Lori Russell-Chapin Ph.D.

Brain Waves

Now Is the Time for Resiliency

The science behind reframing and reappraisal builds resiliency.

Posted Nov 26, 2016

Electing a new United States President is a major transition, no matter for whom you voted. Some times your candidate wins, and some times your candidate does not win.  That is the purpose of a democracy.  It is never easy or a smooth change.

With this change or any change such as the stress of the upcoming holidays, what can we do to assist in that transition?  The answer lies somewhere in the concept of resiliency.  This is a term we often use, but I am guessing it, too, is one of those words that needs clarification. The Random House Dictionary defines resiliency as “the power or ability to return to the original form after being bent, compressed or stretched.”

That definition applies to almost every situation in a human life whether that is an illness, a difficult decision or a personal change.  A group of researchers at Yale conducted an excellent study about resiliency. Sinha and colleagues (2016) studied 30 young adults with no previous psychiatric disorders.  Fifteen participants were assigned to a treatment group, and 15 were assigned to a control group.  All subjects were scanned using a fMRI to assess the stress response and other active coping strategies.  The treatment group was exposed to a block of 60 second runs of highly aversive visual images.  Each image lasted 5 seconds.  The control received neutral images that were not stressful.  All subjects were also tested with a subjective rating scale, and plasma cortical levels and heart rate were measured.

The results were fascinating.  Those subjects who were resilient with a lower stress response showed neuroplasticity and activation in the ventral medial pre-frontal cortex (VmPFC).  This part of the brain is often responsible for adaptive responses to emotional stimuli.  When subjects were assessed, those that were able to control their reactions to the aversive pictures used skills such as reframing and reappraisal.  Being able to practice symbolically looking at life from many perspectives (reframing) and trying to assess the problems in different ways (reappraisal), seem to help in reducing stressors in our lives.

We also know of the plastic paradox of negative and positive plasticity.  Consistent negative thinking changes the brain, so it makes sense that consistently using reframing and reappraisal help with positive changes in the brain or positive plasticity.  Using the two positive skills of reframing and reappraisal will assist in building flexibility and adaptability, so we have more resiliency load to access the next time a hardship or stressors occurs.  

Right after the presidential election, my husband, Ted, and I went to see the Broadway play, Hamilton.  It is a story about Alexander Hamilton and other influential leaders and founding fathers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. It also showcased the powerful women in their lives.

Lori Russell-Chapin
Source: Lori Russell-Chapin

The election of 1800 was emphasized, and it seemed to be as contentious as the recent election.  The play was very healing for me, as it helped reframe this election with a different perspective.  Throughout US history, changes of power occur.  Even if the change is not quite what was expected, there were and will be positive outcomes as well.  The play also illustrated the legacies of all the characters and the contribution that each played.  It is an exceptional story with music, lyrics and choreography to match.

The next time you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with any change or situation, practice creating resiliency with reframes and reappraisals.  These skills actually work, and it changes your brain!

For information about Bradley University's online Master in Counseling go to: http://onlinedegrees.bradley.edu/counseling.

References

Sinha, R., Lacadie, C.M., Constable, R.T. & Seo, O. (2016). Dynamic neural activity during stress signals  resilient

          coping. Professional National Academy of Sciences, July. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1600965113.