Mental Resilience and it’s barriers
Being able to manage stress, or cope with it, is often seen as being resilient. Many people think that responding to stress is something we can easily control, which is not true. There are many factors that come together leaving us feeling stressed, and they are often beyond our control. Dealing or coping with stress is a very personal thing, and cannot be generalized, as we all experience things individually and differently.
Managing stress and building mental resilience can mean different things to different people. We might understand them differently because our experiences shape how we feel stress, and how easily we can respond to it. Therefore, being prepared for periods of stress and knowing how to manage these situations and our wellbeing during these phases can make it easier to get through and recover from them. While there are many things we can do or try to build our resilience against stress, there are also factors that might make it harder to be resilient:
- Long-term mental or physical health conditions
- Experiencing any form of discrimination and hate
- Feeling disconnected from family, friends, or community – or having a bad relationship to them
- Feeling lonely
- Experiencing poverty or living in constant financial worry
- Living in an area with poor access to healthcare
- Living in a dangerous area with lack of protection
- Not having access to green spaces and nature
- Being a single parent
These barriers make it much more difficult for us to build mental resilience, compared to people who are not affected by these barriers. Sadly, it is not always possible to change these barriers or move away from them, since some things are beyond our control.
How to build mental Resilience:
So, knowing now what resilience is and why it is such an important trait to develop and further evolve, what can we do to build and deepen our resilience?
1. Work on and invest in yourself
Speak kindly to yourself
You have probably heard of “fake it ‘til you make it” before? The principle is basically convincing your brain of a certain thing by repeating it over and over again until some time it becomes reality. We use this technique often unknowingly, when we tell ourselves things like “I’m not good enough”, “I never do anything right” etc. Over time, our brains believe that these statements are truthful and become our reality.
The good news is that we can use the same technique to heal our minds – by speaking kindly to ourselves. Even if it feels wrong, or weird, tell yourself “I did good!” when things go well.
Focus on breathing
Our breath is a powerful tool to ease and reduce stress and help make us feel less anxious. There are many breathing exercises out there, but they all have the main goal to increase the amount of air we inhale and therefore calming our minds. When we are stressed or feel anxious, our breathing tends to become rather “flat”, meaning we hardly fill our lungs with every breath. We breathe in more often, but with a reduced amount of oxygen.
A simple breathing exercise you can do anywhere and anytime is this one:
1. breathe in for 4 sec.
2. hold breath for 4 sec.
3. breathe out for 4. sec.
4. Hold for 4 sec.
5. repeat steps 1-4 until you feel calmed down and your mind less foggy.
Find time & space to rewind and relax
It is so important to find balance after a long day of work or feelings of stress. When and once you can, step away from screens, shut your laptop and put your phone away. Find a time during the day that works well for you and fill this timeslot with meditation, yoga, reading a book, listening to music – anything that helps take your mind off of things. Our brain is a powerful tool, and while it only makes up about 2% of our bodily weight, it uses up to 20% of the body’s energy.
Spend time outdoors and in nature
Spending time in nature is an absolute mood booster. Being outdoors can make our bodies regenerate and increase positive emotions, creativity and concentration. It makes us feel calm and grounded and helps clear our minds. Including some light movement in your day, getting some fresh air and filling up on vitamin D come a long way!
Click here to learn more about the natural benefits of sunlight and what happens when we don’t get enough.
Follow your interests and hobbies
When we feel stressed or are overworked, we tend to put in all of the energy we have into said source. Small tasks then take up much more of our energy. Things and tasks that used to be easy for us suddenly feel like a mountain to move. At some point our body switches to survival mode and it feels like all we can do is “function”. In this mode, we tend to drop all the things that usually bring us joy, even if it is precisely in these situations where we need things or tasks that make us happy, in order to make our minds a nicer place to be.
Look after your physical health
Resilience works on and for the whole body. Even more so, they strengthen each other! So a great advice on building resilience and healing even faster is to work on both your mental and physical health. Of course there are many things you can do for your physical health, such as regular exercise, a well balanced diet and getting enough sleep – but also Red Light Therapy has shown tremendous benefits in improving your mental and physical well-being.
Find out here how Red Light Therapy can help improve your mental and physical health.
Remain hopeful and look for meaning and purpose
When stress takes over, it can leave us feeling numb and we so often find ourselves thinking “nothing (I do) matters”. And with that thought, our mind likes to head towards a dark and dangerous space. In these situations, it is important to feel a sense of meaning. Writing a gratitude journal is a great way to remind yourself of the things that are going well in your life, which are usually things we take for granted or don’t see as a big thing.
2. The people around us
Have/Build a supporting community/network
Having a strong support system has many positive benefits, such as better coping skills when it comes to stress, a higher level of well-being, increased sense of happiness and belonging and overall a longer and healthier life. Having a good and healthy social network can help reduce feelings and states of stress, depression and anxiety. Our social network, or community consists of the people we (willingly) surround ourselves with: Family, Friends, Romantic Partners, etc.
Support at work, in school, in college
It’s a big part of our day to day lives to be in spaces where we can’t decide who we spend our time with. So especially here it is important that the environment is motivational, inspirational and an overall good place to be. Sometimes however we don’t get along with certain people, which is fine, but if these indifferences make it difficult for you to go on about your day and fulfill your tasks, it might be time to confide in someone. Being a therapist, HR, teacher or school psychologist.
3. Identify your triggers
Being aware of your triggers doesn’t mean you can avoid them or that they don’t affect you anymore. It means you can learn to prepare for when the hit, reduce their impact, warn others about your triggers and help you know what to do. Identifying triggers is not an easy task, since they are repetitive and we only tend to notice them once they’ve done their damage. But here are some things you can do to help find them:
- be aware of your responses to certain situations
- document what you notice in your behavior to figure out patterns
common bodily reactions to stress or trigger:
– Quick, unexpected or unexplainable changes in mood
– Fight or Flight reactions
– Dissociation – “zone out”, mind leaves body
Mental resilience is the ability to cope with both internal and external stressors. How well we cope with them depends on many factors, over which we don’t always have control over. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we learn as much as we can about what triggers us, so we can better prepare ourselves for the next time(s).
Next to figuring out our triggers is building up both mental and physical resilience, for which there are many tips and tools out there – but the overall main way to strengthen resilience is to look after ourselves and to surround ourselves as much as we can with people and things that are good for us.
If you want to dive in deeper on the topics of mental and physical resilience, these Blogposts are for you:
Building a “less-stress” morning routine
Your Body Can’t Keep Up With Your Lifestyle: Don’t Ignore These Signs!
Nature: How connecting with nature benefits our mental healthhttps://www.mentalhealth.org.uk › our-work › research