There is a science to resilience, after all
We live in a volatile, complex and ambiguous world—moreso with a global health and economic crisis in our midst. With the year coming to a close and a new year to look forward to, we're introducing tangible practices to keep in our arsenal for anxiety-ridden days.
We've learned from the professional health experts about how to manage self-care in a pandemic. Youth-run organization Mind&Seek PH recently hosted a series of mental health webinars entitled A Safe Space Series: Thrive, which aims to help the public cultivate resilience during these tumultuous times.
We caught up with Dr. Joanna Herrera, co-founder and president of We Thrive Consultancy and Wellbeing Services, Inc. and a practicing DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) specialist. She admits, “We couldn’t have imagined [the pandemic] in our lifetime, and yet, we know that the final front here of our freedom is inside of us; it’s not what’s happening outside. And so, we can elongate and enlarge that space—that gap between the stimulus and response—in order to inhabit our freedom and live wisely and skillfully, even when it’s challenging. This is what cultivates our personal and collective wellbeing.”
The mindfulness practitioner shares that caring for one's wellbeing is mostly about initiating micro-practices—smaller, actionable steps we can take to shift our nervous systems for the better—not necessarily time-consuming efforts. This can even be as simple as breathing mindfully to link ourselves to that safe, grounded zone we have within.
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There's no doubt that each of us is going through a personal evolution in the context of the bigger world, which impacts us emotionally and mentally. Do you observe becoming irritable and easily frustrated, shutting down and feeling helpless, numbing your emotions or withdrawing from others? Stress is a normal reaction to threat, but prolonged and severe stress can lead to physical and mental vulnerability.
We need to learn to manage our stress reactivity, which leads to resilience. Dr. Herrera reveals, “We might be cycling [through these phases] again and again. We need to be patient with ourselves and respect our own process.” Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenging situations, effectively adapt to change and thrive. But it’s also harnessing the power of awareness and recognizing—and tolerating—the discomfort when we don’t feel okay.
What resilience emphasizes is the need to pay attention to our inner forces—thoughts, feelings, the stories we tell ourselves. Sometimes, these go unchecked, and this can cause us to spill out—by complaining or by identifying as a victim. How we function in the world is an expression of how we cultivate our inner lives. When we take care of ourselves, we take care of others. We’re less likely to ripple toxic behavior to others—albeit unconsciously.
Here are a few key points to remember about displaying resilience.
In Bouncing Back: Re-Wiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Wellbeing, Linda Graham writes, “The ability to pause, step back and reflect, enables us to shift perspectives, create options and choose wisely.” How do we pause and unplug under these new circumstances when we’re living in our school, in our office?
Create a context for unplugging. Contexts are essential to developing new habits. Create a routine that coaxes your nervous system into relaxation—drawing a bath, listening to music, doing your skincare routine.
The miracle of micro-pauses. Taking mini-breaks during the workday helps us restore and replenish our mental energy, thereby making us more productive than if we were to work non-stop.
The perspective we choose to take defines how we experience reality. Nothing exists outside of how we interpret or perceive what is happening around us.
How can we practice overcoming the brain’s negativity bias and widen the aperture of what’s possible? We need to tip the scale to the perspective of possibility. We call upon the power of reframing—naming our feelings (to tame it), talking to a friend or even journaling. We need to sift through what we can and can’t control to overcome helplessness.
Establishing a compassionate internal connection with ourselves activates a self-soothing response that regulates us back into safety. This means being open and kind towards ourselves and others. Nurturing our connections with others also down-regulates our stress arousal. How do we practice presence?
Self-validation: Turning to our feelings and internal experiences with understanding and compassion.
Supportive listening: Making space for others to feel held in our presence. Listening to understand instead of trying to fix what’s wrong.
Expressing gratitude: Appreciating the good that others have done leads to more happiness.
We're learning that there is a science to resilience after all. Harness the practice of mindfulness, compassion and empathy in this extraordinary time in history—and let it serve you.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver