What is resilience, and why does it matter?

Resilience is the ability to stay calm in high levels of change and challenge, to bounce back when something difficult happens, to face up to a problem and find a good solution. It’s a set of skills to help you maintain your wellbeing and happiness even when life gets turbulent

Resilience matters because most of us have to face more changes and pressures than we can easily deal with. This can make us stressed, damage our health, and cause tension with the people around us. Resilience skills help you reduce these risks, and to enjoy life more.

This toolkit offers some simple methods you can use to be more resilient, every day

The 5-step Calmer

This is a quick way to regain your equilibrium if you are stressed or upset. It’s worth learning these five simple steps by heart, and practising them, so you can use this anywhere, anytime you need to. It’s not going to solve everything, you may need more time and more help. But it should take the edge off your upset, so you handle problem situations better.

1.      Get Centred:  Put your attention on your breath. Do three breaths counting 4 as you breathe in and 7 as you breathe out. Imagine breathing in calmness, breathing out your upset emotions.

2.      Happy picture: Remember someone or something that’s positive in your life: maybe a family member, a friend, a pet, or a favourite place. Take time to immerse yourself in the memory, engaging all of your senses as you do this.

3.      Sympathy and kindness: feel sympathy and kindness from your heart, for yourself and the other person/people in this difficult situation. Believe you’re all doing your best, and you all deserve kindness.

4.      Change the story: Imagine you are playing a positive role, in a story where this ‘problem’ leads to a happy outcome. Sometimes we make a situation worse by fitting it into a negative story that we repeat (such as ‘I’m never good enough’). Choose a positive story, such as ‘I can handle this well’, or ‘I am good enough’. NOTE: You may need more time and support to explore a repeating negative story. Once you find this, try to spot it when you’re actually in a stressful situation, and choose a positive story instead.

5.      What do you need now? Try to get clear what you need, here and now, to feel happier. Maybe you need to tell the other person how you feel, and be heard. Maybe you just want some quiet time alone. Say what you need, and trust that somehow your need can be met.

Communications 101

A lot of conflict and stress arises because people can’t express how they feel, or don’t believe they’ve been heard by the other person. Communication skills are about both expressing yourself, and hearing someone else, and this helps a lot with resilience. So here are ten top tips:

1.      Use ‘I’ statements. Own your feelings instead of blaming. It’s easier for the other person to hear ‘I feel upset’ than ‘You’re upsetting me’.

2.      Stay in the present. Talk about the present situation; don’t generalise or add on past grievances.

3.      Be specific. For example, ‘When you ignored my question, I felt upset’ gives the other person clear information which helps them understand you.

4.      When the other person’s speaking, really listen: give them your whole attention, it will ease the tension. It may help to repeat back what you heard, to show you were listening and make sure you got it. And avoid thinking about your reply when they’re speaking!

5.      Be constructive. Ask for what you’d like from the other person, gently, not insistently.

6.      Listen and seek understanding. Ask the other person about their feelings and clarify what actually happened. Many conflicts arise from misunderstandings.

7.      Be clear and direct. Avoid sarcasm. And don’t expect the other person to read your mind or pick up every hint you drop.

8.      Don’t escalate: calmly repeat. If you feel the other person is not hearing a key statement or request from you, just repeat it calmly. And again if need be. Don’t lose your temper or exaggerate to get through.

9.      Acknowledge the other person. It will help the other person if you assure them you hear their feelings and can see their point of view. This is not the same as agreeing with them!

10.  What do you really feel and need? It can help you and anyone else in the situation if you can name exactly what you’re feeling. And then, what exactly caused you to feel this way. And then, what do you need that would help right now. If someone just tells you, “You’ve really upset me”, it’s hard to know what to do. It’s more helpful if they say “I’m feeling unconfident, because you didn’t reply to the question I asked you. I need you to reassure me that you’ve got time for a short chat about this.”

Twelve tools to try

Most of us have ways of getting by, and coping with stressful situations. But resilience is about thriving and staying happy, even with uncomfortable levels of challenge and change.

To do this, you need your own personalised toolkit: a set of quick methods that help you to handle stress and problems more easily. Different methods will suit different people: this section offers you a dozen ideas to try out. Practice applying them with milder problems, so you can easily use them if a big wave hits.

1.      Relax your breathing… next time you feel tense, notice your breathing. It’s probably short and shallow. Taking deeper, slower breaths is one of the easiest ways to feel more calm and centred. And simply giving your attention to your breath should reduce your focus on anxious thoughts in the mind.

a.      Start by noticing by how your breathing is now, without changing it. Then focus your attention on the lower belly, below the navel, and see if you can direct several long, slow breaths down here. Try pausing briefly after the inbreath and after the outbreath, to slow things down further.

2.      Have a healthy treat: it’s easy to use unhealthy habits to cope with stress. Such as drinks with caffeine or alcohol, smoking, or getting cross with other people. A good way to change these patterns is to develop a healthy habit to help you when you are tense. You could try one of these:

  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Play with a pet
  • Drink a fruit juice or herbal tea
  • Watch a comedy
  • Take a long bath
  • Go for a swim
  • Hug a friend
  • Take a walk

3.      Be nice to yourself: do you criticise or blame yourself for problems? We often judge ourselves harshly, but it only makes things worse, for ourselves and those around us. Notice your habits, and try to change them. Give yourself credit for trying your best. Focus on what you’re doing well. Remember the good things about you, and what other people like you for.

4.      Happy memories: when you’re tense, a nice way to calm down is to remember a time when you felt really happy. Picture it as vividly as you can: the memory can be really cheering and calming.

5.      The blessings of nature: time in a quiet natural setting can be calming, energising, inspiring and more. Try to do this regularly, and relax enough to take it all in! Even if you live in a city, find a favourite tree, or pot plant. Doing relaxation breathing or other exercise out of doors is extra helpful.

6.      Call a friend: you might do this either for real, or in your imagination. Actually phoning or meeting up with a friend is calming, it could help you to talk about what’s stressing you, and you can ask them for some support or appreciation.

a.      Just imagining a friend can be helpful too: picture them in your imagination, remember good times you have had together, remind yourself what they like about you, and imagine them next to you right now, supporting you.

7.      Focus on your body: this is one of many useful methods known as mindfulness. Under stress, we identify with our anxious thoughts and emotions. Giving your attention to your body and physical sensations is a quick way to calm down. Here is one method you could use.

Do this exercise sitting or lying comfortably. Start by slowing your breath and focusing in the lower belly. Then slowly move your attention right through every part of your body, starting with the toes, and finishing with the top of the head. Wherever you direct your attention, imagine breathing into that part of the body, and notice all of the physical sensations. If your attention wanders, don’t fret, just bring it gently back to the body. At the end, be aware of the body as a whole, accepting all sensations, both the pleasant ones and any which feel uncomfortable. This whole process should take 10-15 minutes. 9.      Twist and shout: after animals have been scared, they often have a good shake, to release the tension, then a stretch and a walk. Sometimes humans need the same. You’ll need to find the right time and place, but having a good shout, stamping your feet, shaking your body, beating a pillow, are all good ways to get the tension out.

10.  Imagination and protection: these methods can be helpful before, during or after a difficult situation. The basic idea is to focus on an image that makes you feel stronger and safer. For example:

11.  Picture yourself protected by a suit of armour, a space suit, or a force field all around you.

12.  Use the image of a tree or a mountain: feel yourself with deep roots in the Earth, and all the strength you need to meet the storms.

13.  If you have a spiritual path, imagine a wise teacher, such as Jesus or Buddha, inside or around or beside you, protecting you.

14.  Faith and prayer: this will be important for some people, and not for others. It can help your resilience if you have faith in a supportive divine power, who you can pray to for support, protection, and guidance. This can help you feel there is more power and wisdom available to help you.

15.  Picture a positive outcome and take action: at the right stage, doing something can be better than just putting up with things. Picture a positive outcome and steps you can take towards this. Even small steps can help change the situation, or at least your reactions to it. Expressing how you feel, or learning what to do differently in the future, are positive actions too.

16.  Zoom out: imagine you’re a space creature from Mars, looking down at this: maybe you don’t have to take it so seriously! Zooming out gives you new perspectives, and if you can see the funny side of the situation, and laugh out loud, it breaks the tension.

Copyright Alan Heeks 2016. You are welcome to share it, but with an acknowledgment.

Produced by Alan Heeks and Debbie Warrener

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