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prefrontal cortex, is reduced, and our " executive
functioning " suffers as our brains shunt activity
to the " fight or flight " survival zones that keep
us safe and secure. We narrow our zone of
attention, our pupils dilate, and our attention
zeros in and focuses.
This is great on shift, if you're managing a high
stress situation with a patient or coping with
a stressful encounter. Unfortunately, when we
encounter long term stress-when our bodies
chronically remain in stress response-we suffer.
Our bodies and brains are not meant to be in
this heightened state of arousal for an extended
period of time. And when it is, damage to our
bodies, minds AND spirits can take a toll.

One way to ground yourself is to engage your
senses. Notice a few things around you-what
do you see? Name three things.
Then notice-what do you hear? Name 2
things you hear. What do you smell, taste, feel?
If you have the time, take a moment to take
in your surroundings. Each time, notice how
things may shift as you intentionally bring your
concentration and focus away from the " monkey
mind " reactivity and into mindful presence.
When we choose to move into present
awareness, we are intentionally moving our
cognitions to wider awareness, which in turn
makes us more able to problem solve and make
rational decisions.

Sadly, much of our culture and society-the
" always on " technology and " shock " nature of
our news cycle-makes it difficult for us to Jello Technique
disconnect from stress-inducing thoughts and
What does it take for you to relax? A weekend
situations. We may not be in actual physical away? Taking 20 minutes of meditation time?
harm's way, but our brains don't know that, Zoning out in front of the TV all weekend?
and if it senses threat, tension happens. As Well, these may be nice from time to time, but
frontline providers, physicians are more apt to they are absolutely not necessary.
have burnout if you don't instill recovery and
stress-reduction strategies in your lives after
work. So instead of having a restful sleep or It takes THREE SECONDS to relax.
feeling recovered after a day or two off, you're
Really. Give it a try:
finding yourself unable to " turn off. " Our
brains are part of the cause: with heightened Right now-notice your body.
stress response, we have memory lapses, we Count backwards to 3 and while you do so,
struggle to concentrate, and we have trouble make your muscles-head to toe-feel like
making decisions. We lose access to the brain jello inside.
centers responsible for language, creativity, and 3...2...1.
relationship building. We are in self-preservation
mode. And if you work in groups, or have a Breathe. Notice any changes? When our
relationship, you know how that can cause bodies are released from tension, our brains
get the message: " no threat here. " We relax.
some serious problems!
Thankfully, there are extremely simple and That's it!
easy ways to intervene on a daily basis so that
you can reconnect with your parasympathetic
nervous system and derail your body's stress
response. You can learn to be the master of
your brain.

Grounding-getting our mind AND body
back into the present moment-can be a great,
easy stress reliever.

18 Fall 2020 Central PA Medicine

You can do these techniques anywhere,
anytime. You can do the jello technique even
in conversation with colleagues or before going
into a patient's room. You can make an effort
to notice your muscle tension and release it
when you are talking to your loved one after a
stressful day at work. If you learn to hear how
your body is reacting to your thoughts and
surrounding experience, you are the true master
of your brain, instead of the other way around.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is a proven technique that helps our
bodies recreate a relaxation response in real
time. I recommend clients use this technique
if they are having trouble falling asleep due to
intrusive thoughts or other annoying mental
worries. It's simple:
Go from the bottom up, and in each muscle
group, tense it tight for three to five seconds
then release. Clench your toes, hold, release.
Flex your ankles, hold, release. Clench your
calves, hold, release, and so on, all the way up
to your facial muscles and head. Then, travel
back down, slowly and intentionally, from
your head back down to your toes. This takes
about 5 minutes. Most clients I know barely get
halfway through the exercise till they are totally
relaxed and falling asleep. So easy and effective!
Our brains are great at protecting us, keeping
us out of harm's way and keeping us alive.
They just have the higher-level brain structures
that can get in the way and create a sense of
threat or worry when there is no real threat to
our physical integrity. If we intervene when
our bodies become tense and use relaxation
strategies, we are telling our brains that there is
no danger and that all is well. When we know
that our bodies and brains are well, then we are
optimized to be the best physician, healthcare
provider, friend and family member we can be.
And who wouldn't want that?
Note: This article is not intended to replace
medical advice and is for informational purposes
only. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed,
anxious, or otherwise " not yourself, " it may be
time to reach out for extra help. Confidential
support is out there; check out PA's Physician
Health Program at www.foundationpameddoc.
org or reach out to a Licensed Professional
Allie Kochert, MA, LPC, CTS-I, CSD, is a Pennsylvania licensed psychotherapist and emotional wellness
coach. In her exclusively online private practice, she
offers therapy, workshops, coaching, and specializes in
helping healthcare and caregiving professionals maintain mine-body-spirit resiliency and prevent burnout in
their personal lives, families, and careers.

http://www.dauphincms.org http://www.foundationpameddoc.org http://www.foundationpameddoc.org

Central PA Medicine Fall 2020

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