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How You Respond to the Issue….Is the Issue

How You Respond to the Issue….Is the Issue

The smoke alarm in my bedroom went off at 6:30 am this morning.  Absolutely nothing was happening in terms of fire or smoke, but when I tried to turn it off or dismantle the battery, a voice message kept saying “Fire! Fire” Carbon monoxide.”

Bewildered and annoyed by the constant beeping, I called the fire department. Not an emergency but to check out the alarm itself.  Yes, determined defective. (Surprise, installed brand new last January but there it was). Dismantled and my electrician scheduled to replace it tomorrow morning.

I teach resilience. I teach being able to regulate the fire alarm of the brain – the amygdala – by the pre-frontal cortex staying online to assess whether the signals of immediate danger are truly true or false alarms. Staying present and making conscious choices in the face of our automatic fight-flight-freeze responses.

Here’s a story from Bouncing Back to illustrate how we can train our higher brains to stay online with the lower brain’s fire alarm goes off:

I can startle as quickly as anybody when I see a spider in the bathtub. My fear response is a “bottom up” reflex hardwired into my lower brain, operating to keep me alive. The startle reflex to the “threat” of the spider in my tub is now tempered by “top down” reflection from my higher brain, based on years of learning about spiders. I know that the spider can’t crawl its way back up the slippery side of the tub. I’ve learned that spiders are, in fact, beneficial allies in my garden, eating all kinds of flies and bugs. 

I can also reflect on my choices of response to my startle. I know that I will feel better about myself if I scoop the spider up with a cup and a stiff piece of paper and take it out to my garden, than if I squash it and flush it down the drain. (In this situation, I’m a much bigger threat to the spider than it is to me.) I have trained myself to keep a plastic cup and old greeting card on the shelf in the bathroom for just such purposes. 

This one small example illustrates the importance of strengthening the capacities of the pre-frontal cortex to re-wire our brain toward the Five C’s of coping. I can see clearly that the spider is not a threat. I remain calm. I’ve become competent at dealing with the spider-in-the-bathtub situation. I am connected to resources; I have my “spider transport” handy. All of which helps me feel courageous rather than frightened when I next encounter a spider in the tub.

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