In an age where we are at liberty to live our lives without limits, the current Coronavirus crisis presents some interesting challenges. Not only are we dealing with the fear of the disease itself, we are having to adjust to a completely new reality. We don’t even have a time limit to grasp onto. Everything that our brain relies on to make us feel safe and secure has been stripped away. Left to its own devices, it will enter into panic mode. We need to step in, take control and help it to cope. Building resilience is key.
Resilience can be defined as:
The ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis state quickly
In times such as these, it has a big role to play. The good news is that we are not born with a finite amount, it is perfectly possible to boost it by doing the right things.
I was listening to a podcast recently when I came across a very interesting way of looking at the role resilience can play in offsetting stress, and therefore its long term impact on our health.
The Vulnerability Equation
________ = Allostatic load*
* ‘wear and tear’ on the body which can ultimately lead to disease
The physiological changes that our body undergoes when it is in a state of stress include, among other things, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, tense muscles and the release of glucose to give us energy to run away. Known as the fight or flight response, the body is preparing to be able to escape from the threat and then return back to normal. But it was never designed to find itself in a continuous state of anxiety. Ongoing stress, can lead to mental and physical health problems and ultimately to premature death.
As the vulnerability equation shows, resilience is the antidote to this. Ideally we would be addressing and eliminating the causes of stress but if that is not possible, then, by boosting our resilience, we can limit its impact.
How to boost resilience?
As mammals we are wired to be part of a group. Social distancing directly contradicts this core need, leaving us feeling vulnerable and isolated. Try to look for ways to maintain and develop that contact, even if is virtual. I have heard many people say that they are picking up the phone and speaking to people so much more than they did before.
The benefit of extra time means we can foster relationships with others which are easy to overlook when life is running at full throttle.
Don’t be afraid to speak out. We will all have bad days. Looking to others for support when you need it and supporting them in turn brings gains all round. We are all on the journey together.
If our body is not properly fuelled, it is unlikely to serve us well. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet and hydrating regularly, will help it to function optimally. It is tempting to indulge in sugary snacks, alcohol and the like but in fact in so doing, we simply depress our immune system making us more open to illness. Sugar is also known to have a detrimental effect on mental health. Aim to replace short term pleasure with long term wellness and the means to cope much better with whatever life throws at you.
Exercise and movement play an equally important role. As well as cardiovascular exercise such as walking, cycling or running, look for things that will counteract the stress response as described above. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing all help to calm the mind and body, returning it to is natural state (homeostasis).
Sleep is the body’s chance to repair, refresh and rejuvenate. If we deprive ourselves of sleep, we lose an important building block in the pursuit of greater resilience.
With our usual routines thrown out of the window, it’s easy to feel rudderless. Create some structure around your day. Set yourself goals, celebrate when you have achieved them, and reward yourself with an activity you enjoy. Putting a timescale against each task helps prevent overwhelm. An hour of cleaning is enough for anyone!!
Under normal circumstances, we all lament the fact that we do not have enough time. Now we do, and so it is up to us to use it wisely. Ask yourself how you would like to look back on this period. Do you want to have wasted the time you once so desperately craved?
4. Positive thinking
It’s easy to think that all stress comes from external sources but in fact we create our own internal stressors, often without even realising. Blame, guilt, feeling responsible for things that go wrong, self- criticism etc are all examples of this. They sit under the surface, a constant drip feed of stress which is in some ways more problematic that one off external events. Monitoring our thoughts, behaviours and actions is the first step towards addressing them. What purpose does it serve to speak to ourselves in this way?
By contrast, positive thinking, gratitude, hope and self-love help to relieve the drain and boost our strength and resilience. Keeping a gratitude journal can be a useful tool and contributing to it daily keeps things in perspective. Setting positive intentions at the start of the day helps to set the tone. Thinking about the good things that have happened in the day just before you go to sleep, will help your brain to re-wire positively.
Building resilience is not about failing to acknowledge how difficult things are or pretending they don’t exist, it is about giving us the tools to limit the impact of those challenges. It’s about believing that we do have choices and with them, comes a level of control. It’s also about learning about ourselves and using adversity to grow.
We cannot change the Coronavirus pandemic but we can change how we respond to it don’t you think?