Resilience helps us be happy
I heard something this week that really hit home, this is the 26th week of lockdown. Hyperbole aside, it has been 26 weeks since we first had to shelter in place due to COVID. I’ve talked in many of my COVID diary posts about the specific challenges so I feel no need to rehash them all here. But I think it’s safe to say every one of us is under a little more pressure, has a little more stress than normal right now. And since the challenges associated with life in COVID times are bound to be with us for awhile, one characteristic that can really help keep you happy is resilience. More simply said, the ability to take the hits thrown at us all and be able to recover. So I thought tonight I would be talk about how to better develop our resilience skills.
I’ve sourced a lot of what I’m going to talk about from an article on resilience in Greater Good Magazine. The article talks about five techniques/skills that you can employ to help you build resilience. Here they are:
Change the narrative
Almost all of us, I was shocked to read an article earlier this year that stated that some people don’t, have an inner dialogue that we run with ourselves. Very often when we face hard times, we can get a bit obsessed with the issue we’re dealing with and focus our internal conversation on that issue. Well something that the authors suggested, and that I can personally vouch for is the power of writing. The exercise that they recommend is doing 20 minutes of free writing on the topic your obsessing about. Basically you just write whatever comes into your mind about the topic. Doing this several days in a row has been shown to make people feel happier months after the event. I personally don’t think there is anything magic about the length of time. For me, I’ve done this for a very long time, what’s important is burning off the energy you have around what’s stressing you. So take some time and a blank sheet a paper to just write about COVID, homeschooling, trying to balance work, COVID, homeschooling all at once, whatever your personal stressor is at this time. Don’t censor yourself, don’t beat yourself up about what you write. Then after, shred, rip or burn up the paper. You may write things that others would find unflattering or that you feel the same about, it’s ok, it’s about burning off the energy and getting it out of your system.
Face your fears
This to me is one of the bigger long-term ways to build resilience and something I’ve done a lot of in my life. We all have have anxieties and fears. What’s important is developing the sense in your life that you can overcome those fears. That feeling allows you to begin to minimize your anxiety around the things you can’t control, and to truly face an eliminate fears you have around things you can control. The method here is to gradually do things that push you out of your comfort zone and make you nervous. This doesn’t mean that you go out tomorrow and sky dive, but to do small things every day that make you uncomfortable so that you begin to get that feeling of overcoming things that make you anxious. This can lead to the ability to take on really big things, huge adventures most wouldn’t even consider. Let me give you a very concrete example from my own life.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you probably know that five years ago I hiked a thousand miles on the Appalachian Trail. Prior to undertaking that I had never done an unsupported overnight hike in my entire life and I was setting out to do it every day for six months. But I didn’t just wake up one day, decide to do that and set out. I worked up to it over ten years and a lot of steps. First, I was a day hiker, so I spent time doing day hikes in increasingly tougher terrain, in more unfamiliar places. Every time you go on a hike in a new place, especially someplace remote, there’s anxiety. But after you’ve done it a bunch of times that anxiety turns mostly into excitement. Then I went on supported long-distance hikes. I hiked something called the Great Glenn Way in Scotland. I hiked for a week but each night I was in a nice bed and breakfast and the end of each day of hiking. This then lead to a huge adventure, a 30 day fully supported hike in Nepal to go to base camp on Mt. Everest. We didn’t have to carry much weight, there were sherpas supporting us, guides and we were incredibly well taken care of. But there was a new element, hiking at elevation, up to 18,000 feet, to deal with. After these adventures, and with a lot of self-education, I was ready to tackle with Appalachian Trail. This is not to say with something this huge there was no anxiety, there was a lot. But most things we tackle daily don’t involve completely turning your life upside down, quitting your job, becoming homeless and living in the woods for months at time with lions, tigers and bears. Ok, just bears, but I love that line.
My point in this example is that anything that your anxious about you can tackle. But take it slow, do small things that stress you and learn from successfully doing them, by doing that you develop the ability to take on even bigger things. I promise regularly doing these sorts of things will make you more resilient.
Practice self compassion
I’ve taken the following straight out of the article:
One practice, the Self-Compassion Break, is something you can do any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress. It has three steps, which correspond to the three aspects of self-compassion:
Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”
Remember that you’re not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” or “We all feel this way” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like “May I give myself compassion” or “May I accept myself as I am” or “May I be patient.”
I think this is really great. We need to be kinder to ourselves, especially when we’re stressed and under pressure. As the article recommends we have to be mindful of reality, you’re being put under pressure, acknowledge it and remember it’s ok. Remember others have been here before, maybe you’ve been here before. There’s help to get through this, there’s information, family and friends who you can reach out to if you need. Finally, be kind to yourself, treat yourself like you would treat your best friend if they were in the same situation.
I’m a big fan of meditation, and it’s something I need to do more of myself. I’m a terrible meditator. The key point is to quiet your mind and I have a very hard time doing that. The article offers several really good meditations you can use, even if you’re not a good meditator. More than everything else though, it’s about taking time and just stopping. There’s a TV commercial I really like right now, it’s an image of dripping leaves in a forest in the rain. It says, do nothing for 30 seconds and a little graphic timer runs down the time. That 30 seconds seems like a long time, that’s when I know I need to take a break from everything for a bit. Even just five minutes, whenever you can sneak it in between all of the madness in your life is beneficial. You can Google, five, ten, twenty minute meditations. I prefer the ones that are just nature sounds. Just take the time to stop, relax, let it all go. If you can work up to better and deeper meditations great, but be kind to yourself and just stop once a day and give yourself a break.
Finally, if interpersonal issues are what are making it difficult for you to more easily bounce back from things that happen to you, forgiveness is the way. I say that from the experience of spending a good part of my life as a young man being very angry. The anger and it’s impacts contributed to my life spiraling out of control. It was certainly a factor that led me to alcoholism and addiction. It took decades to get to a place where I was free of that anger and able to practice forgiveness. It’s not easy, but the better you get at this, quite frankly, the happier you’ll be. There are some excellent suggestions in the article for how to get better at forgiveness.
Hopefully my words tonight, and the resource I’ve provided can help you develop more resilience, help you better deal with our difficult times and help you have happier days my friends. ~ Rev Kane