When something goes wrong, do you tend to bounce back or fall apart? Mental or emotional resilience is the ability to harness inner strength and build skills that help you rebound from setbacks, disappointments and obstacles. These challenges can come in the form of illness, grief, retrenchment, disaster, divorce or things simply not working out the way you had planned.
If you lack resilience, you may find yourself dwelling on problems, feeling victimised, becoming overwhelmed or turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as addiction. Resilience won't make your problems go away, but it can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress.
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS
2020 has definitely not gone as planned! COVID-19 has presented us with a significant amount of uncertainty, and a totally different way of operating in the world.
A pandemic is the ideal springboard into anxiety - it’s likely to cause worry even in those who aren’t typically prone to it. Other than following public health guidelines, there is little we can do to control the spread of the virus, how it will unfold, or the magnitude of the pandemic.
Humans dislike uncertainty. The stakes are high, with job loss and financial strain, social isolation and loneliness, and the stress of working from home while being responsible for childcare on top of the obvious health concerns. It’s little wonder that there are reports of escalating mental health problems, with suicide and divorce having escalated significantly during this trying time.
Resilience can help you manage your mental health, and the good news is that it is something you can learn to cultivate at times like this when you need it most.
TOP TIPS FOR BUILDING RESILIENCE
· Be kind to yourself (and others)
Allow yourself to acknowledge, feel and process whatever feelings you’re experiencing, no matter how negative or uncomfortable these may seem. Feeling lost, confused, anxious or worried? Don’t try to push these difficult feelings away or force yourself to ‘just think positive’. This only serves to deny the reality of your current experience, with research showing that avoidance of such emotions will only make them stronger and longer-lasting.
Have compassion and patience for your own struggles. Take care of yourself by scheduling self-care into each day. This includes finding activities and hobbies you enjoy (creative pursuits can be particularly helpful). Include physical activity into your daily routine, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk outside (being in nature is great therapy!). Get plenty of sleep, and practise stress management and relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing or prayer to increase emotional wellbeing.
Express your feelings
Notice any negative emotions, thoughts and physical sensations as they arise. Approach them with curiosity, describe them without judgment, and then let them go. This is the essence of mindfulness. Write your feelings down in a journal or letter (you don’t have to send it to anyone!), talk to a trusted friend, or reach out to a weallness coach, therapist or counsellor for tools to help you manage them in healthy ways.
Choose your responses
You can't change the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety. Distinguish between what you can and cannot control. Remember that your responses fall into the former category. You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude to whatever arises. Remaining hopeful that things will improve is a choice. Accept the uncertainties of the future while identifying areas in your life that you can control.
I can highly recommend Edith Egar’s Holocaust memoir, The Choice, for some inspirational reading on resilience.
Is it realistic to think you can do it all? You may think that you can nail working from home while home schooling, maintaining a perfect household, sticking to your daily meal plans and workouts, and trying to keep the fun in your relationships in the face of social restrictions. But putting too much pressure on yourself to do it all, all at once isn’t healthy. Instead, try prioritising one or two things, and let the others slide a little. Focus on your high-priority items, and don’t expect too much of yourself. Be proactive by figuring out the most important thing that needs to be done in any given moment, make a plan and take action so you can tick it off and move onto the next thing without feeling overwhelmed.
Maintain a (realistic) routine
Stick to your schedule as much as possible while allowing flexibility for life’s curveballs. Commit to set times for work, meals, activities and sleep. Studies have shown that planning and executing new routines that connect you to what really matters in life is the best recipe for good mental health. Where possible, avoid escaping stress by comfort eating, Netflix bingeing or marathon gaming!
- Make meaning
Feeling as if you have a purpose each day is a sure-fire way to increase resilience. After you’ve done what you need to do, take some time to enrich your life by learning something new. Perhaps it’s time to learn Spanish on Duolingo, or to take a YouTube course in design? There are so many opportunities at our fingertips these days! Can you think of ways to help others in your neighbourhood? Volunteering your time and skills is another way to find meaning and purpose in your life. Studies have even shown that those who volunteer are happier and live longer!
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- What brings you meaning when the noise of modern life is turned down?
- What do you do each day that helps you to feel better mentally and physically?
- In what areas of your life do you currently feel stuck?
- Who/what can you turn to to help you overcome these challenges?
- What are your highest values? Do your current priorities reflect what truly matters to you?
- Stay connected
Keep physical — not social — distance from others. It’s easy to become socially isolated when we’re advised to keep away from others, especially if we live alone. Make a concerted effort to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues though email, FaceTime, video conferencing and plain old phone calls. The health benefits of social connection are well documented, yet often overlooked when considering our mental and physical wellbeing.
Reflect, relate and reframe
Trying times and emotional turmoil offer opportunities for psychological growth. Contemplate the lessons you’ve learnt over the past few months, and how you’ve grown from them. Have you picked up any tools you can implement when the next challenge inevitably comes your way? If you don't feel as if you're making progress — or you don't know where to start — consider talking to a therapist and/or wellness coach who can guide you on how to improve your resilience and mental wellbeing.
SUPPLEMENTS TO SUPPORT MENTAL RESILIENCE
- The herbal adaptogens ashwagandha and rhodiola may aid the body and mind in coping with short- and long-term physical or mental stress. They’re also reported to help boost immunity and overall wellbeing, combat fatigue, enhance mental performance and ease depression and anxiety.
- 5HTP or St John’s Wort is commonly used to naturally elevate mood, reduce panic attacks, and alleviate anxiety and emotional stress.
- B vitamin complexes can help support the adrenal glands, balance and stabilise mood, and calm the nervous system
- L-theanine is often used to promote relaxation and relief from anxiety
- Valerian root may induce calm and reduce nervous tension
- Magnesium glycinate can be great as a natural anti-anxiety that improves mood and promotes sound sleep.
*Note: If you are taking prescription medication, be sure to contact your healthcare practitioner to check for contraindications before adding any of these supplements to your complementary regime. If your symptoms are severe and interfering with your ability to function, contact a mental health professional.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nikki Temkin is a functional health and wellness coach who helps her clients to recover from burnout, stress, anxiety and other imbalances and achieve balance, joy and vitality. For more information or to get in touch, email [email protected] or follow her @nikkitemkinwellnesscoach on Instagram or NikkiTemkinIntegrativeWellnessCoach on Facebook.