertia of that than someone who’s in their 20s. And that’s a piece of it. And the longer we have allowed ourselves to experience stress and trauma without recovery, the more of a stress load that we build in the scientific literature that’s called the allostatic load.
Elizabeth : And so, someone who has gone a very long time without enough recovery has usually developed a very big allostatic static load, and that shows up in all kinds of things down to the cellular level. And so for someone who has that particular mind and body, it may be harder for them to make some shifts. It may take longer for them to see some of the beneficial shifts, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily locked into a body and mind that cannot change. They can, I have trained people in their 70s, and I’ve watched them over a six month or a year period, really have shifts in the way that they’re moving through their lives.
Kimberly Snyder: Amazing, amazing.
Elizabeth : With diet changes, with some of the practices, with more physical exercise. Obviously someone who started younger has a lot less of an allostatic load that they’re carrying usually that they’re having to heal and recover from. And they often have much more interest in trying something new. So, their attitude might better.
Kimberly Snyder: Yes, yes.
Elizabeth : But I don’t want any of your listeners to have a feeling like, “Oh, I’m 50 there’s nothing I can do.”
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, no, no.
Elizabeth : Definitely not the case.
Kimberly Snyder: I was thinking of my grandfather who was also in the military, and… this is in the Philippines, and just seem to his whole life and I didn’t know what to call it, but he did have post traumatic stress syndrome, I was a child I didn’t call it that, but pretty much his whole life he had it and he didn’t really get out of it. So anyways, I was just… but I’m not sure that he really paid attention to it or tried. It just sort of was there. And I think that your work is so helpful for all of us, again, teens, 20s, all the way through. It’s just great to know it can be applicable for anybody. And I wish… he’s passed now, I wish I could have known about this work and tried to introduce it to him when he was still in his body.
Elizabeth : Yes. I think sometimes about my grandfather, and my father, both of them suffered from PTSD. At the time that they both were suffering, the diagnosis didn’t even formally exist yet. And there was not nearly the understanding there is now about what it is, and the fact that it’s not mental weakness. It’s not saying something about that person that there’s something wrong with them. It is a mind and body that is no longer operating in its best way because it has not had an opportunity to fully recover. I feel so deeply grateful that I live at a time in human history when we both have had the scientific tools to understand how this stuff works. And that we live in a country where we have access to free information, apps, these things. I mean, I feel I’ve experienced a lot of stress and trauma in my life, but I also feel so blessed that I’ve had just an amazing range of experiences to help me understand what was going on and what to do about it.
Elizabeth : And now I feel like my own mind and body are the exhibit A of what I’m teaching here. I was really sick and really unhappy for a long time. I feel like if I can do it anybody can do it. It just takes understanding how [inaudible 00:46:54]wired, and then having some intentionality to have a commitment to really practice these things. Because these things are habits. It isn’t something you can just read about and have it be fixed. We have to do it in a regular way. And it’s one of the reasons why I love your podcasts so much, because you talk so often about lifestyles and lifestyle[inaudible 00:47:15]. Those things are really important. The way we live each day after day, after day, that is our life. And so the choices we’re making day after day, after day have this tremendous effect. And we have agency there.
Kimberly Snyder: Well, Liz, thank you so much. I could talk to you all day. I want to acknowledge you as… Of course your eyesight came back on a physical level. You’ve healed your body. But just energetically speaking with the trauma and everything you’ve been through, I mean, you couldn’t be more warm. You couldn’t be more open. I do meet people that are closed and they don’t even know they’re closed. And we all know people like that. So to have come through everything that you have been through, and to be so loving and light, and not heavy and dense, to use your word earlier, I think is a real testament to your work and the fact that you are living and breathing your work, and now you’ve written this amazing book to help people, which beauties, I could not recommend more. It’s sitting here in front of me. It is amazing. So I want to acknowledge that, and I think that alone how you’re showing up because your energy on our podcast really does speak volumes. So thank you so much for your work, but also just for being you.
Elizabeth : Thank you so much for saying that. And I’d like to say that right back at you, Kimberly. I think you do amazing things in the world, and it was… Just tickled me pink when I got to this[inaudible 00:48:45] you. So, thank you.
Kimberly Snyder: Thank you. Thank you. And Liz tell us… Okay, so beauties, the book is out now. Again, I’ll say the title, Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma. If you head over to the show notes at mysolluna.com, we are going to have direct links both to purchase the book and also to go to Dr. Stanley’s website. But could you also verbally tell us, Liz, where you… you mentioned some audio tools and where people can find out more about your work online?
Elizabeth : Absolutely. So my website is www.elizabeth-stanley.com, and you can download the free instructions for the contact points exercise, which is in chapter 12. You have the written exercise in the book, but if you’d like to have the guided audio to practice with, you can get that on my website. And you can also learn more about doing trainings. And if you are in need of a body-based trauma therapist to help work with your survival brain, and pace the recovery process, I also have links on my website to referrals for therapists who are certified in those techniques. So you can find that information there too.
Kimberly Snyder: Oh, amazing. Amazing. Well, Liz, I really… and I don’t say this… I’ve never said it on a podcast actually. I really am in awe of you. Again, just your being as I can really feel your authenticity and your presence. I’m really so grateful for your work. Thank you so much again. I really think you’re amazing.
Elizabeth : [crosstalk 00:50:20]thank you.
Kimberly Snyder: Thank you beauties for tuning in, I really hope you guys check out Elizabeth Stanley’s work. I keep calling her Liz, but Dr. Elizabeth Stanley, you can Google, go to the show notes, find it. I think we all have stress and trauma, and the more we deal with it, the better our experience of life is, and to the name of our podcast, the better we’re going to feel, we’re going to feel good when we really tap into our own power, and work to clear this. We don’t have to live with it.
Kimberly Snyder: So, I’m really grateful for Dr. Stanley’s book. I’m so grateful for you tuning in today. Thank you so much for being part of our community. We love you. I love you. I care. And remember you can also ask me questions over at my saloon on the podcast tab. We have our Q&A podcast every Thursday. So, we’ll see you back here for that in just a few days. And remember that we have daily inspiration for you also on Instagram, we are adding a lot more lifestyle tips, very practical information. And that is @_kimberlysnyder.
Kimberly Snyder: All right. So thank you beauties. Thank you again, Liz, and we will see you guys back here soon until then take care and so much love.