Episode 19: Healing from trauma
Welcome to Uninhibited, a podcast with the mission to discuss taboo, multicultural, multi-generational, and multi-layered topics that matter to women.
Our host, Dr. Makunda Abdul Mbacke, is an Ivy-League trained OBGYN, practicing medicine in rural America. She is a mother, career professional, part of Generation X, and so much more.
0:45 -Dr. Makunda welcomes listeners with an introduction to today’s guest, Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Stanley, author of Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma, and a longtime friend of Dr. Makunda.
2:15 - Liz shares about her background, starting with her being the ninth generation of her family to serve in the military. She went to Yale on an ROTC scholarship and went on two deployments and finally had to confront many years of trauma in graduate school. Her book is a navigation of her own recovery, the science of trauma and recovery, and how this all came together in the creation of Liz’s resilience training for others.
6:10 - Dr, Makunda asks what Liz experienced when it all became too much, and the process of realizing her physical and emotional traumas. The physical manifestations of stress and trauma can be astounding, which emphasizes the importance of mental health and wellness. It took Liz and her doctors years to figure out all the contributing factors that affected her health.
9:00 - “It’s a strong metaphor - I didn’t want to see what was in my life.” Liz comments on how her physical conditions, like temporarily losing her eyesight, were indicative of larger issues in her life.
10:30 - Liz explains the experience of not being believed by medical professionals when she went to them for help. It was devastating and traumatic not to be believed, but also led Liz to a path of owning her decisions and her body, trying non-traditional techniques and approaches to healing herself. However, she doesn’t fault the doctors at all - they were working with the tools and knowledge they had at the time.
15:00 - Dr. Makunda asks Liz to explain the thinking brain vs. the survival brain, a concept that she dives into in her book. The thinking brain controls reasoning, planning, willpower, and explicit decision-making - it’s the narrator of our daily lives. The survival brain is the evolutionary older parts of the brain that controls emotions and reactions, our unconscious and automatic thought and reaction. Our thinking brain can go offline in trauma and stress, while the survival brain is always on, always learning, always remembering, so our brains operate very differently when we are experiencing a stress event.
20:00 - Liz details the condition of survival brain hijacking, where the thinking brain is overridden by the survival brain and self-medicating and self-harming behavior can become more prevalent, but true mental and physical healing is not being achieved.
21:05 - Dr. Makunda asks Liz about the Mindfulness Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) that she developed and why it was necessary. There was a need for people who had experienced mental and physical trauma to navigate meditation and mindfulness differently, and address the survival brain’s responses. The most important aspect is for people to continually practice the exercises, to help the brain retrain itself.
26:50 - “Mindfulness really does need to be taught in a trauma-sensitive or trauma-informed manner, and there’s starting to be some movement towards that direction, because that’s not the way that the mass media often portrays it.” - Liz’s statement that meditation and mindfulness practice is really not as easy as the media can make it seem.
28:45 - Dr Makunda and Liz discuss how meditation and mindfulness practice can help with younger and teenage populations, especially as there is more attention on childhood stress and trauma, and a wider acceptance that early childhood experiences can plant the seeds of behavioral issues and emotional resiliency later in life.
33:27 - Dr. Makunda asks if adversity can create grit and determination in people and actually contribute to success, as both Makunda and Liz have both experienced in their lives. Without adversity, can we develop resiliency and push for greater achievements, more success? Liz offers her perspective on this challenging question. There are so many layers to how an individual may experience adversity, stress, trauma, and how that person may get through and internalize the situation.
41:07 - Dr. Makunda asks Liz how we can practice healthy behaviors in the current climate of living under stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19. Financial uncertainty, losing jobs, disrupted routines, limited movement can be very disrupting and distressing. However, Liz emphasizes that this is a “new beginnings” time, a structural time where we can work on new habits and make choices to build resilience while we are navigating uncertainty.
43:50 - Liz shares some mental and physical wellbeing tips for listeners to reinforce their survival brains while in COVID-19 lockdown. She recommends getting enough sleep, disengaging from the crisis media, finding a way to exercise or move your body every day, to focus on diet and balanced eating, making time to connect virtually with others to socialize, but also making space for alone time as well.
49:10 - Liz leaves listeners with this - you always have a choice about where you are directing your attention. We can learn to train our attention to que the body and survival brain to feel space. Download Liz’s 5-minute guided exercise from her website to get started on your mindfulness practice.
Check out Liz’s website - https://elizabeth-stanley.com/
Gain access to the MMFT® Contact Points Exercise - https://elizabeth-stanley.com/resources/