As we strive to adapt to our new reality since the arrival of Covid-19, most of us are struggling to stay centered in the midst of complete upheaval in our lives. Feeling unsettled, anxious, and fearful is normal, and the opportunity lies in how we respond.
These are trying times - but we can help ourselves and others cope in a positive way.
So, what can we control right now?
Competitive athletes learn from their coaches that in the face of high stress and pressure we must focus on what we can control, not on the things we can't.
We can control ourselves, our attitudes, mindset, efforts, what we do and don't do, how we look after ourselves - and how we respond to adversity.
Coping with stress and maintaining a positive affect or mood is key to determining our feelings, thinking, behaviors, and outcomes. When we're in a positive mood, we can still dig deep and feel joy, discover passion, enthusiasm, and motivation, curiosity, and contentment even in the most difficult circumstances; we've all heard stories of, witnessed, or have ourselves summoned up amazing human resilience in the face of great challenge.
We have a choice - we can be mindful and choose positive.
Here are 7 effective strategies to build resilience:
Below are science-backed strategies that help us build resilience and maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity.
Accept that you are feeling stressed. This reduces the emotional charge and calms the amygdala, the subcortical structure in your brain involved in the processing of emotions, especially fear and anxiety.
Identify and accept your emotions and then move on - motion changes emotion, actions change attitudes and movement changes the mood.
2) Reappraise and reframe your mindset
Reappraise or reframe the stress you feel in the situation as helpful. Asking yourself is this really stressful or is it simply annoying, disruptive, or uncomfortable? This can make your feelings more manageable.
Athletes for example use stress as a skill to optimize performance. And it's comforting to know that a history of some adversity is related to greater life satisfaction and strengthens one's ability to cope with stress in life.
Can you also change your mindset so that your stress is a challenge and not a threat? This is not the first time many of us have had to abruptly change course in our lives.
TIP: Try making a list of all the other times you pushed through to remind yourself of the skills and strengths you previously called upon in challenging times. Then tell yourself those stories of resilience today.
"She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails." Elizabeth Edwards
3) Fuel your motivation
You can fuel your motivation by breaking down your goals into small daily tasks that you can succeed at. It's all about the dopamine!
Then when we make progress, we feel better and that leads to more progress.
Establishing a daily routine that starts with small tasks and enjoyable activities we can succeed at will maintain good feelings throughout the day for everyone in our households. Remember that emotions are contagious!
4) Slow rhythmic breathing
If you can slow down your breathing, you will deactivate the 'fight or flight' system and activate the 'rest and digest' system.
When we're stressed, our breathing is shallow which activates a chaotic heart rate and increases our anxiety. We can de-stress our bodies through short breathing practices during the day.
Here is a practice I find really helpful to relax in under 5 minutes, I hope you do too. The basic model is:
In-breath for 4 seconds
Rest for 4 seconds
Out-breath for 4 seconds
Rest for 4 seconds
Then simply repeat for a few minutes to de-stress.
5) Balance Your Body Budget *
To effectively manage stress, we must take care of ourselves: we are a mind-body system; to have a healthy mind you need a healthy body. So, a balanced body budget is also key.
Taking care of our physical health should be the first step in managing stress and building resilience. The 3 basics for a balanced body budget are:
Good quality sleep
As many of us are spending a lot more time indoors and can't hit the gym, there are many online resources for exercising inside. You can find many other sources on YouTube as well.
*'Body Budget' is a term coined by Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett. Your body budget is like a bank account where we are continually making withdrawals and deposits. If we make too many withdrawals and are unbalanced we will experience low energy, fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, and so on.
Mindfulness practice is also recommended as a way to cope with stress. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing. It's also about not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us.
Whenever you bring awareness to what you're directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you're being mindful.
Meditation and yoga that focuses on your breathing is a wonderful way to become fully present in the moment, relax, and de-stress. There are many apps and online resources available on guided meditation and yoga to explore to find the approach that best suits you.
Journaling evokes mindfulness, helping writers remain present while keeping perspective. It has many benefits including improving your mood and giving you a greater sense of overall emotional well-being and happiness. Journaling can also help in the management of personal adversity and change, and emphasize important patterns and growth in life.
I truly hope you found some inspiration and helpful strategies here to build your resilience, maintain your positivity and manage your stress just a little better as you work to change the things you can change today as well as tomorrow.
Stay safe and healthy everyone!