Usually, when we think of resilience, we automatically think of it in terms of mental strength; guts, grit and gumption. However, there’s so much more to it than that. Resilience is hugely important, from a mental health perspective of course, but physical and emotional resilience are also crucial to our overall wellbeing. In this article we’ll look at what constitutes holistic resilience and I will share with you some easy and practical steps you can take to boost your own resilience – mentally, physically and emotionally.
During the COVID-19 challenge, we’ve all had to dig deep and have been discovering aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed and strengths that may have lain dormant. So, I want to cover mental resilience first as it’s important to acknowledge that while we can eat all the right things, do the right amount of exercise and more – if we don’t cultivate our mental toughness and reclaim our ‘grit’, none of the aforementioned will be of much help. While these mental elements sound tough, and possibly harsh – they don’t have to be – in fact, they are the highest form of self-compassion. They are a recognition, deep within ourselves, that we are worth saving, worth protecting and nurturing – and it takes grit and determination to do this in such challenging circumstances. As always, Viktor Frankl’s insight is helpful:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Psychologists describe resilience as the process of modifying your response to elements of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or other significant stressors. It is also sometimes described as the ‘rubber ball factor’. Our ability to ‘bounce back’ from difficult experiences can also provoke profound personal growth. While adverse events can undoubtedly be painful and difficult, they don’t necessarily determine the outcome of your life – in fact, there are many life events that you can determine, adjust to and grow with. That’s where resilience comes in. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way. And, to paraphrase Frankl above – the ability to ‘choose one’s own way’ is crucial.
Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes practice and intentionality. Focusing on the following components can empower you to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences. Try some of these ideas that have been found, in studies of resilience-development, to be beneficial:
Connecting with trustworthy, empathetic and compassionate individuals who validate your feelings, will develop the skill of resilience. Rather than isolating yourself when things become hard – and hiding under the duvet – no matter how tempting that notion might be, accept help and support from those who care about you.
Can you find a group of people with whom you share a common interest? There’s a wealth of data showing that connection with others, and work towards a goal, that we can add around nine healthy years to our lives.
Mindful journaling, colouring, yoga, and many spiritual practices including prayer or meditation, can help to develop the resilience ‘muscle’. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction”, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, develops the ability to bounce back and helps prevent PTSD, which may develop as a result of the stress we’ve been under during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find resources to learn MBSR online and I have a free download instructional recording for the Relaxation Response (part of the MBSR approach) at JayneyGoddard.org
Self-care is a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. Stress is as much physical as it is emotional. Eat as much fresh fruit and veg as possible – organic if available (remember those ‘biocide’ chemicals are harmful to pests – and us!). Increase your intake of leafy greens in particular and aim to transition to a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet – by adding as many of these into your daily intake as possible, ‘crowding out’ foods that are pro-inflammatory, anti-nutrients, like dairy, meat, fish etc. In this way, you won’t feel deprived – as you might on a traditional ‘diet’ for weight loss for example. The added advantage of eating the WFBP way is that you’ll find it easier to get a constellation of all the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other co-factors that help our bodies to thrive. Furthermore, it’s been shown that WFPB eating supports better gut function and the health of our gut microbiome – this is crucial for the production of serotonin and other gut-derived neurotransmitters that have huge implications for reducing depression, anxiety and improved mental functioning.
Hydration is important
Any level of dehydration is detrimental to our mental function, decision-making and ability to develop resilience – drink water throughout the day and avoid caffeinated drinks as these are dehydrating.
This strengthens both mind and body. It enables us to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions including anxiety or depression. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to seriously compromise our decision-making abilities – and even affects our ability to make moral judgements! I have created a “Yoga Nidra for Deep Restorative Sleep” meditation download for you, if you struggle to sleep – get it at JayneyGoddard.org.
Resistance exercise (lifting weights – or your own body weight), steady-state cardio (walking for at least 30 minutes per day or more if possible.) and finally, ‘mindful exercise such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi etc. all help to build both physical and mental strength.
Finally, getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience and remember that you are not alone on this journey. You can find a free-to-access database of fully qualified practitioners trained in resilience and psychological support on The Complementary Medical Association’s website: The-CMA.org.uk