Building resilience with Mindfulness
In a world that is becoming increasingly complex and demanding resilience is becoming an essential life skill.
Resilience is the capacity to cope well with life’s inevitable challenges and disasters, to meet the stressors and storms of life with adaptive and skillful responses.
Research reveals that mindfulness can help us develop greater resilience – but how?
Richie Davidson, one of the world’s leading mindfulness researchers (who many of you are familiar with) articulated this relationship so beautifully in a conversation we had a few years ago. He explained:
“One of the ways that we think about resilience is being able to recover quickly following adversity. Being able to let go of our negative emotions once they arise, to experience them but not ruminate on them. One of the ways in which meditation seems to be helpful, is to enable us to be less sticky in our negative emotions and there are certain changes in the brain that we have found to be associated with decreased stickiness. By stickiness, we’re referring to the tendency to ruminate on or to stew in our negative emotions. When adversity happens it’s appropriate and adaptive to experience whatever negative emotions may arise, but then to let them go when they’re no longer useful. Meditation can help to facilitate that.”
It’s helpful to remember that mindfulness isn’t about stopping difficult emotions in the face of life’s challenges, but rather helping us relate more wisely to them.
Just as we can physically train before a physical challenge like a marathon, we need to mentally train in order to build up our resilience muscles that can support us through difficult times.
Resilience is something we can grow through practice and Linda Graham the author of Bouncing Back and expert in resilience, has a very helpful list that we can turn to and find strength from at difficult times.
It’s the 6 C’s of resilience:
How do we actually activate all of these C’s at challenging times?
We need to help our brain feel calm and safe so we can see clearly and problem solve more effectively when faced with challenges.
The idea here is to help regulate our fight flight freeze response and calm down the amygdala. It’s about shifting ourselves from an overactive limbic system to a more emotionally balanced prefrontal cortex activation during stressful events.
The amygdala and Pre frontal cortex are on a type of see-saw – when the amygdala is active the PFC gets suppressed…when the PFC is activated it suppresses the amygdala response.
One way of activating our PFC and calming our amygdala is the “Name it to tame it” practice – connect with friends and family and activate the PFC by actually verbalising and communicating how you are feeling to get the PFC working.
Having a calm brain helps u manage stressful situations and builds your resilience!
Actively noticing and recognising that you’re in a difficult time and bringing self-compassion to this moment of uncertainty and suffering.
Perhaps coming up with some kind of self compassion mantra:
May I be kind to myself.
May I find peace and healing.
I am doing the best that I can in this moment.
May I accept and find ease with things just as they are.
Whatever resonates for you… but offering yourself extra kindness during this period.
When we face uncertainty or challenges our amygdalas get activated leading to a proliferation of worry thoughts, the what ifs or even thoughts that can convince you that “things are not going to be ok” and that “you won’t cope”. It’s fascinating how compelling and truthful these thoughts can seem..
At these times we need to remember that thoughts are just thoughts.. Even though sometimes they can feel so real and convince us so strongly of negative outcomes.
One technique that can be helpful amidst this kind of amygdala hijack is actually visualising a STOP sign when you notice thoughts like these that are triggering more anxiety – having the mental discipline to actually thought stop and redirect (which is developed through meditation)
When we are in the midst of uncertainty, anxious thoughts try to answer the question “what’s going to happen”…and anxiety only offers us up the worst case scenarios. So an important step to keeping calm is trying to stay present.
A friend of mine has a mantra that I’ve found very helpful at challenging times which is:
“All good in the centre”
This means… if we stay right here within ourselves, in this moment, and not allow our minds to race ahead then everything is ok. It’s when we race ahead that we get overwhelmed by all the what ifs…
Aside from getting clear on the fact that thoughts are just thoughts we can also get clear on what feeds our fear and anxiety.
Simply asking yourself “what is feeding my fear right now?”
You might discover it’s:
- being alone
- googling for answers on your phone (which always leads to more anxiety not less)
- being around certain people or in certain environments
See what is within your control and change your behaviours. Stop feeding the fear…
We are wired to connect.
Tap into the resources around you.
Connect to the people or places around you that make you feel safe
Connect with the good in your life (even amidst challenges) through an active gratitude practice as a way of building on your inner resources.
This is about having trust in yourself that you can meet whatever situation’s going to come.
Notice any stories you tell yourself about your own competence and ability to cope and check whether they are accurate or not.
Reflect on times that you were able to manage challenges and tune into the part of you that believes “I can!”
Perhaps bring to mind role models, people you know who have shown great resilience and competence in the face of real challenges and imagine drawing in their strength.
Helen Keller put it well when she said:
“All the world is full of suffering; it is also full of overcoming”
At times of uncertainty we need to actively tap into our own courage.
Courage means that you act and face your challenges despite the fear.
One famous proverb aptly states, “Fear and courage are brothers.” Courage exists because fear exists. Courage is about recognising our fear, yet finding the strength to face it.
What do you do or where do you find the inner strength to manage during difficult times of uncertainty to support your coping and resilience?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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