Widen the Window Book Summary - Widen the Window Book explained in key points
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Widen the Window summary

Elizabeth A. Stanley

Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma

4.7 (412 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

Widen the Window by Elizabeth A. Stanley delves into the effects of chronic stress on the mind, body, and behavior. The book offers practical tools to help individuals better regulate their stress response and improve their overall well-being.

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    Widen the Window
    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Stress and trauma prompt the “ancient” part of our brain to engage our bodies’ natural defense systems. 

    Stress and trauma are often seen as separate issues in our culture. Often, we view stress as something to brag about — a sign of our busyness and importance. Trauma, on the other hand, is viewed as a serious, more or less permanent condition in response to a horrible event. 

    But for your mind and body, stress and trauma lie on the same spectrum. That’s right, how you react to an angry email from your boss versus a gun to your head actually have a lot in common. Both rely on an ancient survival response of your brain — it’s just a matter of degrees.

    Your brain can be roughly divided into two parts. The surface, or neocortex, is the “thinking brain,” which enables higher cognitive functions such as thoughts, plans, and memories. These activities are mostly conscious and voluntary.

    Below the surface lies the “survival brain,” which consists of the limbic system, brainstem, and cerebellum. It exists in all mammals, regulating basic survival functions such as breathing, sleeping, and hunger — most of which are not under our conscious control.

    Most importantly, the survival brain also regulates your response to stress. It constantly scans your environment for internal or external threats in a process called neuroception. When the survival brain neurocepts a threat, it engages your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which controls things like hormones, heart rate, and digestion to help you deal with the situation. The ANS has two branches: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is responsible for turning stress activation on; and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), responsible for turning it off. 

    When stress activation is turned on by the SNS, your mind-body system runs through your three lines of defense.

    The first one is your social engagement system. Imagine yourself walking alone in a park at night when suddenly, a hooded figure blocks your path. Your first reaction would likely be to look around for other people, perhaps yelling for help. 

    Once you realize you’re all alone, your SNS resorts to your second line of defense, the fight-or-flight response. You prepare yourself to throw a punch, but when the hooded figure produces a knife, your heart jumps and you run away. 

    Now imagine that you’re not fast enough. Your attacker catches you and pins you to the ground. Your body goes slack, and your mind goes blank. This last line of defense is freeze, and it’s the one most often associated with trauma. It happens when the survival brain perceives you to be truly helpless. The stress of such trauma can get stored in your body and brain for a long time.

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    What is Widen the Window about?

    Widen the Window (2019) is your guide to healing trauma, relieving chronic stress, and living fully in the present. Drawing on her personal experience as a military leader and building on the latest science, Elizabeth A. Stanley examines how stress and trauma impact our mind and body; how our culture incentivizes work over health; and how mindfulness can bridge the gap between our thinking brains and our bodies’ ancient survival stress response.

    Widen the Window Review

    Widen the Window (2019) is a thought-provoking exploration of how trauma affects our bodies and minds and provides practical tools for healing and resilience. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a research-backed understanding of trauma and its impact on our lives, enabling readers to gain valuable insights and develop resilience.
    • Provides practical techniques for regulating our nervous system and overcoming trauma, empowering readers to take control of their healing journeys.
    • By sharing her own personal experiences and stories from her clients, the author establishes a deep emotional connection with readers, making the topic relatable and engaging.

    Who should read Widen the Window?

    • Anyone who has suffered physical or psychological trauma 
    • People working in the military, first response, and other high stress professions
    • Overachievers, workaholics, and other “type A” personalities

    About the Author

    Elizabeth A. Stanley is a US Army veteran, award-winning author, and associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University. She holds degrees in political science and strategy from Harvard, Yale, and MIT, and has used her experience to create the acclaimed Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), a method used to help soldiers and civilians manage high-stress situations.

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    Widen the Window FAQs 

    What is the main message of Widen the Window?

    The main message of Widen the Window is how to develop resilience and thrive through adversity.

    How long does it take to read Widen the Window?

    The reading time for Widen the Window varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Widen the Window a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Widen the Window is worth reading as it provides practical tools for building resilience and improving overall well-being.

    Who is the author of Widen the Window?

    Elizabeth A. Stanley is the author of Widen the Window.

    What to read after Widen the Window?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Widen the Window, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Answer to Anxiety by Joyce Meyer
    • It Didn't Start With You by Mark Wolynn
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