Building a Toolbox for Resilience
All that is happening in our world at the moment with COVID-19, and especially all the uncertainty around it can really take a toll – increasing stress & anxiety. With this in mind, it can be a good idea to build a toolbox for building resilience.
So here’s some tools that you can put in that toolbox for managing stress & calming anxiety. (Note: some of them will sound familiar, as I posted the other day on building a robust immune system. The reason for this is that we are whole beings – not separate organs, or systems; nor are mind & body separate).
So here goes:
1. Eat a wholefood, nutrient dense diet. Sound familiar? That’s because food is foundational to health – both physical & mental. The bottom line is our body gets the nutrients it needs for all its functions from the food we eat. So if we eat nutrient poor food, then our body is going to lack in the nutrients it needs (not only for supporting a strong immune system, but for building things like neurotransmitters & hormones & for brain health). On top of that, when we eat foods that are not healthy for the body, it has to work harder to deal with them. AND during times of stress, our bodies burn through more nutrients. Tomorrow I will post more specifically on eating for mental health.
2. Limit sugar. Still sounding familiar… the reason for this is that consuming sugar tends to put us on a bit of a blood sugar roller coaster, which amongst many effects on the body, also affects mood fluctuation. Sugar is also one of those things that our body has to put extra energy into regulating, not only putting more stress on the body, but also using up some of those same nutrients that we are needing more of during times of stress. Finally - as I said in my post, How to Support a Healthy and Robust Immune System - sugar suppresses your immune system.
3. Get out & move as much as possible. It has been found that people who exercise have 40% better mental health than people who don’t exercise. Exercise increases the hormone oxytocin, which suppresses stress hormones & slows the heart rate. It also helps keep the blood flowing – carrying nutrients to where they are needed in the body, helps regulate blood sugar & improves sleep. Your options may be more limited at the moment for your preferred form of exercise, but move as much as possible; and be creative about your exercise. I loved the story of the man who when the country was in lockdown, decided to run a half marathon on his balcony. Over a 6 hour 48 minute period, he ran laps of his balcony until he had run the length of a half marathon.
4. Get enough sleep! Sleep is incredibly underrated. During sleep our body repairs itself & restores energy, our nerve cells communicate & reorganise, our brain stores new information & clears out toxic waste. Also during sleep our brain increases activity in areas that regulate emotion (lack of sleep for example, will make our brains more over-reactive to emotions such as fear). As a general guide, aim for 7-8 hours good quality sleep per night.
5. Breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing helps our body to switch from our sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight), which is our stress response, to our parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, repair & reproduce). There are a number of breathing techniques to use, but the ultimate purpose is to move from shallow upper chest breathing to diaphragmatic breathing.
6. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness has been found to be very effective in reducing stress & anxiety; and improving sleep, mood & cognition. I find http://headspace.com/ helpful, & they offer a free 10 day trial.
7. Self care. I find that I need to include self-care in the prescription of nearly all my clients. It seems that we feel justified in caring for others but we need permission to care for ourselves. What is true however is that without regular self care, we are left tired, overwhelmed & ill equipped to handle life’s challenges. We need to include margin, or a sabbath in our lives. We need to include time for rest & relaxation (not just sleep) & time for fun. What this looks like is different for each person, so you need to find what works for you.
8. Stay connected. We were made for connection (yes, even the most introverted person needs some connection). Connecting with others when we are under stress can create resilience. This might seem difficult at the moment, and certainly we are more limited in how and where we can connect, but in this current age we have a great ability to stay connected even when we have to stay physically isolated. Social connection is defined as, ‘the perception & actuality that one is cared for, has assistance available from other people, and is part of a supportive social network’. (Dr Sarah McKay, neuroscientist). Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends, family & your community. It has also been found that those who help others tend to be happier and healthier. Think about who you can help in your community, even while maintaining a social distance.
9. Gratitude. Research shows that gratitude not only reduces stress & increases happiness, but may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.
10. Laugh. Laughter protects you from the damaging effects of stress & eases tension.
11. Connect with nature. I have previously shared a study on how even 20 minutes of contact with nature will lower stress hormone levels, so where possible spend some time in nature. And even if at this time you are stuck indoors, remember that the findings of a study last year suggested that even being able to see nature from your window could support your health.
12. Be careful what you focus on. You need to stay informed at this time, but keep it factual & from sources of authority, and if you are getting overwhelmed then switch off the news & ask someone close to you to keep you informed of the things you need to know. Spend time focussing on the positive.
13. Focus on what you can control. Anxiety tends to be caused by those things with an uncertain outcome which is why this is such an anxiety triggering time. It can be helpful therefore to focus on what you do know and what you do have control over – such as following the government recommendations, minimising exposure, using your tools in this toolbox, such as eating well; and even things like planting a vegetable garden, learning a new skill or how to budget.
I could probably keep going here but those are perhaps my top 13 (my list started with 8 tools & kept growing). Some of these I will post more on in days to come. Feel free to add more of your own tools to your resilience toolbox and to share tools on this post with others.
I MUST finish by saying that sometimes stress & anxiety can get overwhelming and we need some help. Please, if you are feeling overwhelmed with stress or anxiety (or any other mental health issue), then please seek help. Talk to someone, book in to see a counselor or psychologist (if you need help finding one then please message me). As a naturopath, I have a whole extra toolbox for further help with stress & mental health, so if you want extra help with this, or extra guidance in any of the above areas (whether it be a diet review or help with sleep or breathing techniques) then contact me to book an appointment. https://www.shalomhealth.com.au/contact