Gary R. Plaford, MSW and LCSW, has four published books to his credit, three non-fiction books, and one fiction. The books, listed in order from the latest to the earliest are titled Fight or Flight—The Ultimate Book for Understanding and Managing Stress (2018), Sleep and Learning—The Magic that Makes Us Healthy and Smart (2009), Bullying and the Brain—Using Cognitive and Emotional Intelligence To Help Kids Cope (2006), and Ultimate Exposure (1995). Over his career he has worked for the Indiana State Department of Mental Health, the Indiana State Department of Corrections, The Monroe County Community School Corporation, and Indiana University. Additionally, he has been a speaker and numerous conferences around the country, including the Learning and the Brain Conference held in Boston, Massachusetts, and The Oxford Round Table at Oxford University in Oxford, England.
Gary’s latest book, Fight of Flight, is about stress. The book is divided into two parts. Part one explains stress. We tend to think of stress as a bad thing. Too much stress, too high a level of stress, or prolonged stress can certainly be bad. However, it is stress that causes us to act, to do things, to accomplish things. Most students in school don’t study for the test because they want to know the material, they study because knowing the material reduces their stress level. A great deal of our actions is basically to reduce stress.
Levels of stress are also important. We can experience no stress, mild stress, moderate stress, or high stress. We tend to do nothing regarding a situation if there is no stress, we tend to act…we do something under mild or moderate stress, but when we experience high stress we can go into fight or flight where we do not address the situation, but rather do our best to get out of or run from the situation. High stress often creates a different scenario for us.
Additionally, what are the conditions that cause stress? There are four basic conditions to consider. Is the stress coming from novelty, unpredictability, lack of control, or threat to ego? If we understand these conditions then we can more effectively evaluate the appropriate steps to deal with the stressor.
How does the brain work under stress? This involves understanding some of our recent understanding of the locus of control of brain functioning including the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere, and the limbic system. A basic understanding can be very beneficial in helping manage stress.
Part two of the book is completely unique in its focus on managing and dealing with stress. Stress, like grief, can affect us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Consequently, in managing stress we need to have physical strategies, mental strategies, emotional strategies, and spiritual strategies. Multiple such strategies are discussed here.
In 2009 Sleep and Learning was published. The impetus for writing this book was to help people, especially parents, understand the importance of sleep. Sleep is critical for us in numerous ways. Why is it that we spend nearly a third of our lives in sleep? It is because multiple necessary and critical functions are accomplished during the different stages of sleep. This is why we have stages of sleep. Non-REM sleep, especially stages three and four of non-REM, are critical for health reasons. The immune system is regulated during non-REM sleep. Metabolism, including the regulation of blood sugar levels, is regulated during non-REM sleep. This can result not only in weight gain and obesity but also in diabetes onset. Weight gain, while significant in itself, also can cause or exacerbate reduced oxygen flow or even sleep apnea, which in turn can cause heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Our ability to maintain a set body temperature, a key in fighting disease, is also regulated during non-REM sleep. Growth hormone, which is what repairs body tears and promotes healing, is released only during non-REM sleep. Animal studies have conclusively demonstrated that if you shut down non-REM sleep the result is death…one hundred percent of the time.
REM sleep, on the other hand, is critical for such things as memory, learning, and mental health. During REM sleep the brain communicates with itself. It processes all that went on that day. It sorts and stores information. Memory is the main ingredient in learning…all learning. Learning to walk, to throw a ball, to speak, to understand the emotions of another. Memory is, in fact, the basis of who we are, how we understand ourselves and our relationships with others and with the world. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease because it takes who we are, who we were, away from us…it takes away our memory.
Memory itself is an interesting subject because there is what we call working memory, short term memory, and long term memory. Also, memory storage and memory retrieval are not the same things. These issues and more are discussed in Sleep and Learning.
Bullying and the Brain was published in 2006. This book was written to help parents and teachers understand how what we know about brain functioning and emotional intelligence could be used to address the issues of bullying that we are seeing with our youth. In addressing the issue of bullying there must be both external interventions and internal interventions. Internal interventions include building emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, in most schools around the country, the only interventions ever considered are external ones. We will never successfully deal with bullying in our schools until we also utilize internal interventions.
Ultimate Exposure, published in 1995, is a suspense adventure novel. It is the story of a man who, in a moment of weakness and bitterness over a failing marriage, hires a hit man to kill his wife. The wife, who is a defense attorney, had recently defended the hitman in another criminal trial, and the tables are set for a double cross…or are they?
Besides these books, in his retirement, Gary is currently writing a second stage play and has been performing some standup comedy.