Isn’t it amazing how a spot of sunny, if somewhat chilly weather, and the country opening up again for business, has lightened everyone’s mood? We may still be being assailed on all sides by COVID 19 news and the nation is mourning the loss of our Monarch’s husband, but there is a definite feeling that ‘things are looking up’.
But what if you, or someone you know and love, is not feeling this way? What if instead of seeing light at the end of a very long dark tunnel they still feel trapped inside it? What if they see no way out of the dark?
We all react differently to trauma and to difficult times. Some people appear to stay mired in a sticky, yucky darkness for ages following a traumatic event, yet others appear to bounce right back and get on with their lives as if nothing had happened. What’s the difference between these two opposing ways of dealing with difficult times?
Simply put - it is Mental Resilience (bounce back ability). Some people naturally have more of it than others! It’s not that the people who appear to quickly move on have been any less affected by something, they just have more effective coping strategies. And we can all learn new ways of dealing with anything…if we put our minds to it.
So what does ‘Mental Resilience’ mean?
If you Google the phrase ‘mental resilience’ one of the top results is this definition from Wikipedia:
Psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses "mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors"
Basically this is a fancy way of saying ‘bounce back ability’ isn’t it?
And whilst some people have this as an innate characteristic of their personality, mental health experts all agree that anyone can make changes to their own ‘bounce back ability’. Just like a muscle, if you exercise it correctly it will grow in strength and you will be able to better cope with the stressors that (like it or not) we all have in our lives.
Building your bounce back ability!
The first point to understand here is that improving your mental resilience does not equate to ‘never feeling the bad stuff again’. You will still experience pain, loss and ‘bad stuff’ - they are as much a part of life as love, joy, and happiness after all - but you will be able to mitigate the long term effects of the ‘bad stuff’ on your mental health.
Here’s a few pointers:-
- When the bad stuff happens don’t automatically think ‘it always happens to me’. Instead take a while to sit with whatever it is, allow yourself to feel grief, sorrow, anger, or whatever emotion is being evoked, and then make a conscious decision to let it go. Remember YOU control your own feelings, no one and no-thing can make you feel anything you don’t want to…or at least not for long. Choose to focus on only the good things as far as humanly possible.
- Make your physical health a priority too. Eat healthy and nourishing foods, not a constant round of beer and pizza, or cakes and doughnuts. If the occasional treat works for you then by all means indulge yourself. BUT make it a treat and not your regular way of eating. Do some exercise (call it movement if you’re an exercise-phobe!) go for a walk, put on some music and dance, take up yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi…Anything that gets you moving is good and helps release endorphins - the happy chemicals in our bodies which help to regulate stress and anxiety.
- Get outside in the fresh air and appreciate nature - reconnect with Mother Earth. Even 10 minutes a day outside, especially in the bright sunshine we’ve been enjoying this April, can improve your mood. If you have a grassy area in your garden take of your shoes and walk barefoot on it for a while.
- Practice mindfulness; write in a journal, meditate, make a habit of listing several things every day that you are grateful for. Perhaps think about writing on a slip of paper one thing from every single day that was special, beautiful, or that you are thankful for, and then putting those slips into a jar. At the end of a set time period - week, month, once a quarter - take them all out and re-read them. Literally count your blessings as you do so.
- Identify your purpose; that could be as a mum, wife, dad, husband; or it could be connected to your work and career; or it may even be something you are passionate about - a hobby for instance. Whatever it may be, having some kind of purpose in our lives is really important. Think about when people retire and seem to stop doing anything, they lack purpose, they often say they feel useless, and they feel no one needs them anymore. It isn’t healthy - we all need a reason to get out of bed every day. If you are trapped in a ‘feeling useless’ loop, why not consider volunteering - SCCCC is always looking for volunteers for our befriending service.
- Set yourself some realistic goals; they can be anything, but they must be things you can achieve. Getting up, showered, dressed, and out for a walk, can be goals in themselves! Think of even one thing each day that can help you move towards your goal, for example if your goal is to walk for 10 miles, make sure you do something every single day to move you closer to that. That could mean ensuring you go for a brisk walk every day, buy new walking shoes, take up some stretching exercises…it doesn’t matter what, as long as it gets you someway towards the end goal.
- Practice positivity; if someone says something negative, counter with a positive. Refuse to look on the black side of anything, there is always an upside - you just have to look a little harder to find it sometimes. Positivity doesn’t mean that you ignore the bad stuff - it simply means you refocus your thoughts away from the bad to good. Do that regularly and it will become second nature to find the silver lining in every cloud…honestly!
- Understand that change is inevitable, accept that is the case and be prepared to move onwards and upwards. Battling against something is so much harder than going with the flow and looking for the best in any situation.
- Remember the saying…’all things must pass’. Perspective is everything, no matter how awful a situation may feel, it WILL pass.
Hopefully, there are some ideas in the above for you to put in practice to ensure that your mental resilience, your ‘bounce back ability’, is strengthened. Remember though that there may be occasions when even the strongest need to admit they need help, and that reaching out for such help is in itself a demonstration of strength, not an admission of weakness. Your GP is the first port of call if you, or someone you know, is really struggling with their mental health.