“The only thing that is constant is change” wrote the greek philosopher Heracticus. These words may have been written several thousand years ago but are more relevant today than ever.
As we start to take tentative steps towards a less restrictive approach to our daily lives, for a large proportion of us, goals and plans that we had at the start of this pandemic are going to look quite different now.
The level of uncertainty that has been a constant presence during the last couple of years has had a severe impact on our emotional wellbeing. Large parts of the job market are having to adapt to instability or loss of income and families have had to deal with illness or even bereavment. All of which result in scaling levels of grief, anxiety, stress and fear.
Therefore, in these times of adversity, never has it been more important to invest in our health and wellbeing in order to strengthen both our emotional muscles as well as our physical ones.
One of the greatest traits humans have displayed throughout history is our ability to adapt and overcome challenging scenarios. Leading the charge in our emotional armoury is resilience.
Resilience can be defined as the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaption despite challenging circumstances (Gamezy and Masten, 1991).
Discoveries in the world of neuroplasticity show that the brain can continue to develop and regenerate. Likewise, our emotional abilities can be deliberately strengthened too. Therefore resilience is not just a trait that people either have or do not. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be developed and learnt by anyone.
There are a number of techniques that can help build levels of resilience, many of which originate from the school of positive psychology. Though simple to implement they can yield life-affirming results.
One such technique is the “doors closed, doors open strategy”, whereby we imagine a challenging scenario, for example losing a job. We acknowledge the pain and feeling of loss that comes with such an event and imagine it as a door closing. From there we then focus on what another door opening will bring. What new paths and opportunities lie ahead, which may not have materialised before if this unexpected path had not opened up. Our choice then is where we aim our focus: on the potential of roads yet travelled or on mourning the loss of a journey already taken.
Another technique is to use personal values as a tool to build resilience. Rather than goals which represent what we want to achieve, values can be defined as a way of living that can't be obtained like a material possession but rather be experienced from moment to moment. Therefore defining the way we want to live gives us an anchor point that we can refer back to in challenging times. By doing this we can then construct an actual visual reminder through either a mood board or digital presentation which can then be referred to when needed. For example, if we place high emphasis on living with compassion and love we can create a visual representation of this. Likewise, if community and meaningful work are of importance we can craft images of how that resonates. Research has shown that referring back to values in a way where they can be visually seen has the ability to provide a lasting positive mindset.
Lastly, another strategy is to build a resilience plan using a method known as the four S's technique.
Support- who is in your network that you can reach out to for guidance in times of challenge? Obviously different sceneries call for different networks such as when at work or dealing with adversity in a personal situation.
Strategies – How have you utilised different techniques in the past to help overcome adversity? Apps like Headspace or Calm provide a mediative framework which provide thousands of people the opportunity to reap the rewards of a regular practice. Perhaps the act of tending a garden acts as a tool to cope with adversity. I personally find doing some form of physical activity in nature has a profound positive effect on my attitude in tough times.
Sagacity- This can be defined as wisdom and insight in the form of quotes, lyrics or poems that provide both comfort and inspiration when needed. For example Neil Young's lyrical prose from songs like Old Man have always worked like a balm to sooth my stormy mind. It's useful to have a number of such resources to call upon in adverse conditions as healing words can have a profound positive effect.
Solution Seeking behaviours- looking back on challenges of the past, reflect on what actions helped to cope in the situation? Perhaps it was negotiating with someone, speaking up when necessary or problem solving. These actions are all evidence that it has been possible to move beyond a point of challenge before and can be utilised again.
As a health coach I feel investing in our emotional strengths is just as important as working on our physical wellbeing, both have the capacity to alter our lens on the circumstances we find ourselves in. This is a time of change and with that comes either opportunity for growth and meaningful existence or self doubt and fear. The choice is ours, it just depends on what door we open.