Setting the Stage
We are experiencing a constant stream of stories that headline doom, gloom and despair. It can be difficult to find an upbeat or positive newsworthy story at the moment making the need to develop resilience an important one.
Researchers are already looking into the effects the incessant streams of pandemic hysteria will have on our ongoing mental fitness and physical wellbeing. Studies have previously shown that sustained exposure to stress affects our mood, sense of well-being, behaviour, and health. Interestingly the effects depend on both duration and age, amongst other factors. Younger people are less likely to experience a heath burden from exposure to stress even with greater frequencies than in older or unhealthy individuals who are far more likely to experience long-term health effects from prolonged stressors. This over-simplification does not undermine the importance of managing it, at any age.
What and how can you do it?
Let’s start by identifying some of the classic tell-tale signs of stress (or more serious conditions requiring medical intervention):
Not exactly a list of “must-haves” for any of us, so let’s look at some techniques for managing stress more effectively.
Two controllable things are: tuning out and developing resilience.
Tuning out is often referred to as mindfulness. It is the conscious action of creating space within which you can recharge yourself. Your body signals this need through typical tell-tale signs such as: feeling overwhelmed, irritability or feeling off somehow.
Tuning out requires you to calm or quiet your nervous system using sensation (a language it understands); the nervous system itself is out of balance under stress. Common techniques to soothe include spending time with friends and family, engaging in hobbies, or using relaxation techniques such as meditation, conscious breathing or yoga. Another easy choice is limiting your exposure to media (news or social) to prevent overload by pacing consumption.
Sensation relaxation is a technique used by soldiers singing to combat wartime stress. It is this principle that tuning out taps into.
To develop resilience means learning to effectively engage with the reality without being consumed by it. Taking care of yourself and your needs may seem selfish, in the face of wider events (like the pandemic). However, in a crisis, self-care is in fact a selfless action. This is because by being able to self-soothe our own nervous system, it affords us the chance to help others. These extraordinary helpers, such as the pandemic’s frontline workers or the 9/11 First Responders, are often the glue that help the community move through a crisis.
Looking for community helpers, learning to manage your own fight-flight-freeze response, and your social network all foster resilience. Resilience is what allows us to tread water when it feels like we are drowning in bad news.
None of us knows what the future holds, however we can prepare for anything that might come along by using these simple resilience strategies.
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