We live in a world with many demands and challenges. So, it comes to reason that we’ll experience good times and bad times. Part of becoming more resilient, is to know and accept that “shit happens.” We need to deal with it in helpful ways rather then getting caught up in denial or ruminations about how it shouldn’t have happened.
Eckhart Tolle says, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”
We can make things more stressful and overwhelming for ourselves and others when bad things happen.
We can choose to work constructively and helpfully using these life tools:
The practice of mindful awareness allows us to bring an open attention to what is happening right now. Mindfulness allows the experience to be as it is without trying to change it or beat ourselves up for the experience.
Mindfulness has been shown to have remarkable positive effects on the mind.
The trick is to not expect that the practice will automatically bring a sense of calm. By just noticing what’s happening, and not struggling with it, calmness of the mind will just naturally follow.
This is a mindfulness technique where you focus away from the difficult situation- notice your feet on the ground; the stability of being grounded.
Then you focus on pleasant things in the environment:
5 things you can see,
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you smell and
1 thing you can taste.
In this way you’re slowly moving towards a state of calm because your attention is more directed to the present moment. Your attention isn’t free-floating, which usually means being lost in very unhelpful worrying thought loops.
Controlling your breathing is a most helpful way of managing difficult things in your life in a more resilient way. Deliberately slowing the rate of breaths and deepening the inhalation is well known to calm our emotions and bodies. Slow, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the rest and digest system.
This is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system which is commonly referred to as the fight, flight and freeze system- the stress response. Part of the stress response is to increase the rate of respirations; to make them more shallow, resulting in a sense of uncomfortable alertness.
When you mindfully slow and deepen your breathing, you’re moving from the stress response to the rest and digest one. Then you can experience a combination of calmness and inner strength.
Much has been said about the physical benefits of exercise. So much so that exercise is being promoted as a medicine for health conditions, like medication or an operation. More recently, the psychological benefits of exercise have been studied and shown significant impacts on our emotional well-being.
Exercise is beneficial for your physical health, and also your mental health.
In your brain, exercise stimulates chemicals like serotonin and endorphins.This is coupled with a significant reduction in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. So, this means that exercise can improve your mood and enhance your sense of well-being.
Exercise helps the body to relax, which then impacts the quality of our minds, resulting in a greater sense of calm. Allocating time to relax every day is an important strategy for reducing stress.
Ways you can relax:
- Reading a book or listening to music
- Playing with pets or children
- Eating a nice meal with friends
- Performing a relaxation practice, e.g. progressive muscle relaxation.This technique asks you to gradually and consciously clench and then relax the muscle groups of the body in turn, while imagining tension flowing out of the muscles with each relaxation.
Taking in the good
The stress response is a reactive setting of the brain and the rest and digest one is a responsive mode. Dr. Ric Hanson, a neuroscientist and psychologist, calls the reactive mode the red zone, and the responsive one the green zone (Hardwiring Happiness, 2015).
When we experience something that’s threatening, the red zone activates. When things are going well, and our needs are being met, then we are in the green zone or relaxed and safe mode.
This is not to say that the green zone is better than the red zone. What you want to be able to do is move from the red zone to the green zone as efficiently as possible. So as not to linger in the reactive red zone for longer than necessary.
These systems developed way back in time when the reactive brain mechanisms meant that our ancestors were able to maintain a vigilant perspective on their environments. In this way, they were able to survive because they were more aware and prepared for threats. This is commonly referred to as the negativity bias.
This internal alarm system is not that helpful for us now. In the absence of the kind of physical threats our ancestors had, this internal alarm gets activated by psychological and social threats. Whenever you feel pressured, annoyed, worried, or ignored, you can quickly get into the red reactive zone.
Being in this state for prolonged periods of time can lead to anxiety and depression, and is also damaging to your physical health.
Ric developed an effective way of managing the reactive stressed red zone that’s called the HEAL approach. At the centre of this strategy is the process called: “Taking in the Good.”The idea is that we intentionally focus on something positive and productive that’s happening, or we imagine that productive thing is available to us right now. Then we take it in- visualise and feel it being absorbed into us, allowing the negative and unproductive to evaporate or move far away, no longer affecting us.
I use this often during the day, and find it to be most useful; allowing for an effortless flow from the red zone to the green one.
This is another approach to calming the brain’s instinctual stress reaction called the SIFT technique.
It was devised by Dr. Dan Siegel, a Professor of Psychiatry, and provides ways of pausing sufficiently so the rational, executive functions of the brain can inform the emotionally reactive parts. The result being a less reactive, calming of the mind and body.
The acronym SIFT can help you remember the four steps.
S- sensations. Noticing the different sensations in the body, pleasant and unpleasant.
I- images. Noticing any images arising in the mind, like memories.
F- feelings. Noticing any feelings or emotions you’re experiencing.
T- thoughts. Noticing thoughts you’re aware of.
The general principles of mindfulness training apply to this approach.
Noticing with a sense of curiosity and loving-kindness towards yourself. . Moving away from any judgements of right or wrong, and the urge to change what you are noticing.
Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with care, especially when things get difficult in your life. In the same way you would a good friend or loved family member.
Self-compassion is probably the most underrated aspect of cultivating our well-being.
We worry so much about taking care of others and being kind to everyone around us, yet we forget how important it is to be kind to ourselves.
And we are often too critical of everything we do.
Self-compassion replaces self-criticism with support and encouragement and so, is a very effective motivator for positive change.
It can boost your energy, motivation and desire to work constructively to make changes for your health and well-being.
Constantly criticising yourself is unhealthy. Being forgiving and compassionate towards yourself can help you feel happy with yourself.
And it helps you to be able to care for others around you without feeling further depleted.
A win win…
There is a similar practice known by the acronym RAIN, which was first introduced as a way of calming the mind and building resilience by psychologist, Tara Brach.
R- recognise. Bring awareness to what is happening in the present moment.
A- allow. Be open to the experience, allowing it to be there rather than trying to hold onto it if it’s nice, or get rid of it if it’s not nice.
I- investigation. Notice the details of the experience mindfully with a kind attention rather than analyse it.
N- nurture. Bring a sense of self- compassion to the experience and how it’s affecting you. If it’s difficult, offer yourself kindness like you would a friend in the same situation.
Appreciating the things we have in our life that we may ordinarily take for granted or not even acknowledge, can build up a calmness in the mind.
The negativity bias can lead us to look for the negative, keep us locked into it, and actually exclude or discount the positive or helpful. Whilst this may keep us safe from and prepared for threats, it also creates a base foundation or anxiety and stress in our bodies.
Deliberately looking for things to be grateful for, and taking in the felt sense of these experiences can bring more peace in the minutes.