Six things about resilience and wellbeing
From a blog by Mind and Soul Foundation
Below is a summary of some lessons learned in improving resilience and emotional wellbeing in answer to the question, "Could life be more than just a struggle to keep my head above water?".
In the West, we are relatively fortunate yet we live in an age of stress, exhaustion and loneliness. Rates of anxiety and depression are higher than ever. Many people live in a perpetual state of ‘overdrive’, never feeling they have enough time. We live in a society that elevates achievement and success above all else and consequently we feel the need to always be productive.
In finding ways to improve resilience and emotional wellbeing, here are some simple but important lessons learned...
1. Resilience: what it is and what it isn’t
Adversity and stressors come in many forms. Psychologists have long noted that some people cope much better with difficulties. The factor that differentiates these individuals is called resilience. Those that possess this quality appear to rebound quickly, even flourish, in response to life’s stressors.
Traditionally, resilience was thought of as hardiness, self-reliance and inner toughness. This view of resilience has been shown to not only be flawed but to actually contribute to problems with stress, anxiety and depression. Firstly, resilience does not mean avoiding or suppressing emotions. Unless we can process, navigate and be comfortable with the full range of our emotions, we won’t learn to be resilient. Secondly, resilience is not the same as self-reliance. Resilient individuals are usually better at connecting with others and drawing on support when the going gets tough. We can also learn to be more resilient.
2. Prioritise relationships
Social relationships are essential to well-being. Feeling close to others and valued by them is linked to greater resilience to stress and change. People with high levels of resilience tend to be good at both giving support to others and making use of support for themselves. It is fairly obvious that if we only have people around us who make demands on us this may actually be harmful to our resilience. Loving relationships appear to be particularly effective at buffering us against life’s adversities.
3. Slow down and live in the present
Success myths say that in order to be successful you must; never stop accomplishing, push yourself relentlessly, persevere at all costs and that you can’t have success without stress. Some individuals may achieve success by adhering to this philosophy but it is likely to occur at the expense of their relationships, physical health and mental health. This does not mean that we should not work determinedly in pursuit of our passions and goals – in fact this can be source of purpose, wellbeing and fulfilment. Rather it means balancing periods of focussed effort with periods of complete relaxation, fun, and social connection.
The ‘anticipatory joy trap’ is the mindset that says if you work hard and chase success then one day you will have the time, achievements, money that provide happiness. The problem with anticipatory joy is that it causes people to permanently live in the future and neglect their present psychological and physical wellbeing. The antidote to the anticipatory joy trap is slowing down and focusing on what is happening in front of you. Research shows that living in the present – or living mindfully – reduces stress and anxiety, enhances wellbeing and resilience, leads to greater productivity, and strengthens relationships.
4. Cultivate positive emotions
Our emotions exert a powerful influence on many areas of our lives. People who regularly experience positive emotions are more resilient - they return to emotional stability more quickly after experiencing negative emotions. There are two activities that research shows are particularly potent ways of generating positive emotions; giving (acts of kindness) and gratitude.
5. Cultivate realistic optimism
Research has found we have objectively experience three times more positive experiences than negative. Optimism has consistently been found to improve wellbeing and increase resilience. The first optimism skill is to de-catastrophize and also look for the positive aspects of a situation (as well as acknowledging your negative emotional response). We could also ask ‘what would go well in this situation?’ rather than just ‘what could go badly?’
The second optimism skill is developed via the ‘What-Went-Well’ exercise. This requires a person to take a few moments each night for a week to identify three things that went well during that day and why they went well.
6. Prioritise sleep and exercise
The first step to better sleep is simply recognising its importance and aiming to get 7-8 hours per night. Exercise is incredibly helpful in improving mental health and resilience. The psychological benefits of exercise have been repeatedly demonstrated in a number of studies. These include boosting self-esteem, improving mood, improving sleep quality and increasing energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia.
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