About a year ago I wrote a post entitled The Resilience Factor. As we have now moved most of the way through a pandemic I think it’s good to consider revisiting and expanding on this theme. If you haven’t read the previous post you can do so here. Here we will focus on how to build resilience.
So, what is resilience? According to Miriam Webster resilience is: “An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Let’s take a closer look at that. We have all likely recovered from some sort of misfortune or change. If you are reading this you have come through a once in a many lifetime event—a pandemic—and may be looking to improve your life further. What other “misfortune or change” have you been able to navigate well? Take a moment to consider that as we will come back to that momentarily.
I’d like to take issue with the piece of the of the definition that claims it should be done “easily.” In my opinion that is not necessary. What ever effort you put in will be well worth your time. As I recall from an problem I had re-entering a kayak in deep water (but that is a discussion for a different time) suffice it to say if I had waited for it to be “easy” I won’t be writing this today, I’d likely still be swimming to shore.
So we have a new definition which we can paraphrase into:
“An ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change.”
Cultivation of resilience
How do we build resilience? By first looking at where we are strong. Odd I know, but it helps to know where the handholds are when we are working on righting the ship so to speak.
Step one: Recognize that you have had adversity before and that you came through it. Think about what you did well to navigate that problem.
Next recognizing that our brains are an old piece of equipment with very few upgrades in millennia. Our brains are programmed to see adversity and do one of three things—Fight-Flee-Freeze. While it worked well when we lived in caves or in trees, it’s not so great on the freeway.
Taking a few minutes to review a little about our brain. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for regulating body functions. The ANS is comprised of two parts the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic (PNS). The SNS helps mediate the fight-flight-freeze responses while the PNS is the brakes for the system helping you to “rest and digest.” The PNS is our friend in the area of stress reduction as it helps us to calm our responses.
How do we engage the PNS when we are facing stress?
There are a number of ways to access the PNS directly, but one of the fastest methods is through deep breathing. One can also get the benefit of activating the PNS through yoga, tai chi, and qigong. Physical exercise, spending time in nature, and play with others can also help us activate the PNS.
One of the fastest ways to decrease your stress experience and calm your thinking is through deep breathing. There are a number of “methods” but just stepping back and taking 10 deep abdominal breaths can be enough to engage the PNS and slow down the whole system.
Benefits of Engaging the PNS
Slowing down in this way improves our ability to think more clearly. It can also create a better environment for engaging the cognitive processes and considering more effective problem management options. When we are able to more effectively manage problems we are substantively building resilience.
Give it try
First look at the definition. “An ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change.” Consider what misfortune or change you want to recover from.
Second consider what strengths you’ve used in the past to recover from other misfortunes or changes in your life.
Third spend a few seconds or minutes engaging in a deep breathing exercise. Try not to overthink it and just focus on the breathing. I recommend doing this for at least one minute to give your system time to relax a bit.
Last revisit the problem and see if there are any areas you may not have noticed before. Think about how the problem may be addressed on multiple levels.
You may repeat the above steps a number of times. If the problem is a big one it is best to take some time and consider options. By going through this process a number of times you may build your resilience to future adverse events.