Sunday, December 27, 2015

Move a Muscle Change a Thought

What happens to our bodies and our brains when we are caregivers?

We know a lot about the brain and addiction and stress. We know that caregivers are at high risk of misusing drugs and alcohol abuse and eating problems. The attitudes of people around us are not always the helpful. “Well, she deserves a glass of wine” or “Sure he smokes some dope but really—all that stress—he has to relax.” Or, “Yes she’s gained a lot of weight but taking care of her partner is really hard.” 

But what are we missing? How can we manage that stress and even the trauma of

A few weeks ago I attended a workshop with Bessel van der Kolk—who is the Director of The Trauma Center in Boston and considered by many to be the world’s top expert on trauma. He talked a lot about what happens to soldiers and veterans, of course, and what happens to people that experience terrible sexual traumas or who are in horrific accidents. Those are the folks who come to him for help.

But he also talked about the relationship between trauma and stress and addiction. He talked about what happens to doctors and nurses and caregivers. We’ve known about that intuitively, of course. Most professionals recommend support groups where we are encouraged to process our stress with lots of talking and sharing. But van der Kolk explained that talking can only help to a degree; we need to change the body first or words won’t work. “Calm the body to calm the brain,” he says.

That helped me to understand why I can’t always talk myself out of my feelings, and why it’s frustrating when someone says, “You don’t need to feel that way” when we are mad or sad or scared. We can’t get at our thoughts with other thoughts—we need to go through the body.

What trauma experts like Bessel van der Kolk recommend are breathing exercises, yoga, walking, stretching, dancing (not any formal kind of dance but rather moving around to some music)—movement. Now it’s been documented: Changing the body can change the brain.

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