Updated: May 22
Resilience, or resiliency, is the ability to survive, and thrive from, stressful experiences while building up protective skills to manage future hardship. Psychological resilience involves cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills.
Building resilience is about learning to respect and take care of yourself. These are suggestions, not all will be suitable for everyone. Building resilience takes time, it needs to be practiced for it to have an effect.
Below is a model of resilience building using the acronym ‘RESPECT’.
R - RELAXATION
How do you find ways to relax?
Breathing exercises, mindfulness, grounding, prayer and good sleep hygiene. Create
anchors — these are objects that make you feel relaxed, content or grounded when you look at them or hold them.
A simple technique is to inhale and think paintbrush up, and with the exhale breath think and visualise a wiggly line down. You want the exhale breath to be longer than the inhale breath. Panic attacks happen when too much carbon dioxide is in the body and the body doesn't know what to do with it. This sets off an alarm system and at this point the thinking brain (pre-frontal cortex) will go off line and the older more primitive brain (reptilian brain) will take over. Being more aware of your breath and using any technique, which involves the exhale breath being longer, will help the (reptilian brain) calm the body’s alarm system and help the thinking brain come back online.
Many people believe they get meditation wrong; they can’t clear their minds and can’t stay still. Meditation is definitely something that needs practice. As human beings we have a negative mind bias, and mindfulness practice is to develop awareness, calm, and insight. To practice meditation means to be present with feelings, thoughts, and breath without
attachment, judgement, or reaction. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more
inquisitive and curious about ourselves.
It’s best to integrate a regular practice (a few minutes a day) into your daily routine rather than to practice in spurts (one hour session once a month) Consistency leads to best results, and can help to adapt the process more seamlessly. Setting a reminder on your phone can be a good way to help you to add it into your daily routine. Research shows that mindfulness helps to stabilise our moods, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, deepen concentration, and improve self-compassion.
Find a quiet space and think about a calm place. It can be anywhere, but it needs to be a place where you feel calm with yourself and not with others e.g. the beach. What do you see, what can you hear, what can you smell, what colours are around you, what is the temperature? Begin to visualise this calm place, breathe into this place, what do you feel inside? What is your breathing like? How does your body feel in this calm place? You can use some of the objects you use to anchor to help strengthen the visualisation. You can have more than one place, name them differently, calm place, anxious free space, safe place, etc.
E - EDUCATION
How does your understanding of stress help you?
Recognise the early stress responses, these will be more physical than thoughts. Do you suffer with headaches, skin complaints, joint pain, upset stomach, tensions, headaches and sleep problems, to name a few? Understanding that if you are in an anxious state then the thinking brain will not be online, and it can be difficult to focus on tasks and feel motivated. You may become distracted and generally feel that you are not doing a good enough job.
Look at the model below:
MODEL OF THE WINDOW OF TOLERANCE
panic, impulsivity, survival responses,
flight, flight, hyper-vigilance,
anger, agitation and freeze (anxiety)
feelings and responses are
and do not prevent thinking
poor self-care and boundaries,
shut down (depression)
As human beings we move in and out of these 3 states, however we are hard-wired to come back to the Optimum Arousal State. We are exposed daily to these states, which is normal, as we need a certain amount of stress to help us be productive.
(Sympathetic) state: ‘anxiety’ where the body signals it is ready for action.
This is when we can feel palpitations, sweating, anxiousness, our bodies will be producing lots of adrenaline and cortisone to allow the blood to pump into all the organs as it may need to go into flight, fight or freeze. This is when we can find it difficult to concentrate, (frontal cortex offline) and our breathing becomes rapid. Our liver will produce glucose to create energy for the body. This is why when we are anxious, we can choose the sugary, carbohydrate foods.
After we come away from this state, we may feel exhausted and need to urinate and sleep. This is the body’s only way of releasing excess adrenaline and cortisone. If you suffer from anxiety this would be why you may need the bathroom more.
This is a place where a person is able to receive, process and integrate information and otherwise respond to the demands of everyday life without difficulty. It is the safe zone in other words, it’s your capacity to manage your emotions even under stress. You may be pushed to the ‘edge of the window’ when experiencing anxiety or anger but you can confidently rely on a range of inner resources and storage to keep you within the window.
This is also known as the ‘freeze’ response (parasympathetic system). Here you may become
disconnected from the present and withdraw (depression). You may feel separate from your
feelings and your thoughts, those being round you may experience yourself being shut off. In this state the digestive system will switch off, body temperature will drop leaving you feeling cold and you can feel fatigued.
This state is useful when a person experiences (or has experienced in the past) trauma/s and the person has used dissociation (freeze) to survive the event or events, this includes developmental trauma. Trauma changes the brain and with specialised trauma therapy such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma informed CBT, with Body Psychotherapy can allow the trauma to be processed.
S - SOCIAL
What are your supportive networks? Identify your social networks, family members, friends, organisations, groups, religious groups, pets, places you like to visit. Be aware of the type of music, social media or TV material you are exposed or drawn to, is it making you feel more stressed or having a calming or distracting effect?
Due to the pandemic, many of us are now suffering with online fatigue, feeling overwhelmed at the thought of interacting online, feeling more exhausted at the end of a workday. In part, it’s because it forces us to focus more intently on conversations in order to absorb information. Adding fuel to the fire in many is our work from home situations. We’re continuously finding polite new ways to ask our loved ones not to disturb us or tuning out as they army crawl across the floor to grab their headphones off the dining table. For those who don't have private space to work it is especially challenging.
Online fatigue is to do with how we process information. On the video call the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera. Also, we are all staring at a small window of ourselves, making us hyper aware of every wrinkle, expression and how it might be interpreted, without visual breaks we need to refocus or our brains grow fatigued.
Here are some tips; avoid multitasking, close any tabs or programmes that might distract you and put your phone away. Build breaks in from the video during longer calls by minimising the window, moving it behind your open applications, or just looking away from your computer for a few seconds now and then. We’re all used to being on video now, your colleagues probably understand more than you think. It is possible to listen without staring at the screen for a full 30 minutes. That’s not an invitation to do something else but let your eyes rest for a moment.
After a long day of back-to-back calls or meetings, it’s normal to feel drained. This is when we need to make good use of our boundaries. If we are natural carers, then it is our tendency to feel bad if someone wants to have a call with us. Be kind to yourself, if you are exhausted what do you have to give, and who is giving to you?
P - PHYSICAL
How do you physically support your body when stressed? i.e., shake it off, stretch, walk, improve your diet, increase sleep, moderate caffeine and alcohol intake.
Body movement is important when we feel stressed, shaking it off: massage, dance, reiki, and being in nature are all destress techniques, many people are practicing yoga, Tai Chi, 5 rhythms dancing as well as, sound healing, gong baths, drumming mediation, walking in nature and cacao practices to name a few.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can also release built up stress and tension in our bodies through tapping meridian points. A routine and healthy diet also improves our stress levels.
Monitoring our intake of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, as these can all increase our stress levels.
We know how important sleep is to our wellbeing. Here is a deep breathing exercise that may help you fall and stay asleep. This exercise focuses on breathing from the belly rather than the chest which can activate the relaxation response and lower heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels to help you drift off to sleep.
Lay down in bed and close your eyes.
Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and fall, count slowly as you exhale.
Here is a body scan exercise to help you sleep. By focusing attention on different parts of the body, you can identify where you’re holding any stress or tension and release it.
Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, eyes closed, focus on your breathing for about two minutes until you start to feel relaxed.
Turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any tension while continuing to also focus on your breathing. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for at least three to five-seconds.
Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Tune in to any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. Then move your focus to your right ankle and repeat. Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and then repeat the sequence for your left leg. From there, move up your torso, through your lower back and abdomen, your upper back and chest, and your shoulders. Pay close attention to any area of the body that feels tense.
After completing the body scan, relax and take note on how your body feels. Embrace the calm and sleep.
Like many others, you may regularly or occasionally find it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Along with these exercises, various herbs may help this process: lavender, chamomile, magnolia bark, valerian root, hops, skullcap, passionflower, and red ginseng all have relaxing and calming qualities. Keep in mind even herbs can be used incorrectly. Make sure you do your research and even consult a doctor, especially if you are already taking other medications, sometimes, medications and herbs interact with each other, nevertheless, once cleared by a doctor, you may want to try these herbs to help with insomnia and restless nights.
E - EXERCISE
Adrenaline, nor-adrenaline and cortisol build up in our system when we are stressed. Exercise releases feel good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. We have all needed to be creative when it has come to exercise during Lockdown. Using outdoor parks and spaces for any kind of exercise you can manage.
Our self-talk is fundamental to our success. Reticular Activating System (RAS) is the goal-setting part of our brain and is a filter that we need to use to our advantage. If you tell yourself you don't want to exercise today because you feel tired, you won’t. If you tell it what it wants, it will give it to you. Using positive mental attitude and to focus on what you want to achieve not what you can’t do.
C - CREATIVITY
Creative activities can be used as a distraction but also activates the part of the brain that can calm our system. Listening to music, playing an instrument, art, writing, sewing, baking and any other activity that helps to activate our imagination is helpful. Watching different Ted talks, listening to Podcasts are a great way of resourcing.
Smells work very well, when you feel you are anxious. What are your favourite smells? Have a few different ones, you can buy them on the internet but make sure you buy from a reputable supplier. This with breath work is the quickest way to bring the body back into its Window of Tolerance.
T - THINKING
We become consumed with negative thoughts about ourselves when we are stressed. This is often activated by the emotional part of our brain.
For example: ‘I am not good enough,' ‘I am a bad person,' ‘I am to blame,' and ‘I am weak’. It is helpful to think of counter-arguments for these berating thoughts. This helps to bring online the rational part of the brain. It is helpful to look for evidence against the negative thought. Ask yourself what would you say to a friend if they were describing themselves in the same negative way? Start to be kinder towards yourself and offer yourself compassion when impacted by stress. Things are hard enough without us giving ourselves an even harder time. Write a gratitude list every day listing 5 things. Change a password to a positive affirmation about yourself, think about how many times you use a passwords in your life.
I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent
I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours,
self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems
I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley
Face-to-face in person or online counselling