Published by Sourcebooks
Publication date: January 1st 2013
It is possible to prepare your brain to truly manage stress. And the result is well worth the effort: discovering a sense of calm and confidence that makes life ultimately worthwhile.
Strong words for an introduction and ones that will certainly grab a lot of readers. In today’s world of chaos and unpredictability our brain’s alarm center is firing at DEFCON 1 all the time. Anyone promising help in that area will get attention, which is exactly what Dr. Julian Ford and Jon Wortmann do in Hijacked by Your Brain: How to Free Yourself When Stress Takes Over. Dr. Ford is a clinical psychologist who has been studying the effects of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) on the brain’s response to stress and has now created a practice that can help the rest of us as well.
The alarm center in our brain that manages stress, the amygdala, is reactive only and, after decades of low level stress, tends to overreact to all situations. Telling yourself not to worry or to ‘get over it’ doesn’t work because the brain’s alarm system has the cognitive capabilities of a two-year-old. Empty promises only inflame the situation. The solution is to find ways to redirect and quiet the brain’s alarm which can be done by engaging its thinking center, found in the prefrontal cortex. The steps Ford and Wortmann have designed are called SOS for: Step Back, Orient, Self Check. These steps are not only preventative but also act as intervention and have been scientifically validated.
What SOS helps to do is engage the thinking center of the brain. When the focus is moved from alarm to thinking we can operate and respond optimally and
Instead of dozens of fractured, fragmented, and out-of-control thoughts racing through your mind, you can choose to focus your brain on what you find most calming and helpful…Alarm thoughts don’t have to be the only soundtrack playing in your mind.
If this sounds facile, Ford and Wortmann are not offering a quick fix. As creatures of habit, reacting without thought has become hardwired in our brains. SOS requires rewiring which is an ongoing process. The ‘orient’ stage means setting aside time for quiet reflection to determine what the thoughts are that most calm you as
The unique facility of the thinking center is to think about what life means.
Doing this leads to establishing a short, precise list of core values and choosing one as your centering thought when alarm strikes. As you progress, every action works towards the goal of the core values. It will not likely happen all at once but the first time one is faced with alarm stress and can thoughtfully quiet that alarm feels like a real victory.
…you may be stressed and have to work hard at coping, but you can also choose to focus on what you care about.
There are far too many key points in this book to cite them all but here are a few more interesting take aways:
But when we feel out of control we can get angry, scared, impulsive, and even desperate. That’s the real problem: feeling helpless can cause the brain’s alarm to overreact, and this lead to our out-of-control actions.
Personal control is your confidence that at this moment you can think clearly enough to make good choices and handle the challenges you face.
Each time you focus on one thought that you choose, you create a safe space in your mind that is free of all distractions.
Hijacked by Your Brain is one of the best new books in this genre. Yes, it uses keywords, catchphrases and acronyms, but only as needed and in a clear enough way that they will be remembered. This is a well written, approachable look at stress—not one that is based on the premise that you “can remove stress from your life forever” or any of that hokum. Stress is a part of life and the authors are giving basic (step back before reacting), thoughtful and practical tools to manage it. This is a book that will become a reference guide in the life of anyone looking to manage stress and enjoy life.