Resilience: the antidote to stress

Life is unpredictable, challenging and at times traumatic, this inevitable causes stress. I often find myself saying to myself and others “It’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s how you deal with what happens to you.”

Imagine you’ve been working on a report or document for a few weeks then your computer gets a virus and crashes, you lose all your work
You are unexpectedly diagnosed with a long-term condition. Do you adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma and stress or do you crumble in despair?

When faced with stress of any kind, we move from a logical, rational brain to our reptilian brain, where the survival instinct kicks in. You have probably heard of the fight, flight or freeze responses.

A little bit of stress can be good as the adrenaline we experience can be motivating. However, if you’re dealing with acute stress over sustained period of time, your ability to cope and concentrate may suffer.

When we are stressed a whole lot of physiological reactions take place in our bodies.  Our hearts beat faster, in order to carry blood to the parts of the body it’s most needed. Our breathing becomes shallower and quicker, to try and get more oxygen to our body. We can perspire, to prevent overheating. Our mouth feels dry, as our digestive system slows down. Such physical changes can lead us to feeling anxious and worried. However, after the danger has passed, our body returns to normal.

This fight, flight or freeze response is not just present in the face of physical danger, the body react the same way to situations that you find emotionally upsetting e.g. an intense workload, relationship problems, financial difficulties. In these cases, you can’t flee as you would a physical danger, you have to stay and deal with the situation which means your body can’t return to homoeostasis (the state of equilibrium or optimal functioning).

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences. Resilience involves thoughts, behaviours and actions. Resilience can be learned.  When was the last time you looked at how to be more resilient?  Some ways to build resilience:

Build your support network Having good people in your life that are caring and supportive and able to offer encouragement and reassurance is hugely beneficial. Find your tribe – people that you feel comfortable with.

Learn how to breathe deeply each day Our breathe is such a fabulous tool we carry with us everywhere, but often take for granted. Just doing a couple of minutes of conscious deep breathing can infuse your body with oxygen and energy, lowering your heart rate and stress level.

Being flexible Being adaptive is key to being resilient. Often we get so focused on a goal that anything less is a disappointment. Not being too fixed about how you want things to play out. Understanding change and setbacks, seeing them as opportunities to try new ways.

Fostering a growth mindset If you have a fear of failing or getting things wrong, when you put yourself down, criticise yourself, doubt your ability or expect to fail you are inciting stress into your life. Having a mentality that welcomes opportunity to learn from hardship.

Come out of your comfort zone We can go through our day not really conscious of what we are doing. Switch off your autopilot and do something novel. This activate the brain into creating new neural pathways.

Nurture a positive view of yourself How can you be resilient and successful if you are being harsh and critical?  Building self-confidence is a key step towards being successful

Take the positive lessons Do you look at what you can learn from difficult experiences? Look for the silver linings in situations.

Take decisive action You are not likely to demonstrate resilience if you have no drive or sense of purpose. Having a goal and working towards it.

Be positive Re-frame to see issues more positively

Self-care Pay attention to your own needs to get enough sleep, do a little bit of exercise each day, plan your meals, make some time for yourself each day.

Take time to recover  If you’ve had a physical injury or illness he would take time to get well again, so to should you ensure that you take time to recover after a period of stress.

I read an analogy of resilience being similar to white water rafting. You may encounter rapids, boulders, turns, fast or slow currents, deep or shallow water. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way. When white water rafting it helps to have knowledge about the river, some sort of a plan or strategy about what might work, perseverance and trust in your own ability to work around obstacles, trusted companions that can provide reassurance. You can climb out and rest on the riverbank if you need to. But to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue.

Have a think about how resilient you feel. If faced with an obstacle how quickly would you overcome it? What strategies could you develop to help you deal with situations more effectively?

As always if you would like some support in discovering what might work best for you do not hesitate to get in touch.