On this second day of 2021, we are all very aware of some tough months ahead as we wait for the Covid vaccine to be rolled out in Ireland. We have undergone exceptional levels of stress over the past year and I think most of us feel that our reserves are low. What does psychological research show us about how to build resilience?
Below are some suggestions:
1. Prioritise relationships
Humans beings are designed to connect and so making this our focus in challenging times is a powerful way to build resilience. Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate individuals who validate your feelings, which will support the skill of resilience. The pain of traumatic events can lead some people to isolate themselves, but it’s important to accept help and support from those who care about you. Even having friendly chat over a cup of coffee is restricted right now so this may not be face to face. But even so, seek help when you need it from those around you and be there for others when they need a helping hand.
2. Practice self care
Self care is talked about a lot these days but what exactly does it mean? Some suggestions are as follows:
- Write about how you are feeling
This is one of my essentials. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time but research has shown that writing down in a journal how you are feeling and keeping track of your moods and energy levels on a day to day basis can be extremely useful. Can you see any patterns emerging? It’s very useful to keep a daily note of your levels of anxiety / mood / energy / sleep by recording a score from 1 to 10 so you can start to see your progress and to see if there are any patterns emerging eg does varying the amount of sleep you have affect your scores?
- Avoid alcohol, sugar and caffeine and eat as well as you can
Research shows very clearly that exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. When you are stressed, the hormone adrenalin is coursing around your body and exercise will swiftly burn this off. Find something that you enjoy and which fits into your life style – even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours. Yoga is very good as it uses slow stretching movements working with the breath. Make it part of your daily routine (in a kind gentle way!)
- Practice Mindfulness
Some people find it really helpful to deliberately take time out each day for a few minutes and listen to a meditation/relaxation CD. But mindfulness simply means “being aware” of your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviour, rather than on automatic pilot – so that you are able to have control and choices about how to respond. Some physical things you can do to calm yourself when stressed (mostly of them invisible to others so can do them at work etc) are:
Clenching/relaxation – of hands and other muscle groups – clench fists as hard as you can for as long as it’s bearable then simply let go and feel the sense of relaxation in your body.
Practice 7/11 breathing – in for the count of 7, out for the count of 11. Imagine a balloon in your tummy area inflating as you breathe in, deflating as you breathe out.
Say “STOP” to yourself (or practice the STOP gesture of putting up your arms and hands) when you feel yourself getting stressed or anxious. You might also have a particular phrase you repeat to yourself such as “I can do this” or “I’m OK.
- Smile and laugh
Be silly, have fun. Watch comedy on TV rather than endless news bulletins (I LOVED Death to 2020 on Netflix), spend time with young children, throw a ball for a dog. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions and we often hold a lot of the stress in our faces. Laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension and produce the feel good hormone serotonin.
- Do what you love
It’s so much easier to manage periods of stress when the rest of your life is filled with stuff you love. We have the tendency to stop doing those things when we feel stressed although that is very time when we really need to.
3. Find meaning and purpose in your life
What is really important to you? I think most of us, over the past year, can now say that there is really very little of any importance except our health and our relationships. A lot of things we used to think were important simply no longer are…
4. Be proactive
It’s helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during these current hard times, but it’s also important to help you foster self-discovery by asking yourself, “What can I do about a problem in my life?” If the problems seem too big to tackle, break them down into manageable pieces:
- Move toward your goals.
Develop some realistic goals and do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward the things you want to accomplish. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
People often find that they have grown in some respect as a result of a struggle. For example, after a tragedy or hardship, people have reported better relationships and a greater sense of strength, even while feeling vulnerable. That can increase their sense of self-worth and heighten their appreciation for life.
5. Embrace healthy thoughts
Keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant part in how you feel — and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophise difficulties or assume the world is out to get you, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. For instance, if you feel overwhelmed by a challenge, remind yourself that what happened to you isn’t an indicator of how your future will go, and that you’re not helpless. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.
- Accept change and uncertainty
Accept that change is a part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. It’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way. An optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that good things will happen to you. Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Along the way, note any subtle ways in which you start to feel better as you deal with difficult situations.
Learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may discover how you can respond effectively to new difficult situations. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences.
Need some advice and support?
If you would like to learn more about how to build resilience in your own life, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!