3 Resilience tips

One of my favourite places — Central Otago, taken when we were on riding the rail trail earlier this year

Resilience and mindfulness are hot topics at the moment, there are apps, courses, books, support groups, meetups, blogs, articles emerging everyday — with varying forms of advice, activities and techniques. This blog has the 3 tips people offered me over the years that I have found work for me — they are real and practical things you can do every day.

To be clear I am a massive supporter of becoming self aware enough to know when you are vulnerable and having techniques in place to bounce back or reduce your stress and better cope with whatever life is throwing at you.

In researching this article however, wanting to put some context to my own tips, I found emerging concern that that need for resilience and mindfulness practices is both masking underlying issues which should be treated, and in the case of employers, being used as an ambulance instead of solving systematic stress invoking practices within their organisation. The latter is explored in this article — Is mindfulness making us ill?:

“Mindfulness has been grabbed in recent years as a way to help people cope with their own powerlessness in the workplace,” Davies says. “We’re now reaching the stage where mandatory meditation is being discussed as a route to heightened productivity, in tandem with various apps, wearable devices and forms of low-level employee surveillance.”

Even more interesting is the conflicting evidence as to whether Mindfulness practices lead to improved Resilience. One example to read — Does Mindfulness Really Make Us Resilient?

None of those studies have told us much about whether mindfulness practices are sustainable and improve mental health outcomes for people who are actually struggling with severe mental illness or chronically toxic environments.

Bottomline for me, resilience techniques work when I am feeling low.

Supporting the Support person

One of my dearest friends is fighting a very rare and seemingly aggressive cancer at the moment, as much as I want to go and hug her everyday and attend every doctors appointment the best thing I can do right now is support her husband — who is her primary support person.

I know this from my own experience as a support person recently— Lets be brave and talk about depression. As I said then I struggled to find support for me going through this (beyond my fabulous partner who was amazing). Supporting a loved one in times of crisis requires a new level of energy, you need to be strong when you really want to curl up in bed and cry, you need to be hyper alert and sharp to ingest the medical instructions and carry out actions, you need to keep your emotional levels on an even keel so you aren’t creating further stress for either of you. The list goes on.

I came to realise that support for the primary support person is as important as support for the person in crisis.

It was daunting and overwhelming to realise as a capable human being I had no skills, no training and no experience to leverage during this time. Nothing went to plan, nothing is predictable.

Vic’s 3 Resilience Tips

These tips are practical things you can do everyday and can focus on more at times of stress, whether it’s you under stress directly or as a support person for others.

I haven’t gone into the longer term life affirming aspects most resilience practitioners talk about — positivity, optimism, opening your mind, opening your heart, maintaining perspective, etc — these take a different kind of effort.

Instead I am offering here more detailed action oriented techniques.

1. Plan your day and tick things off a list when complete

For me to feel capable and in control of my outputs — whether at work or home — I need to plan. In times of stress I step that planning up from weekly to daily. If you usually plan on a daily basis I suggest breaking that down into — before work, at work, after work — to create more micro levels of achievement.

Ticking things off a list is the most satisfying feeling and provides a wee burst of dopamine. I was told once to write all of my to do lists or weekly / daily plans in a book, tick things off as they are done and once the book is full put it into the bottom drawer of your desk. When feeling overwhelmed or like you are underachieving open that drawer and see the book(s) of things you have achieved in the past. It’s a great technique and turned me into a bit of a compulsive notebook collector.

2. Do 1 x selfish thing a day, just for you

No matter what is going on in your life stealing 10, 20 or 30 minutes a day to do 1 x selfish thing is like having a mini-break, distracts the mind and can act as a mini reward to yourself.

The important thing here is snatching the time to do this at times of stress. When my father was in ICU a couple of years ago I went for a 20 minute walk outside everyday while someone else was with him for instance.

What works for you — what you consider to be selfish and just for you — will differ from my list but here you go:

  • exercise — this should part of any daily routine if you can but at times of stress stealing time to exercise is even more important;
  • complete (or at least attempt) a hard sudoku;
  • write a blog (this is my cathartic activity today);
  • watch a funny youtube clip (I know other people do this routinely, I don’t);
  • sort something — family photos, books in the bookshelf, the stationary cupboard;
  • change the sheets on my bed (crazy I know but I love the satisfaction of clean sheets);
  • bake anything, with a glass of wine in hand.

3. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day

This includes Saturdays and Sundays. Much of the resilience advice out there talks about routine, as a business person I find it hard to have a strict routine with breakfast meetings and afterwork functions, interrupt driven days etc.

The one routine that does help me is to wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday. It’s easy to feel you have a sleep deficit and have a big sleep in on the weekend — for me that turns out to be disruptive enough I feel behind from the get go when I do wake up and frames the weekend days less productively. Equally, like many of you, I find going to sleep is challenging in any circumstances. So the small act of going to bed at the same time doesn’t guarantee sleep but does provide a more consistent go to sleep time.

“We live in a great country so helping every New Zealander reach their potential in life is something we can all aspire to achieve”. You can follow me on LinkedIN or on Twitter and read my context here.

This post is my personal opinion so while I wear many hats it doesn’t necessarily reflect the views and positions of the various organisations I represent. Vic