In this second part to my 3-part article on Self-care I take a closer look at Resilience and begin to tease out the cornerstones of Self-care.
We touched on the concept of Resilience in last month’s newsletter but in this month we will focus a little more on what this word actually means in practical terms, and how to strengthen your Resilience through Self-care.
What does Resilience actually mean?
Since Resilience became a buzzword in the world of stress management, there are a number of articles, as well as self-help and coaching books and programmes that advise on how to strengthen it. But quite often these focus on only one aspect of Resilience or rather have a somewhat limited definition depending on their area of expertise.
As I was researching what the concept really meant in practical terms, I found that the concept of Resilience can be defined as, and incorporates, the following ideas:
- Psycho-emotional resilience;
- Physical/physiological resilience;
- Resilience as the ability (both psycho-emotional and physical) to adapt effectively to stress, challenges and adversity as they arise; and
- Resilience as the ability (both psycho-emotional and physical) to bounce back from stress, challenges and adversity after they have passed, and return to a state of optimal psycho-emotional or physical/physiological health.
These aspects of Resilience are part of an indissociable whole, so all of them need to be addressed to strengthen your Resilience effectively in the long-term, though different aspects may take precedence at different times.
In relation to Self-care, optimal Resilience is one of its goals, a product of Self-care and also one of the elements of preventative health.
How can Self-Care help improve Resilience?
Many of the core concepts that we discussed last month around Self-care are important when it comes to improving Resilience, particularly psycho-emotional Resilience. Psycho-emotional Resilience means 3 and 4 above as they relate to a person’s relationship with their emotional, psychological and mental self. A lot of research has been done, particularly with survivors of trauma, to tease out the common characteristics that are generally present in someone who has strong psycho-emotional Resilience. These give us a starting point for strengthening our own psycho-emotional resilience. The characteristics are generally as follows:
- The ability to remain realistically optimistic. This means being able to take account of negative information but not to focus on it; to think positive and accept what is really going on. One of the exercises that apparently is very helpful in building this attitude is working on gratitude.
- The ability to face fears and anxieties in order to move forward in a positive manner and avoid getting stuck in the same patterns. Facing fears and dealing with them allows the situation to change and even ease, instead of the fear gaining energy and festering. What helps is adopting an attitude of seeing the confrontation as a learning experience, or a challenge that will make you stronger, and develop courage and self-esteem.
- Having a good moral compass and sense of integrity of self. This is accompanied with a strong sense of empathy, awareness, and even welfare for others. A strong moral compass helps us stay centred and maintain boundaries in difficult times.
- Having a strong community. This can be anything from strong family or friends, to a spiritual practice to other forms of social support or groups. We are social animals and we need connection for optimal health. In addition, having resources to lean on in difficult times has a positive impact on brain function during stress, calming the stress response.
- Having regular physical activity. As we know already you can’t really separate psycho-emotional health from physical health. Physical activity – and we aren’t talking about a gym necessarily here but even walking regularly in the local park – can really help regulate the nervous system and stress response. In addition, it is a way to maintain a connection with your physical body, which is particularly important for very “heady” people.
- Lifelong learning. Having a continued desire to stay curious, learn, develop, take up new hobbies or activities etc, has been associated with better coping and recovery to stress. This is because learning helps maintain cognitive flexibility and allows you to be open to different coping strategies.
- Developed emotional intelligence and maturity. Cognitive learning and flexibility is important but it can all fly out the door if emotions take over. Developing emotional intelligence and maturity help the mind and body align, centre and relax.
- Having purpose, meaning, goal setting and intentions as part of a lifestyle attitude. This doesn’t have to be a “life purpose” necessarily – what is important is finding meaning even in the small things you do. That means if you don’t like what you do, make the changes necessary to include some meaningful things into your life. Set goals to include things you enjoy or build a plan and take small steps towards your goals every day.
- Additional characteristics of psycho-emotionally resilient people are that:
- they tend to be persistent, responsible, and self-confident;
- they learn from their mistakes and use them to make themselves stronger;
- they refuse to see themselves as victims or let adversity define them; and
- they realise that hard times are temporary.
The characteristics listed above are goals to aim for. Self-care means finding time to strengthen these characteristics. How you do that can be a very individual process but there are many resources with exercises that can help. The exercises I included in the first part of the article for instance can help with finding meaning, facing fears. Gratitude exercises can really help build a positive and empathic attitude.
When it comes to physical/physiological resilience and strengthening it, there are a number of aspects that come into play, many of which I have discussed in my articles before. Your individual terrain (genetic structure + function/adaptation) plays a big role in your inherent ability to deal effectively with stress on a physical level. However, how well you care for your body (and your mind) plays a really big role in maintaining and strengthening it in the long-term. When it comes to Self-care therefore, building physical/physiological resilience includes taking account of:
- Diet – food, drink and supplementation
- Circadian rhythms – including sleeping and eating times in particular
- Physical movement/exercise
- Managing stress
- Psycho-emotional wellbeing
- Resources and support
- Other lifestyle issues: smoking, alcohol, drugs, social/lifestyle issues
We will discuss these aspects in more detail in April’s newsletter and set out a sample Self-care programme to get you started! In the meantime, there’s plenty of food for thought above to get you thinking about it so you will be ready to go for next time!
References: Much of the information here relating to Psycho-emotional Resilience is taken from the book entitled Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, 2nd Edition by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney