Resilience and Disability

V. Here are some ways to improve your resilience.

d. Learn to calm down: The Art of Self-Regulation

Many people describe their first few months or years of struggling with a disability or chronic illness as being in continuous crisis. Managing a disability is stressful for both the person with the disability and for those providing care or assistance to them. Keeping yourself calm will help you to think more clearly and deal more effectively with any type of crisis you confront. Unfortunately, most of us don't know how to do this very well. The process of keeping ourselves calm is called stress management and self-regulation. For more information about this, refer to Chapter 2, Managing Stress, in Living with a Disability.

To be in control of our lives, we must be in control of our bodies. To do this, we must be aware of what our body is doing. When we are stressed to the point where our nervous system is overwhelmed, our body becomes disregulated. Our blood pressure, instead of coming down as it should after the stressor has passed, stays up, as does our heart rate and respiration. We may continue to sweat, our pupils may remain dilated, and we still feel like eating nothing, since digestion remains stopped. The sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system, continues to be in control. Our muscles remain tight and we remain hypervigilant. To calm down, we must put the parasympathetic system back in control.

To do this, we must first of all be aware of our body enough to realize what is happening to us and what we need to do to calm ourselves. To ground ourselves again.

Our connection with others can help us to do this by helping us to normalize our experience. To realize that other people indeed – all human beings – react this way when stress comes on too fast and there is too much of it. To realize that our nervous system has been overwhelmed and become deregulated and that we must regain control quickly if we are not to be traumatized.

Self-Regulation Exercise

As Genie Everett, Ph.D., RN, points out in her trauma first-aid program, stress does not equal trauma. We can learn to ground ourselves and to put the rational mind back in control, but we need to have learned how to do this long before the potentially traumatic stressors occur. We need to be aware enough of our bodies and our reaction to stress to realize what we can do to calm ourselves and ground ourselves, and we need to practice these calming responses before we need them so that they are put into muscle memory and are there for us when the car accident occurs, when the boss tells us we’re fired, when the terrorist attack occurs. One size does not fit all. For some of us, this may mean taking control of our breathing so that we slow it consciously and make it deeper. For some of us it may be rocking or shaking, or crying, or yawning, or focusing our mind’s eye on a color or a scene. Or putting our hands together or touching our heart. Whatever it is, we need to know it before we need it, and we need to have practiced using it. Resilience means that we need to be in control and that unless we are attempting to escape from the jaws of a saber-toothed tiger, it is usually better if our rational mind rather than our reptilian brain is in control.

Here are some Self-Regulation Exercises that you may print out and use to learn to calm down. - PDF requires plugin


Would you like to learn more about how other people have dealt with tragedy and adversity in their lives? Watch these excerpts from “Daily Heroes,” Volume I.

If you watched the videos, you can see that storytelling is a great way to learn and teach the skills of resilience. The first training sessions on resilience occurred thousands of years ago when the first human beings sat down around a campfire and talked about their lives. We would encourage you to consider telling or writing your story. Sharing your story with others may be a way of building your resilience and teaching others these skills and attitudes. Writing a story down may also build resilience, since putting things down in black and white can help people to better understand the situation that they have confronted and the way in which they dealt with it.

In the Maine Resilience Program we have used storytelling as one of the primary tools in teaching the skills and the attitudes of resilience. Learn more about the Maine Resilience Program here.

Reaching Home

Reaching Home book coverIn the Maine Resilience Program, we use a novel, Reaching Home, as one of our primary tools in teaching the skills and attitudes of resilience.  A novel is one of the best ways to teach these attitudes and skills since the average person requires 12 to 14 hours to read a novel.  This time is often spent over weeks or months and frequently in the late evening before falling asleep.  The reading is usually seen as enjoyable with the reader often identifying with one or more of the characters in the story.

The story is divided into four parts:  Book I – Fear, Book II – Flight, Book III – Fight, and Book IV – Hope.  Each book is followed by a synopsis of the chapters in the book and specific questions regarding the characters in the story.  These are followed by the author’s comments.

Your journey ends as it began in the year 2042.  The epilogue written by the young fisherman reflects the future that we may not want to create for our children and grandchildren.  The future can be different from that of the story if we, as a society, choose to make it so.

As you read the novel, you can observe how the characters in Reaching Home either apply or do not apply the skills and attitudes of resilience to the situation they confront.  In many cases, the characters will fail to use these skills or will choose to do things that will make a bad situation worse.  The process of reviewing the chapters and answering the questions gives you the opportunity to practice the skills and attitudes of resilience and to begin to integrate these skills and attitudes into your life.

In Reaching Home you take a trip into the future.  Your first stop is in the year 2042.  Your tour guide is a young fisherman who has discovered a manuscript written by his grandfather.  With the help of his mother, he has assembled it into the story of his grandfather’s life in the year 2013.

Lee, the young fisherman’s grandfather, is the main character in this story.  He transcends the typical notions of how heroes look and act.  He has never made peace with the South he grew up in as a child, without a left hand or with a prosthetic hook that he wears or the nuclear industry he blames for his disability.  He returns to the Southeast to research material for a book that he is writing.  While there, an explosion occurs at one of the Department of Energy Plants, and Lee is caught up in the ensuing disaster and implicated in what is mistakenly believed to be a terrorist plot.  He manages to escape from the detention center.

Much of the story focuses on his journey back to Maine and the unlikely allies he meets along the way.  Now on the radar of federal agents tracking a terrorist cell in Boston, Lee is arrested before he can reach home.  He is offered a deal:  Help the federal agents foil the plot and avoid prosecution.  To reach home, Lee must confront his fears and question his perceptions of good and evil.

Here is information about where you may purchase a copy of Reaching Home


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