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Top Tips for Building Resilience

Resilience is important in all areas of our lives – work, home, family, health… it’s about more than the ability to bounce back from a challenge, it’s also about the way you can adapt in the moment, to step outside challenges and navigate a course that gets to the best possible outcome.

When people are resilient, they can manage stress better and are more able to embrace the fun things in life, making the most of social time, holidays, hobbies etc, without pressures dragging them down.

The great news is that we can all develop resilience. The key is looking at the ways to wellness and success by breaking things down into their four key parts:

1. Our Physical Health

2. Our Emotional Health

3. Our Work Health

4. Our Sleep Health

Looking at each one in turn and reflecting on your own current rating of each will help identify the areas that you wish to make a change. Then comes the hard bit, setting out what changes you would like to make and then changing your habits to make the change. Habits are the key to changing our behaviours, however, by the very notion of them being habits, often means they are deeply engrained.

For example, perhaps, you are a slave to your phone. It makes a noise and you pick it up… we’re conditioned, it’s a habit, we don’t realise we’re doing it.

habbit loop with cue craving response and reward

If you want to change this, you need to open your eyes to what’s going on to. To start with, change the cue by switching off notifications or putting your phone in a different room – break the cycle. If you can’t, then you need to plan a battle on the habit, to change the craving, response, reward and make these more attractive than the current. E.g. craving to demonstrate control or to focus on what you’re currently doing – change response and pause, emotionally reward yourself for doing it differently (like not having a biscuit!).

When looking at your Physical Health – ask yourself some questions about your activity levels - How much do you move? How much do you exercise? Worse, the same or better than pre COVID-19? Likewise on nutrition - How well are you eating? When do you eat well and when do you eat badly? What are the triggers to be conscious about?

We all know we should be moving more, but it’s tough and sticking at it, requires resilience. Over the past 20 years, I have taught a lot of my patients to do what I do: a five-minute strength workout every morning. The reason I very rarely miss a day is not because I have more motivation than anyone else, it’s because I understand human behaviour. And I follow two of the most important rules! If you want to make a new habit stick:

1. make it easy, and

2. attach your new desired behaviour to an existing habit.

I do a five-minute workout every morning, and I do it while I brew my first coffee of the day. While it’s brewing, I don’t check email, I don’t go on Instagram, I do a workout in my kitchen in my pyjamas. Then I get to reward myself with a gorgeous cup of coffee. You can do your own version.

If you are working from home, keep a dumb-bell or kettle bell in your kitchen. Every time you make a cup of tea, why not do five bicep curls on each arm? If you make three cups of tea per day, you will lift the weight 30 times: that’s 200 times in a week and, in the moment, it will feel like nothing. This will build up your self-esteem, reduce your stress and lead to positive ripple effects in other areas of your life.

Five minutes is ideal because if we make it too challenging, we are just setting ourselves up for failure when we have a busy, stressful day. If weights are not your thing, try five minutes of yoga or even dancing (it’s almost impossible to feel anxious when dancing for a few minutes to one of your favourite tunes!).

So how about our Emotional Health? Let’s give our mental health five minutes each day; accessible, easy things we can all do. You could try a breathing practice for a minute or two; Try my “three, four, five” method, where you breathe in for three seconds, hold for four and breathe out for five. By making your out-breath longer than your in-breath, you help to promote the relaxation part of your nervous system, and in turn switch of the stressed part. Doing this exercise five times takes only one minute and really helps to you feel calmer and less anxious. I often do it before I see a patient or if I feel my workload mounting up. It’s also the kind of thing you can do in between your third and fourth Zoom calls of the day.

Many of us wake up in the morning, full of anxieties whirring around inside our brains, and we don’t do anything to process them – which can affect our relationships, work and self-esteem. Just a few minutes putting your thoughts on to paper each morning can also be extremely effective. Why not try it each morning this week while having a cup of tea or coffee.

So, just a few tips and tricks that on their own, are small five minute interventions into your day to move out some of the habits that are no longer working for you and replacing them with new habits that help you build your resilience and improve your overall health.

Written by Dr Maggi Evans, psychologist, author, talent strategist and coach

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