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Ideas that can increase resilience

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Check out these ideas from greatergood.berkeley.edu. Article: “Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience”.

-Written by Kira M. Newman on November 9th 2016.

I am a fan of expanding resilience for individuals and communities. Learning how to maximize our capacity for resilience is important as we navigate growing older.   One of my projects while I was at Westat was on building community resilience and helping communities respond to people who were experiencing emotional challenges during times of stress like during the economic down turn. I loved investigating what tools and actions seemed to be effective during our evaluation.

During my years as a counselor and community connections organizer I have witnessed that it is possible for all of us to expand our learning of new healthy ways to move through adversity. Expanding our skills, adding tools into our personal tool-box is part of strengthening our resilience.   Some of my favorite coping strategies include journal writing, poetry, art practices, tai chi, qi gong, massage and the skillful touch of bodywork…along with community “listening circles”. Tending your own capacity for relaxation and creative expression in a safe community circle that can have a profound impact and can help you recover more quickly, or at least start heading in that direction.

At Berkeley, The Greater Good Science Center has collected many resilience practices. You can find some on their website Greater Good in Action, alongside other research-based exercises for fostering kindness, connection, and happiness.

I hope some of these tools will support you when you face times of challenge.

Here are just a few examples of the resilience practices they share. Please check out their website for a more detailed description.

1.Change the narrative

When something bad happens, we often relive the event over and over in our heads, rehashing the pain. This process is called rumination; it’s like a cognitive spinning of the wheels, and it doesn’t move us forward toward healing and growth.

The practice of Expressive Writing can move us forward by helping us gain new insights on the challenges in our lives. It involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper, not to create a memoir-like masterpiece.

2.Face your fears

The Overcoming a Fear practice is designed to help with everyday fears that get in the way of life, such as the fear of public speaking, heights, or flying. We can’t talk ourselves out of such fears; instead, we have to tackle the emotions directly.

The first step is to slowly, and repeatedly, expose yourself to the thing that scares you—in small doses. For example, people with a fear of public speaking might try talking more in meetings, then perhaps giving a toast at a small wedding. Over time, you can incrementally increase the challenge until you’re ready to nail that big speech or TV interview.

3.Practice self-compassion

I’ve never been a good flyer myself, and it was comforting when an

Self-compassion involves offering compassion to ourselves: confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment. In one study, participants in an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion program reported more mindfulness and life satisfaction, with lower depression, anxiety, and stress afterward compared to people who didn’t participate—and the benefits lasted up to a year.

One practice, the Self-Compassion Break, is something you can do any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress. It has three steps, which correspond to the three aspects of self-compassion:

  • Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”
  • Remember that you’re not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” or “We all feel this way” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
  • Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like “May I give myself compassion” or “May I accept myself as I am” or “May I be patient.”

4.Meditate

As mindfulness gurus like to remind us, our most painful thoughts are usually about the past or the future: We regret and ruminate on things that went wrong, or we get anxious about things that will. When we pause and bring our attention to the present, we often find that things are…okay.

Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. That way, instead of getting carried away into fear, anger, or despair, we can work through them more deliberately.

One of the most commonly studied mindfulness programs is the eight-week-long Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which teaches participants to cope with challenges using a variety of meditation practices (including the ones detailed below).

One meditation that might be particularly effective at calming our negative thoughts is the Body Scan. Here, you focus on each body part in turn—head to toe—and can choose to let go of any areas of tension you discover. Strong feelings tend to manifest physically, as tight chests or knotted stomachs, and relaxing the body is one way to begin dislodging them.

5.Cultivate forgiveness

If holding a grudge is holding you back, research suggests that cultivating forgiveness could be beneficial to your mental and physical health. If you feel ready to begin, it can be a powerful practice.

Both Nine Steps to Forgiveness and Eight Essentials When Forgiving offer a list of guidelines to follow. In both cases, you begin by clearly acknowledging what happened, including how it feels and how it’s affecting your life right now. Then, you make a commitment to forgive, which means letting go of resentment and ill will for your own sake; forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the offender off the hook or even reconciling with them. Ultimately, you can try to find a positive opportunity for growth in the experience: Perhaps it alerted you to something you need, which you may have to look for elsewhere, or perhaps you can now understand other people’s suffering better.

The folks at Greater Good note that these examples and other practices on their site can help you cope with difficulties when they arise, but also prepare you for challenges in the future. With enough practice, you’ll have a toolbox of techniques that come naturally—a rainy-day fund for the mind, that will help keep you afloat when times get tough. Just knowing that you’ve built up your skills of resilience can be a great comfort, and even a happiness booster.

-Carol Cober, Member of the Maryland Community of Practice

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