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UPR's Project Resilience Tips

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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 USU Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice Alex Schiwal, a researcher with USU Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice Derrik Tollefson, head of USU's Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology, Kevin Webb with the I-System Institute at USU,  Em Capito an integrative psychotherapist and Susan Madsen, the founder and director of the Utah Women's Leadership Project.

Healthy Habits Now Lead to Resilience In Aging

Maintaining good habits throughout your life can lead to better health in later life. We know that a balanced diet and regular physical activity are good for you. But did you also know that proper sleep, healthy social relationships, managing your stress and keeping your brain active are other ways you can keep your brain and body healthy as you age? Researchers at USU and other universities have developed an app called “Grey Matters.” This app can encourage you to make healthy choices in all of these areas, and it tracks your progress to build resilience and health in later life.

Resilience Through Planning Ahead

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Knowing what to do when you or someone you love requires care is often not something we think of until the moment comes. This creates stress, can lead to less than ideal choices of care, and you may miss out on helpful services. One way to build your resilience for this possible situation is to be prepared by gaining knowledge about local and state resources that can help you or your loved one. For example, your local area agency on aging may offer assistance with caregiver support, nutrition services, long term care guidance, senior centers, or other home and community based services. You can find out which of these area agencies on aging serves the area you live in by visiting the Division of Aging and Adult Services website at daas.utah.gov. And you can call your local senior center to ask about any other services they might offer. 

Resilience Through Phone Calls And Connection

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We all experience isolation or loneliness from time to time. However, older adults and people with disabilities that limit their ability to go out independently may experience these feelings more frequently. Now, more than ever, we are all more isolated, but we know that social connection is vital for our well being. One way to reduce the impact of this and build our resilience and connection is to call your friends and loved ones up on the phone and tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them a funny story and ask and listen to what they have to say and how they are feeling. It can be hard to remember to call someone up just because, but building one call a day into your routine may benefit you and all the people you connect with.  

Finding Meaning As A Means For Resilience

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Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, dedicated his life's work to demonstrating the central role of meaning in our ability to overcome adversity. He defined three sources of meaning that we can intentionally build into our lives: what we give, what we experience, and what stand we take in the face of suffering. Friedrich Nietzsche is often quoted, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” These three sources of meaning give us a purpose and the ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its inescapable pain and loss. This is how we grow through adversity. Opportunities to reconnect with our why, with our own personal sources of meaning, can be found in creativity and acts of service, being fully present in meaningful encounters with our loved ones, and embracing our freedom to choose our attitude in the midst of difficulty and uncertainty.

Resilience And Belonging

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The idea of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is a myth. Resilience is found in belonging. Unfortunately, we are more disconnected than ever before. This is an unprecedented time of mobility, urbanization and individualism where relationships are formed online more than in person and have become increasingly superficial and transactional. Our first line of defense in the midst of crisis is our wholehearted allies-- the people who show up without judgment or an agenda. If neglected, we can find ourselves isolated in the very times we need a real friend the most. Our well being is tied to meaningful accountability in our relationships and communities. In fact, contributing to others has a greater impact than receiving support. Whether nurturing our wholehearted allies or investing in our communities, meaningful connection requires vulnerability and deep listening; two rare and powerful skills that can transform our relationships and create a sense of belonging to carry us through our darkest moments.

Accept Discomfort, Find Resilience

 

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It may sound counterintuitive, but intentional discomfort is resilience training in action. Thanks to technology, we can now exist wholly within comfortable routines in climate controlled spaces with effortless entertainment and pizza delivery on speed dial. Without knowing it, our resilience atrophies, closing in around us until we become anxious about job opportunities, new friends or taking a class. All of our goals and our ability to grow from adversity require getting comfortable with discomfort. I call this practice “taking a resiliency field trip,” because it's about curiosity, learning and fun. The three requirements: it's new, it's slightly scary and it's intentional. This is about baby stepping outside of your comfort, so that it grows to encompass a wider field of possibility, where we triumph over fear, adapt in the midst of stress and experience failure as the courage to try something new. The best part is that these lessons are immediately transferable to every other area of our lives, preparing us for life's unplanned field trips.

Mindfullness And Resilience

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Despite the known potential for mindfulness to dramatically improve our lives, this powerful practice is often perpetually postponed. Specific to building resilience, mindfulness plays two critical roles. First, resilience is the space between what's happening to us and how we respond. Mindfulness is the tool that chisels out that space, such that we recognize all of the possibilities in the moment and have the freedom to choose our response. Second, mindfulness creates the opposite physiological state to stress, reducing our exposure to chronic fight or flight hormones that erode our resilience, health and quality of life. Mindfulness is simply about being fully present in the moment. A great place to start is through short guided meditations on an app that tracks and therefore reinforces your new habit. Over time, you'll train your brain to let go of all that chaos in your mind and tune in to your loved ones, your work, and the beauty and all that exists all around us each day.

Daily Patterns For More Resilience

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Resilience is the space between what's happening and our response. Without that space, we're reduced to regrettable knee jerk reactions. The foundation of resilience is mind body wellness. How well do you function when you're sleep deprived? Add in hunger and most of us become ticking time bombs. We have three everyday opportunities to preserve this foundation. First sleep. We often sacrifice this critical restorative period for meaningless streaming and scrolling. Willpower runs out. So choose a firm bedtime now and turn off screens and work an hour before. Second exercise. It takes at least 30 minutes a daily exercise to detox our bodies from stress. Try walking outside for just 10 minutes after each meal and build from there. Third is nutrition. We're surrounded by quick foods packed with saturated fats and sugars that trigger dopamines and therefore cravings and fatigue. One small action now adds up, perhaps purge your kitchen of junk, limit eating out or start eating vegetables every day. Start where you feel inspired, building up a healthy routine and your stress resilience.

Accepting Responsability As A Form Of Resilience

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Consider the last 24 hours. How often did you find yourself blaming others? Perhaps the pandemic for reducing income. The government for not doing the right things. Your spouse for not cleaning up after dinner. Or a stranger for cutting you off in traffic. If we stand back, it becomes clear that life is wholly unpredictable, and adversity, the only certainty. Yet we often act surprised and offended by the unfairness of it all. We're all vulnerable to a victim mindset where life is happening to us, wherein we give up our freedom to choose our response. A resilient mindset is about becoming the hero of our experience-- letting go of expectations so that we can be adaptive and prepared for the inevitable challenges coming our way. When your plans next go awry, try pausing and then accepting the new reality in front of you as a “call to adventure,” as Joseph Campbell framed it in his research. This humorous interrupt is a powerful way to stop resisting and open up to possibility and creativity, reinforcing courage and confidence instead of fear and anger.

 
Resilience During The Global Coronavirus Pandemic

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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.

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What is Resilience?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.