Why It Makes a Difference (part five)
November 30, 2011
| stress | body | steady state | Resilience | brain |
So, why are these particular psychological attributes – experienced emotionally and cognitively, alone and in relationship – the key to building a resilient life? Let’s go back to the concept of allostasis for some possible answers. One reason why our body doesn’t return to a steady state after a stress response is because psychological reactions can hinder allostasis. If we catastrophize the event and think of nothing else, we keep the stress response from resolving. When we live a resilient life, we are more likely to put trauma, even severe life altering trauma, in a context that allows for the completion of allostasis. Our body can then heal itself.
With strength, we know we can survive. With meaning/purpose, we know there is a reason for us to live another day. With pleasure, we know that we have been given the ability to enjoy life deeply. Just as trauma is a reality in life, so is pleasure. When trauma comes, and the stress of life seems overwhelming, we can still experience strength and purpose. Eventually, pleasure will return. That’s resilience.
Here’s one final thought. We talked earlier about how stress hormones from the downstairs brain turn off the upstairs brain, where our ability to think and feel resides. Can you guess where such attributes as strength, meaning and pleasure reside? Of course, in the upstairs brain.
Is it possible that living a resilient life strengthens our upstairs brain to withstand the onslaught of the “fight or flight” hormones that would otherwise lead to battle or panic? Without much in the way of evidence, I will go out on a limb and say, “Yes.” I suggest that living with strength, meaning, and pleasure could build up the areas of our brain that help us recover the next time life goes awry. With more certainty, I believe that a life characterized by personal strength, meaning and purpose, and feelings of unencumbered pleasure embodies the definition of resilience. One day at a time.