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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Millar


Use these 6 steps to increase your resilience and mental toughness.

Much of the conversations that I have with my clients is around anxiety. But many of us fear anxiety and seemingly negative emotions.

The reality is that we have huge mental stigmas that we don’t think that we have. Stating that we are not emotionally charged or emotionally fearing is inhibiting us from making the best out of life.

Teaching people to have and to hold their emotional lives in awe is imperative in building resilience. Leading the charge on the life of their dreams.

Here are six daily exercises I use to build my resilience and mental strength:

1. Visualise positive outcomes

At the beginning or at the end of each day, think through all those uncertain situations currently in your life — both big and small. Will I get a good performance review? Will my kid settle well in his new school? Will I hear back after my job interview?

Now take each of those and visualise the most optimistic and amazing outcome to the situation. Not just the “okay” outcome, but the best possible one you could imagine.

This isn’t to set you up for an even bigger disappointment if you don’t end up getting the job offer. Instead, it should build the muscle of expecting the positive outcome and might even open up ideas for what more you might do to create that outcome of your dreams.

For example; I remember my therapist telling me that if I don’t get the job (the one I had always wanted), perhaps it is showing me something I am not seeing yet. And just because I get the job, doesn’t mean that I have to take it. Interviews are both ways.

We can often think that we have to impress the other so much that we forget that the job/company has to also impress us. Taking a balanced view of the situation helps us to imagine a positive outcome every time that we are in charge of.

Life is not happening to us. And it is not about us thinking positively when negative stuff happens, that is psychotic. It is about us visualising and believing that everything happens for the best outcome.

2. Turn anxiety into progress

Wendy Suzuki, PhD, is a neuroscientist and professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University says:-

Our brain’s plasticity is what enables us to be resilient during challenging times — to learn how to calm down, reassess situations, reframe our thoughts and make smarter decisions.

And it’s easier to take advantage of this when we remind ourselves that anxiety doesn’t always have to be bad. Consider the below:

· Anger could block your attention and ability to perform, OR it could fuel and motivate you; sharpen your attention; and serve as a reminder of what’s important.

· Fear could trigger memories of past failures; rob your attention and focus; and undermine your performance, OR it could make you more careful about your decisions; deepen your reflection; and create opportunities for changing direction.

· Sadness could flatten out your mood and demotivate you, OR it could help you reprioritize and motivate you to change your environment, circumstances and behaviour.

· Worry could make you procrastinate and get in the way of accomplishing goals, OR it could help you fine-tune your plans; adjust your expectations; and become more realistic and goal-oriented.

· Frustration could stymie your progress and steal your motivation, OR it could innervate and challenge you to do more or better.

These comparisons may seem simplistic, but they point to powerful choices that produce tangible outcomes.

3. Try something new

Or 1% of change. These days, it’s easier than ever to take a new online class, join a local sports club or participate in a virtual event. When we say try something new, it can just be one little change in your day… walk a different way to work or eat something different for breakfast.

This last winter I tried out a Showhunter class or two. It was fun asking a friend what I needed to know and just simply turning up. Meeting new people and learning about this event on my horse. I had ideas of this becoming my next best thing, but realistically just trying some thing new was good, it took me out of my comfort zone and I had a lot of fun. It was good for my soul. And it enabled me to say, I could try something else too…

I have attended workshops on using native plants in balms and potions as well as dance parties that are all about connecting to the music rather than connecting to alcohol or substance abuse. I have signed up to workshops and learning online, sometimes paying for the privilege or not.

This year, my family have joined a new pony club in a different area. Somehow, I have ended up coaching at this PC again too. Following a path and dipping your toes in can sometimes create full immersion into a new space.

The point is that you can try things out, sometimes for free and sometimes for a small fee that online you get an experience you may not travel to. You can push your brain and body to try something you never would have considered before. It doesn’t have to be a workout, and it doesn’t have to be hard — it can be something right above your level or just slightly outside of your comfort zone.

Do not underestimate how much something new can revitalise you.

4. Reach out

Being able to ask for help, staying connected to friends and family, and actively nurturing supportive, encouraging relationships not only enables you to keep anxiety at bay, but also shores up the sense that you’re not alone.

It isn’t easy to cultivate, but the belief and feeling that you are surrounded by people who care about you is crucial during times of enormous stress — when you need to fall back on your own resilience in order to persevere and maintain your well-being.

When we are suffering from loss or other forms of distress, it’s natural to withdraw. We even see this kind of behaviour in animals who are mourning. Yet you also have the power to push yourself into the loving embrace of those who can help take care of you.

Being at the corner of Auckland’s border, I feel sometimes a little hard done by. My friends are free and I cannot even see them. Not being able to go to my local shop can upset me. Considering I know most of my community there. So I can feel even more isolated. Taking a moment to connect to others online really helps. Being real about how I feel and what is happening for me is a good thing. This morning a friend contacted me out of the blue. But yet, it sometimes isn’t. We are more connected than we believe sometimes and simply asking for more from our friends is okay. She reached out or thought that I might be able to connect with someone else that would work for me. A week ago, I had simply said, I feel a bit down and she sent me comforting movies to watch.

When we reach out to others, they don’t and we don’t have to wallow in our pain, but we do allow others to help us out of the hole we are in. The rest of it was my choice. I could take up her offers of help or I could keep going with the drama. I have learnt to make sure that I have good friends around these days. That work both ways, they help me and I help them. If it is one sided… and it is always me helping them (this was my old paradigm as a people pleaser/rescuer) then this is not going to grow your resilience.

5. Practice positive Facebook posts - Not Fakebook

Having a good critical analysis is important in today’s happy media. But not so good for the internal critic in all of us. Thinking about the spin you want to share to the world is good for the innerworld inside of us.

Considering a reframe on your life is powerful for you and others. People are attracted to positives. Poor me posts do get likes and responses but finding a positive spin in your days helps you and others to find the best in the shit that they are in.

Clearly, part of the answer is coming up with positive reminders. You don’t necessarily need to share them with the public. The idea is to boost yourself up at the beginning and at the end of the day.

This can be difficult for those of us who automatically beat ourselves up at the drop of a hat. Instead, think about what your biggest supporter in life — a partner, sibling, friend, mentor or parent — would tell you, and then post or say it to yourself.

6. Immerse yourself in nature

Sometimes, I simply have to say to myself, take yourself outside Rachelle. Be totally in the power of now. Feel the sunshine on your skin. Breath in the air. Focus on a tree’s brilliance or pat the dog.

Science has shown again and again that spending time in nature has positive effects on our mental health. A 2015 study, for example, found that it can significantly increase your emotional well-being and resilience.

You don’t need to live next to a forest to immerse yourself in nature. A nearby park or any quiet environment with greenery where there aren’t that many people around will work just fine.

Breathe, relax and become aware of the sounds, smells and sights. Use all your senses to create a heightened awareness of the natural world. This exercise boosts your overall resilience as it acts as a kind of restoration of energy and reset to your equilibrium.

Whether you are in Auckland in Level 4 lockdown or the rest of NZ or the world not quite as restricted. Take this time to practice all 6 of these steps to build your resilience and mental toughness.

Martin Seligman the founder of positive psychology created the PERMA model for well-being. It is another way to build resilience, - but much of it the same as these 6 steps; Positive Emotions, Engagement – Flow (Being in the moment), Relationships (3 – Reaching out), Meaning – How you make meaning of your situation and what you say online in social media or to yourself and Achievement…realistically all 6 steps… If you make a decision to do them, then you get the dopamine hit of achievement.

Whatever you do during lockdown, be kind to yourself.

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