UPR's Project Resilience Tips

Nov 22, 2019

Resilience is an important aspect of mental health and this series of tips will provide you with research-based ideas on how you can build your personal resiliency.  

These tips are brought to you by UPR's Project Resilience. Learn more about the project here. Tips were written by Matthew Wappett, director of Utah State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities, Derrik Tollefson, head of USU's Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology and Kevin Webb with the I-System Institute at USU. 

Resilience during the global coronavirus pandemic

You may be experiencing anxiety or stress regarding all the news about COVID-19. You're not alone. Here are four simple things you can do to help keep yourself and others healthy.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Stay home when you are sick and cover your cough or sneeze with the tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.

Here are the signs and symptoms to look for when it comes to COVID-19. Do you have a fever? Have you developed a cough? Have you developed shortness of breath? Just because you or someone you know has the symptoms doesn't mean you have COVID-19, however, you should seek medical advice if you have these symptoms and if you've been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or you live in an area or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19.

Please call ahead before you go to the doctor's office or emergency room. Tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. This way these medical professionals can prepare to care for you and keep others safe.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to respond and recover from stressful situations or traumatic events. Research on stress and trauma has shown that individuals who have the ability to bounce back from adverse events tend to be healthier and happier. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Resilience is a set of behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. Studies show that individuals with supportive, caring relationships; an ability to solve problems; regulate their emotions; and who practice healthy stress management techniques tend to be more resilient.  

Take Time to Notice Nature

Noticing the natural world around you is an easy way to build your resilience and manage stress. You can notice nature by simply taking a walk outdoors, looking out a window, or even viewing photographs of nature like trees, flowers, mountains, oceans, rivers, or lakes. Noticing the natural beauty around you is tied to an increased sense of well-being, a greater sense of connectedness, and has been shown to lower blood-pressure and decrease stress hormone levels in our body. One easy way to get more nature in your day-to-day life is by incorporating more natural images in your home or office; hanging pictures of natural settings or changing your computer desktop image to a personally relevant nature image is a good way to begin. So, increase your resilience today by taking time to notice nature.

Positive Reminiscence

Remember the good times? Do you take time to think about the times when you felt happy and supported? Research shows that individuals who spent 10 minutes a day reminiscing about positive past events reported increased happiness and life satisfaction than the control group who were asked to think about their current concerns. This type of targeted reminiscence has been studied extensively and is associated with lower ratings of depression and an increase in well-being. You can take advantage of this easy strategy to increase your resilience by dedicating some time each week to think about pleasant memories that make you happy.  You can also include your friends and family in this activity by asking them to share their positive memories too.

Social Support

Did you know that your friends, family, and even co-workers play an important role in helping you handle stressful situations or traumatic events? Your family, friends, partner, or peers help act as a buffer against the negative effects of stressful life events.  30 years of psychological research shows that social support is directly linked to resilience against depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation. Research also shows that individuals who provide social support benefit from reduced stress, an increased sense of belonging and meaning, and even longer lifespans! Take some time today to reach out to your social network or think of all the people that support and care for you. Alternatively, think of how you can provide more social support and connection for the people in your life - the benefits go both ways.

Exercise

Your body was meant to move! Physical activity is an important way to build your resilience and mental health. Studies demonstrate that regular exercise reduces stress and buffers the effects of anxiety and depression. Even moderate levels of exercise, something that gets your heart rate up like brisk walking, vigorous cleaning, biking, yoga, or other low-impact activities, can reduce the negative effects of stress on your brain Exercise can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression by stimulating the release of endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that helps relieve pain and stress. These brain chemicals also boost your mood and overall sense of well-being, and they can improve your appetite and sleep cycles, which are often negatively affected by depression. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 2-5 hours per week of moderate physical activity for adults, or 30-60 minutes per day, 5 days a week. Find an activity you enjoy, and make time to get moving every day. Your body and your brain will thank you!

Self-Compassion

Are you kind to yourself?  We are often our own harshest critics, but cultivating compassion towards yourself can be an important way to build your resilience. The concept of self-compassion means having kindness towards yourself and accepting failures and mistakes as a natural part of being human. We often see failures and mistakes as character flaws or negative personal traits, and we often engage in negative self-talk that reinforces these ideas. Changing the way we think about ourselves, being more compassionate and understanding, is associated with decreased anxiety, depression, and a greater sense of well-being. Self-compassion doesn't mean ignoring personal shortcomings or mistakes, but rather acknowledging negative events or actions as a normal part of everyday life.  Practice being kind and accepting towards yourself this week; forgive yourself for the mistakes you make, and give yourself some room to grow. This compassionate mindset will contribute to your resilience and well-being, and will make you a healthier and happier person in the long-run.

Take a Break

Give yourself a break. Research shows that people who take regular breaks at work to practice relaxation showed significantly better productivity, satisfaction, and fewer sick days than workers that did not take breaks. Other research shows that employees who reported a good night's sleep and also took short breaks in the afternoon were more engaged in their work. Taking a break doesn’t have to take long; 10-15 minutes is all it takes to see a benefit.  Taking a break means getting up from your desk or workspace and taking some time to relax and reset.  Taking a break can be anything that brings you into the present moment and helps you relax from the day to day stress of your job: take a walk outside, practice mindfulness, read a book, do some art, work on a knitting project, take a short power nap, or listen to music. All of these can be considered good break-time activities that will contribute to your overall well-being.  Taking a break is an easy way to build your resilience, and increase your overall satisfaction and productivity in life and at work.

Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that uses the body to calm the mind, and can be an important method to cultivate resilience.  Yoga helps build physical strength, endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, by lowering blood pressure balancing blood sugar levels. But yoga’s effects also help on a psychological level as well.  Multiple studies have shown that yoga helps promote positive body image, builds self-esteem, and helps in the management of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Going to yoga classes can also offer opportunities for social interaction and support, which are also important aspects of resilience.  If you haven’t tried it yet, consider adding yoga as another stress management technique to your personal resilience toolkit. 

Laughter

Have you ever had a good laugh with your friends and family and found that you felt better afterwards? Well, there is actually science that supports the mental and physical benefits of laughter.  The study of laughter is called gelotology, and researchers in this field have found that laughter is an important tool for fostering resilience. Laughter causes your blood pressure and pulse rate to drop, and extended bouts of laughter have been shown to have the same benefits as aerobic activity. Laughter also releases endorphins, the feel good hormones, and decreases stress hormone levels in the body. Laughter also helps you feel more connected to those you laugh with by causing your body to secrete oxytocin, a hormone that promotes attachment and bonding. Laughter naturally counteracts the body’s stress response, so the next time you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out maybe you should take moment to just laugh. 

Pets

Did you know that your pets can be important supports for your mental health? A pet can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners. In many ways, pets can help us to live healthier lives.  Pets can get us outside and exercising when we take them for walks or go to play in the park.  Petting and playing with animals has also been shown to reduce stress-related hormones. Playing with a dog or cat raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine, hormones that calm and relax our nervous system. Pets have also been shown to increase Self-Esteem and well-being by making their owners feel loved and needed.  Pets can also be non-judgmental listeners who provide us with unconditional love. If you have a pet, thank them today for helping you be a more resilient person!

A More Flexible Thought Process

We all have times when our mind and body are feeling stressed. The human brain has both executive top-down processing and default mode bottom-up processing. The key to lowering stress levels and increasing resilience is to decrease default mode bottom-up, less flexible thought processes while increasing executive top-down, more flexible thought processes. One way to do this is by simply listening or tuning in to background sounds like a fan, the heating or air conditioning system, the wind blowing through the trees, or the hum of the refrigerator or computer. Doing this engages executive top-down processes and after a minute or two you will feel better and think more clearly. This technique is called Come to Your Senses and is one of the core skills of Mind-Body Bridging. So, next time your mind and body are feeling stressed, take the time to literally Come to Your Senses and experience relief and clarity.

Expectations and Requirements

We all have expectations of ourselves, others and the world. When these expectations are not met we are naturally disappointed. However, when we feel strongly about something, these expectations become Requirements or personal mental rules about how we, others, and the world around us should be. When Requirements are not met, our mind becomes cluttered with thoughts and our body is filled with tension, making it difficult to focus or concentrate on what we need to do. The good news is that Requirements can be disarmed and their power defused by recognizing when they come up and restating them in our mind as personal preferences. So, instead of thinking, “My wife should appreciate me more,” one would think, “I prefer my wife appreciate me more.” Recognizing and defusing Requirements by restating them in our mind as personal preferences is one of the core skills of Mind-Body Bridging

Positive and Negative Thoughts

We all have both positive and negative thoughts, that’s how the brain operates. In order to understand good, we have to know bad; in order to have joy we have to know pain; in order to be happy, we have to know sad; and in order to appreciate the beautiful we have to experience the ugly. In other words, we will never rid ourselves of negative thoughts. However, there is a part of our brain, when activated, generates troubling negative thoughts and spins them into stories that we play over and over in our minds, filling our mind full of clutter and our body full of tension. When this happens, for example, we can build resilience by repeating in our mind, “I'm having the thought that I'm going to fail, and it’s just a thought.” By recognizing a thought is just a thought, we are not blowing off or neglecting the content of the thought, just preventing it from taking off and turning into a full-blown story and creating the mind clutter and body tension. We call this technique Thought Labeling and Defusing Troubling Negative Thoughts and is one of the core skills of Mind-Body Bridging

The Harm of Negative Thoughts

Sometimes we feel that we don't measure up, or we just aren't good enough. We often over identify with these negative thoughts, and silently play stories in our head about perceived inadequacy, which clutter our mind and tense our body. We begin to believe that something is wrong with me or that I’m damaged in some way triggering a barrage of thoughts about “how am I going to fix myself” and the perceived damage or inadequacy. After trying a remedy or two, the thought remains. I am still not good enough. When I recognize and tell myself that I am not damaged and don’t need fixing, I am liberated to do my best each day with a mind free of clutter and a body free of tension. Recognizing and saying, “I'm not damaged and don’t need fixing” builds resilience and is one of the core skills of Mind-Body Bridging.