How to cultivate resilience
There is one thing that is certain in this life and it is that we will all, at some point, no matter who we are, or what our background is, encounter hardship.
Life by its very nature is full of ups and downs. We don’t like to think of the bad times. Most of the time we can’t plan for them and they take us by surprise. There are knocks that come and simply call for us to take time to heal. We can put too much pressure on ourselves to feel better and feel almost as if we have failed when we feel down and sad. To sit in our sadness is important as an acknowledgment of how we are feeling. It can be hugely counterproductive, in the long run, to rush ourselves to ignore these feelings.
However there are things that we can do during the good times to ensure we have the tools to cope with the knocks when they come. Resilience isn’t the ability to immediately bounce back after a fall, but rather the knowledge that, though there is difficulty and bad feeling, it will pass.
Such statements can seem hugely glib when challenges appear to be insurmountable, but the challenges will, if not immediately pass, ultimately evolve, and your ability to adapt is crucial to your being able to cope.
One of the benefits of a regular yoga practice is the cultivation of this knowledge. For the initial stages of a deep upset, many people speak of “survival mode”. The very basics of what you can do to help yourself in such a situation boils down to exactly that.
A friend recently spoke of a particularly difficult break- up. Hearing the traumatic details and seeing how she had managed to bounce back and move onto another successful relationship, I asked her how she coped.
“I went into survival mode. I knew that all I could do to help myself at that point was to eat well, sleep well and exercise. All I could do was look after myself physically.”
It seems like such a simple idea but it struck a chord. Of course, in times of deep trauma, sleeping and eating can allude some of us but the idea that when you have no control over what is happening emotionally, you take care of the very basics of your physical well-being is something we can all do.
Times of stress take a massive toll on the body. Stress increases levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, it is described as being part of our flight or fight response. Elevated levels can leave us feeling extremely anxious. Everybody reacts differently. Some people lose the ability to sleep and eat, for others it results in weight gain.
However your body reacts to cortisol, it can set off a cycle that can overwhelm. If you can’t eat or sleep, you can’t cope with the stress of what you are dealing with and your stress levels increase even more. One of the most effective things you can do to reduce cortisol levels in the body is to exercise. This approach has been proven scientifically time and again to reduce levels in the body. Yoga has a similar effect, with the added bonus of helping to cultivate a practice of mindfulness.
We can feel the need to be out and about immediately after a traumatic event, almost as a sign that we haven’t been defeated, but sometimes that quiet time in front of the couch can be just what we need. Our social life will still be there, but there can be a great luxury in taking some quiet time off to ensure our physical wellbeing.
The idea of a glass of wine to help us deal with stress can be appealing, but over indulgence will kick the problem into the next day and for most of us, leave us feeling a million times worse with problems magnified.
Waking up with a fresh head is one of the best things you can do to help yourself.
Friendships are hugely important to help with our ability to recover after a fall. We can do everything to develop these strong relationships during the good times. Friendships that are built on caring, loyalty and trust are fundamental to all of our wellbeing. Recognising these traits in somebody and reciprocating them lead to the most rewarding and fulfilling relationships that last a lifetime. In times of hardship, the comfort of a shoulder to cry on and a place to vent is never to be underestimated. It is important to surround yourself with people who want the best for you and are willing to help you through difficulty.
It is always a tricky thing to tell people to look at things in perspective when they are going through a hard time. If the world feels like to you that it is going to end, that is how you feel and a genuine response by you to an event. Telling you that the world is not going to end, doesn’t help.
Of course, it is always true that there is somebody who is worse off than you. No matter what the situation, there is somebody, somewhere who is having a worse time than you, or was born into worse circumstances, be they physical or emotional. But, if you are in the swell of an emotional response, this can be unhelpful to hear.
In times that are easy, reflect on recent difficulty. Examine how you felt and how you thought you wouldn’t get through it, but you did. Realise that it was true that although the situation may have appeared incredibly bleak, you did at the time have your advantages, however small they may have been. People told you it would get better, you didn’t believe them, but it did, eventually.
Look back and realise that, although you did feel horrendous at the time, it passed. Maybe not as quickly as you would have liked, but it did pass or become easier to cope with. Remember the feeling of hopelessness that you had and remind yourself that when you feel bad again, you will try and remember how it eventually passed before.
When you are in the eye of the storm these things can offer little comfort, but if you look to cultivate them during periods of calm, they can give you the tools to weather the next one with the a little more peace of mind.
Life is full of highs and lows. Sometimes looking back on lows, we can realise that they were periods of great growth and learning. By cultivating the resilience to deal with these situations we can, not escape them happening, or the feelings associated with them, but experience the situation and ultimately develop the tools to deal with them, feel them and bounce back.
Speak to yourself with kindness
The most important thing that you can do is to treat yourself kindly, as you would a close friend or relative. Be kind to your body and speak positively to your own mind. If you feel as if you are in extended period or upset, reach out to those that can help you. Sometimes a doctor can help the physical needs of your body that will ultimately help you to cope emotionally.
When you do come out the other end, you will know that you have in within you to overcome hardship. Take strength from that and know that you will learn what you needed to learn from it and take it to the next challenge.