By Jai Thade, L&D Facilitator
Mental Health Awareness month has arrived at a time when virtually everybody is acutely facing some stress or the other. We find ourselves without the customary trappings of the outside world to bury ourselves into. With unprecedent restrictions placed on our movement, with various practical concerns, and with the constant, looming fear about the health and safety of us and our loved ones. Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to put into action small practices that can help us be more resilient in the face of stressors.
First, a little bit about emotional resilience. It’s important to clarify that a resilient person is not someone who doesn’t get stressed at all. Stress serves a vital role in controlled doses. For instance, the stress of an impending crisis arguably propelled some nations to take quicker steps than others in working to contain the virus, much to their benefit.
Resilient people are those who feel stress when faced with adversity, trauma, tragedy and threats – but don’t allow these to impede their ability to cope and adapt. Each setback becomes an opportunity for them to grow even more adaptable, able to handle ever increasing amounts of stress. They embody what Nietzsche spoke of when he said, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Or, to use a timelier analogy, they can use setbacks in their lives as “vaccines” that immunize them against uncontrollable stress from similar setbacks in the future. This ability is cultivated over time. While cultivating it might seem daunting, we need to understand that such ambitious goals can be easily broken down into small practices that we embed into our day-to-day lives.
Here are four practices, along with a few ideas of how to adopt them, that will allow you to cultivate greater amounts of resilience in your life.
1) Keep a Daily Log
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do? Did you feel more in control once you wrote it all down in a to-do list?
There seems to be something almost magical about giving your thoughts a physical form – whether it’s as words on a piece of paper or in a mobile application – that gives us more control over them. Writing them allows them to settle down, instead of continuing to rattle around in our heads the whole day. Keeping a daily log is the practice of taking out brief periods of time each day to reflect on some key aspects of one’s life.
These key aspects could include your plans for the day, your progress in maintaining desired habits, your thoughts, your worries, happy moments, or whatever else comes to mind. Some prefer to keep a physical journal, whereas others prefer to keep a digital log on their computers and smartphones.
Many who keep daily logs say it helps them analyse the present status of their physical & emotional wellbeing. It also helps them track changes and measure progress. Moreover, they are also likely to notice patterns and to capture ideas and actions that they need to pay attention to. Author Julia B. Cameron says her morning habit of daily logging serves as “spiritual windshield wipers, swiping away anything that stands between you and a clear view of your day.”
2) Share a story
To show you the power of this habit, let’s go back to the aftermath of another devastating crisis – the Holocaust. Several studies were conducted on Holocaust survivors. They aimed to study what practices helped them stay resilient in the face of some of the darkest days in history, and what practices could aid them in leading better lives today.
In one such study, survivors were asked to share their stories with the researchers. Along with this, various physiological parameters of theirs were also measured. They were then divided into various groups based on how much they shared: Low, Midlevel or High “disclosers”. The study found that the Midlevel and High disclosers were significantly healthier up to a year after their interviews.
This surprising finding falls perfectly in line with both the research as well as many people’s experience. There is something about sharing your burden with someone else that eases the amount of weight you carry on your shoulders. Ask the Okinawans in Japan, for instance, who are amongst those populations on the planet who live the longest. Each person has a “moai” a group of lifelong friends who provide social support and a compassionate ear for your stories.
We are blessed to be housebound in a time when we have digital appendages that allow us to remain connected to people across the globe. They allow us to create online “bonfires”, which we can collectively sit around and chat. Use social media, email, and your phone. Stay connected, check in, hear stories, and share stories.
3) Ask for help
It is more likely now than ever that someone in the world is going through similar issues as you. Since this is the case, there is a clear benefit to seeking out help – whether practical or emotional – in this situation.
There are times to foster self-reliance, but it is such times of crisis when we must set this drive aside and instead allow ourselves to lean back and be supported by our families, friends and communities.
By placing us all in similar predicaments, the pandemic has also led to a greater level of empathy amongst us of what others are going through. Now, more than ever, most of us are in the same boat – be it people in your professional network or your personal one. You can crowd-source ideas and solutions online, ask for assistance from your neighbours, and check in with your friends for advice.
While leaning on others in our life can be enough to weather many of life’s stresses and challenges, sometimes we may find ourselves being overwhelmed and in need of more experienced help. In such situations, it is worth considering speaking to a Mental Health Professional.
4) Change your Environment
Aside from doing our part to be good citizens, there is little we can do to change the macro-level events unfolding across the globe – we have little to no control over it. What we do have control over is our immediate physical environments. While we don’t have the freedom to switch our environments by going outdoors, we can still make changes to our environments indoors.
Physical environments directly impact our psychological health and adjusting our surroundings can therefore dramatically improve our mental health.
Changing your environment can take many forms. You can de-clutter and tidy up – something we often procrastinate during our usual schedules where we’re out and about. The cleanliness might reveal your room or house is more beautiful than what you’re used to and can provide a sense of achievement and satisfaction.
Also, whenever you feel negative thoughts building up, make it a point to change your environment, go to another room or another part of the house. Sometimes this kind of a change serves to interrupt an unhelpful pattern of thinking.
Resilient communities are composed of resilient individuals. It is only when we work on becoming more resilient as individuals, that we can make our communities resilient. And this resilience in our communities is what we need to face this crisis, and to pick up the pieces and put things back together when things eventually return to normalcy.
Best wishes to all our readers from the IDC family. Thanks for reading and stay safe.
Photo courtesy: Canva