After a year of unprecedented threats and challenges associated with the pandemic, our resilience has been tested beyond belief. As things start to open up we are entering a new phase of challenges. This is a great point to establish your roadmap to resilience to build your confidence to move forwards. In this blog we reflect on which coping skills and strategies have helped us to stay resilient and explore new ways of building our resilience and wellbeing.
Even as we enter an easing of restrictions, we continue to experience high levels of uncertainty. With changing demands we are facing ongoing challenges to our physical and mental health. Your roadmap to resilience will ensure you have the tools to get you through.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the capacity to survive adversity, to recover and develop new skills along the way. These skills help us to thrive in even the most challenging situations. Resilient people draw on their own personal resilience skills to survive and adapt. And this allows them to manage the signs and symptoms of stress and to bounce back quickly.
Developing your roadmap to resilience
Over recent months our blogs have focused on the particular skills resilient people use to manage effectively in a crisis. As we emerge from the latest lockdown, we need to know what will help us going forwards. Here we draw these skills together highlighting what you might need to include in your own roadmap to resilience.
Resilience skills which enhance our ability to be flexible and adaptable
Our emotional reactions to crisis or threat can be overwhelming. They take over our brains and bodies and make it hard for us to function as normal. We become overfocused on the threat and this reduces our ability to be flexible and find ways to adapt.
As we emerge from lockdown and try to re-establish our lives, we are likely to face many new challenges that could leave us feeling out of control, upset or anxious. Including skills in your roadmap to resilience that will enhance your ability to be flexible and adaptable in the face of these challenges will help.
Calming sympathetic nervous system arousal
When our emotions overwhelm us, it is important to put in place strategies that will calm and soothe sympathetic nervous system arousal. A useful technique for this is slow rhythmic breathing. This is a skill that takes practice but can be helpful in a whole host of stressful situations.
To try out this technique take the following simple steps:
- Breathe in slowly over a count of 4 seconds
- Breathe out for a longer count of 6 seconds
- Pause at the end of the out-breath
You can see a demonstration of this technique in this short video.
Using slow rhythmic breathing will teach you to slow down your breathing. The regular breathing rhythm regulates the heart rate and calms sympathetic nervous system arousal, reducing symptoms of stress. Using a visual prompt such as the blue square can be helpful in practicing this technique.
Connecting with the present moment
Mindfulness another useful strategy for managing overwhelming emotions and ruminating thoughts. Practicing mindfulness helps us to stand back from our thoughts and to observe them. It teaches us to allow thoughts to come and go without getting hooked into overthinking or analysing. There are a number of mindfulness techniques to try out. For a quick exercise to regulate threat emotions and stress in the moment, try the mindful stretch or the 3 minute breathing space meditation. Alternatively try an active mindfulness exercise, such as a mindful walk.
Learning to manage negative thinking is a really useful strategy to include in your roadmap to resilience. We are programmed to focus on the negative as this helps us to attend and respond to threat. However, it is very easy to overestimate threat when the likelihood of a negative outcome may actually be very low. When we over-focus on the negative we may be more likely to take things personally. We might put pressure on ourselves, expect ourselves to always be in control or to do things perfectly. But these ways of thinking further contribute to stress. Learning to think flexibly and to explain negative events in more optimistic ways helps us to gain perspective. We are then better able to flexibly adapt to those situations and take appropriate measured action.
Resilience skills which help us to grow through adversity
There are a number of skills and strategies that we can practice day-to-day that help to build our capacity for resilience over the longer term. Including these skills in your roadmap to resilience will greatly enhance your ability to adapt flexibly to future challenges and threats. This ensures that you will have the self-confidence and self-belief when you need it. As we move out of lockdown, these skills will help you deal with the uncertainty of what’s to come.
Building positive emotions
Noticing and savouring positive emotions is one way of building resilience capital. We know from research that people who had a positive outlook in the weeks before the 9/11 tragedy fared better emotionally in the aftermath.
Try making a note of three good things that you notice each day. Or take time to savour and share the moments in which you experience positive emotions such as hope, joy or love. Being interested and curious can also help to build your connection with positive emotions such as interest, pride or amusement. Making time for hobbies or interests connects us with our personal values and grounds us in the reality of what is important in our lives.
We experience many of our positive emotions in relation to other people. Taking time to connect with loved ones helps to build positive emotions. This is particularly powerful when we savour experiences we have shared or anticipate good things together. Expressing gratitude or sharing support and kindness have also been shown to boost positive emotions. These actions can build resilience both in the moment and over the longer term.
Our ability to remain resilient over the longer term is also affected by our level of self-care. It is really important that we do not lose sight of this. When we are in a crisis situation, it is easy to go into auto-pilot, making sure everyone else is ok and taking on too much. This can prevent us from taking time for rest and recovery. If we carry on like this, we become vulnerable to burnout. Building self-compassion, paying attention to our own needs and letting go of self-judgement, is crucial for self-care. If we are able to maintain good self-care when crisis strikes, we are better able to bounce back. Doing so will help us to maintain a sense of health and optimism as we move through the experience.
Moving forwards with your roadmap to resilience
Take a few moments to reflect on which of these resilience skills you would find helpful to include in your roadmap to resilience. Perhaps you have been reminded of some that you already use. Maybe there are some skills mentioned here would like to have a go at.
To design your roadmap to resilience, start by identifying and writing down one or two skills that you would you like to have a go at. Then set a timeframe for taking action. You may want to read some of our other blogs to consider how to put these new skills into practice.
Secondly, make your roadmap to resilience visible. Place it on the fridge, a noticeboard or by your bed. Make a plan to incorporate regular practise of your new skills into your day/week. What will remind you to engage in these skills? How will you reward yourself once you have taken action?
Thirdly, prepare for challenges. Try to identify situations that are likely to trigger strong emotions. These are the times when you will need to put your new skills into practice. Which specific skills will you need to draw on in these moments?
Fourthly, build your resilience capacity. Make a plan to build self-care and positive emotions into your life on a regular basis, not just when times are difficult. Perhaps enlist the support of a friend or relative to help you put your roadmap to resilience into practice.