5 Techniques to Build Resilience through the Struggle
Since the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically shifted our lives, we've been flooded with well-intentioned messages about being resilient in order to make it through. But what if you're not feeling so resilient?
Well, you’re not alone. For many of us, our resilience button is worn down and we’ve been repeating the “I’m fine” or “everything is okay” phrase like a bad habit we can’t shake. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to not be okay.
I’ve been working through a great free online course offered by edX BerkeleyX called Mindfulness and Resilience to Stress at Work and it’s helped me to better understand the science of stress and proven techniques to build resilience, even when you’re not feeling so motivated (FYI: If you haven’t heard of edX yet, I highly recommend you check them out – you can learn just about anything from Blockchain to Shakespeare!).
You see, many of us have unknowingly been activating our sympathetic stress response for months and this has led to chronic stress. Why? The prolonged uncertainty of the pandemic, alarming world events and the appearance that there may be no end in sight has created the perfect conditions for our stress response to kick into overdrive.
What’s really happening? The sympathetic nervous system, a component of the autonomic nervous system, helps us to act fast when there’s a perceived threat or danger – it’s also known as our fight or flight mode. When activated for a long period of time, it can lead to “high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.”
But here’s the good news. Our autonomic nervous system has another mechanism which is the yin to the sympathetic nervous system’s yang. It’s called the parasympathetic nerve and it helps us by calming the body down.
By learning how to activate your parasympathetic nerve (in contrast to your sympathetic nerve) you can actively work to build your resilience even through the struggle. This will enable you to start developing a healthy relationship with stress and to throw away that “everything is fine” phrase in favour of scientifically proven activities that will actually build resilience.
Here are just a few of my favourite tips to cultivate more resilience:
Stop and smell the roses
Regardless of where you live, you can get outside and spend some time in nature – be it your local park in a downtown metropolis or for a hike out in the mountains. Schedule a regular visit with nature and try to really immerse yourself in its abundance. Nature is neat after all! Take a moment, while either walking or sitting to look for different plants and wildlife. Even if you only have 10 minutes to get outside, taking a detachment break from work or home life is a healthy habit to integrate into your daily routine.
Just. Breathe. Deeply.
This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the benefits of breath in slowing your heart rate and calming your nervous system. It’s often instinctual to take a deep breath (or five!) before having a difficult conversation, walking onto stage to deliver a speech or meeting a first date. So what if you were more intentional about your breath?
There are countless studies highlighting the benefits of things such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation. What do these practices have in common? They centre largely around focusing attention to your breathing. Find your calm with a free trial of this great app which takes the guesswork out of taking a deep breath! #notanad
Play fetch with Fido
Calling all pet lovers, this one is for you! Spending time with a furry friend (ideally one that likes humans) is proven to reduce stress and cultivate healthy lifestyle habits. Not only will your pet provide a great amount of joy from his or her kisses, cuddles and cute quirks, but taking care of a pet will help you to integrate habits that keep you physically and emotionally strong.
Don’t want to commit to getting your own pet? Ask a friend if you can occasionally take their pup for a walk or watch heartwarming stories about incredible pets! Trust me, they will have your parasympathetic nerve firing up a storm.
Stretch it out
When in doubt, stretch it out! Stretching after a workout is beneficial to ensure your muscles recover, but did you know that it also helps to shift your body from sympathetic stress response to parasympathetic stress response? While stretching after a workout is always a great idea, consider building a 5-minute stretch routine into your morning ritual and regularly stand up throughout your workday to add in a quick 30-second stretch. For added benefits, stretch while practicing slow and deep breaths. Not a seasoned stretcher? Check out a variety of free apps, like the Nike training app for guided stretch routines.
Touch your lips – yes, you read that right!
Last, but certainly not least is a simple and quick technique to activate your calm and build resilience. Your lips have parasympathetic fibres spread throughout them. By gently running one or two of your fingers along your lips for 30 seconds to 1-minute you will quickly activate your parasympathetic nerve and should start to feel some relief. Just make sure to wash your hands before diving into this easy method for building resilience!
And there you have it – five of my favourite tips to cultivate resilience. What are some of your go-to resilience builders?
About Lauren McCreery
Lauren is a Certified Professional Coach based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. As the founder of Swerve Coaching & Consulting, she helps smart professional millennials facing burnout to Strategically Swerve towards a sustainable and fulfilling career and life of their choice.
Feeling burnt out and want a career change? Book a discovery call today.