Building  Resilience.

Resilience it is our ability to bounce back after difficult experiences. It represents the ability to survive challenges, and at the same time to rebuild the balance and well-being. Resilience brings back a positive imagination for the future, and allows to re-establish safety and connection.

Everyone has their own way to react in stressful situations. This specific way of reacting is developed usually quite early in our life. This reaction is automatic, we can’t change it. Somehow we can say “ it catches us”. It arises in the limbic system triggering the change in the heart rate, breathing, blood vessels and muscles among others. Biologically it prepares us/ our body to quickly react to a threat. Only when it occurs in the body the signal arrives to the rational mind. This allows us to potentially correct what already happened and learn for the future.

There are several typical responses, like fight, flight, freeze, appease or dissociate. Every of us has his/her own specific way. There is no better or worse reaction. They all have sense in different situations. What is important to know is that they predispose us to certain limited type of behaviours. That means that if we are not aware of this reaction occurring, and if we are not able to balance it we can be under its huge influence without even recognizing it. It narrows our scope of acting.

It becomes even more important in the situation of bigger stress/ trauma or repeated multiple smaller pressures. In many cases it is evident for us that we go through difficult moments, but sometimes we are not really aware. It can happen in the moment of a change even if we see it as a positive one, in time when something that was believed to take a short time takes much longer, like a disease, in the times of waiting for some results or information, and many others. In such periods our stress reaction starts to cumulate in our body. Our breath pattern changes to longer periods, our heart rate changes and some groups of our muscles squeeze. This predisposes us / our body to certain behaviours and moods. Few examples:

  • One can become more aggressive. Not necessarily physically. It can become more easy to push his/her buttons or he/she can criticize more easily, become confrontational, blaming others.
  • One can become resentful: continually opposing something, that is not open to change, not accepting what happened, feeling treated unjustly.
  • One can step back and wait doing nothing, numbing and procrastinating for ages.
  • One can try to keep appearances, showing optimism, smiling and being cool or indifferent. If it is not based on real internal balance- the price of keeping own stress reaction “ under control” can result in some sudden outbreaks, deep disconnection form others, lack of energy, constant fatigue or even a disease.

These moods and/ or behaviour changes influence our life deeply, especially if they persist longer. And they can persist for days, weeks, months or even years. Sometimes they shape us to the extent that others build their opinions about us based on them. Do you see anybody as an example?

So the question arises: is it possible to go through inevitable stress periods in our life and keep the balance that is needed to live fully our life and have a full range of behaviour choice?

Fortunately for all of us it is not black and white situation. Of course, some people have more capacity to come back to full balance than others but scientists say it’s important to think of resilience as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time.

There are some exercises that can be very helpful in strengthening the resilience muscle. They can be used during difficult periods, but it makes a lot of sense to work on resilience in more peaceful moments – like to have a normal workout. The more we practice, the more automatic the reactions, meaning quicker and more effective a new way of responding becomes.

  1. Become conscious of your own way of reacting. What happens in the moment of stress in your body? Where in the body do you feel your reaction: in the stomach, in the chest or neck? What is the immediate internal narrative? Observe your reaction in comparably neutral situation, when there is not too much on stake. It is much easier to observe.
  2. Accept your way of responding. Don’t judge it. Don’t judge yourself. There are good reasons why your reaction looks like that. Biologically it protects you, even if sometimes it seems to work against you. The more you try to fight it back, the stronger it becomes. Look at it as a colour of your eyes- you may not like it but you can’t change it.
  3. Take a break, re-center. Think about your stress reaction as of a heavy workout: so many muscles contracted, a lot of energy spent. Take a deeper breath. Think about what is your “ resilience place”. Where do you usually feel fully yourself? Is it in the nature, playing with your dog, playing guitar or singing? Remind yourself what is the feeling. Deep breath, feeling of being grounded, seeing the world widely, connected to others, feeling the energy bigger than yourself? If you have the opportunity to come back to this resilience place of yours- do it. If not, take a walk, and somatically remind yourself how it feels to be in your resilient place.
  4. Connect to what is important to you and act from it. The stronger the sense of purpose , the stronger resilience can be built.
  5. Manage your mood. Check for mood several times a day. Be honest with yourself. Don’t put an optimistic or cynical mask. Mood is a good indicator. If you find yourself more often in anger, resentment, resignation, remind yourself that you have an influence (read more

It is quite difficult to work on resilience during hard times, however not impossible. Reinterpret the expression of “ what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. There is a lot of risk that the strengthening here means stillness in your own way of reacting. Build your resilience consciously. giving you rself more opportunity to live fully your own life.