I first heard of the term resilience when I was watching an ad on tv for carpet. I must have been about 12. There was a rhinocerus walking across the new carpet and as the happy owner of that carpet pointed out, the pile was ‘resilient’ and bounced back.
Resilience is the skill that we as humans could do with even more these days when uncertainty and that old chestnut, stress, show up.
Health is one of the things that fails when we are not ‘resilienting’, alongside relationships, decisions, productivity and work.
You see, when we are under stress, we are in a ‘state’ of fight or flight (or even freeze). Whether we stand and fight, lashing out, or run for the hills, feeling like our very survival is at risk or even collapse in a heap, unable to decide whether fighting or fleeing is indeed the best option and overwhelm takes over.
These modern times that we live in is taking it’s toll upon our health. Forecasts show that by 2025, plus or minus 5 years, the level of stress as a result of our VUCA world is going to be at a level that we are not going to be too happy with. We suffer from the stress of our external environment, and this impacts our own internal environment. Your body. Your body will be also operating at that amped up state of being stressed. (And remember that stress is subjective – what is incredibly stressful to me is like water off a duck’s back to you. What is the straw to ‘break the camel’s back’ for me might be trivial for you).
In health this growing tension and stress eventually shows up as illness or maybe a flare of that illness. We may have heard the Dr say that stress is aggravating that stomach ulcer, or the blood pressure – do something about that. Yet the advice is lost, not even heard. Stress is implied in bowel issue flare ups, endometriosis flare ups, cholesterol number rising, weight issues, auto-immune problems………
It is estimated that 75-80% of health issues are aggravated by stress. Some health issues may not show up at all until stress has stretched our current resilient capacity to breaking point. Resilience is gone.
Being a human system of mind and body I always regard the fact that tweaking one part of that system will have a ripple effect on the rest. And this is how we can transform our inner and outer response to stress to being one of resilience. (Of course not all stress is ‘bad’ stress – it gets stuff done!)
Emotions play an enormous part on tweaking that system. Emotions are messy, snotty and tearful or maybe scary however being resilient means that emotions are more understood and able to be less of a knee-jerk reaction. (Don’t forget the joyful ones though).
e-motion – energy in motion.
Motion has an energy, a force. Suppressing emotions is what we have been taught to do. To stay calm and in control. Not bring attention to yourself. To be likeable which often means to not rock the boat or speak up. Yet that energy is building up. And like a genie in that bottle, they will come surging out when you may not find them so useful. Stress loosens the cork on the bottle. The result can be a geyser of emotion or maybe a physical pain.
Could pain manifestation be a new way of looking at how our body is begging to be listened to?
Resilience is like a window of tolerance, it is the difference between a reaction and a response. And one of the very best ways to increase resilience is to work with the body. It seems very strange that the body holds a lot of information, but it sure does. 80% of the gazillions of messages whizzing around the body and head come UP, from the body. They get interpreted from the head. That is a lot of data incoming so it makes sense that the head is only sending out 1/5th of the messages and instructions. And it makes sense that the body is incredibly important in including in the practise of resilience.
The body doesn’t forget. What the mind may put into a little locked box is remembered by the body. Past events, traumas and so much more seem to produce a bodily reaction even before the thought in the head has been had.
My favourite way of improving resilience is via the breath. By controlling the breath, you are influencing the diaphragm which means you are influencing the nerves to that large muscle. These nerves are part of the vagal nerve, a huge network of fibres that innervate not only the diaphragm, but the gut and the heart and up to the brain stem. So, from controlling the breath, slowing it down, breathing deeper, the rest of your body gets to benefit. Personally I find this easier to do than mindfulness and that by doing this type of balanced breathing, my mind can be kept ‘busy’ with the suggested visuals and counting – which means it is ’empty’ as well!
The results? A greater pause between the response and the reaction. Almost like a few milliseconds of peace and choice to pick that response. Doesn’t sound like much yet it is profound in the moment. (Technically this is the influence over the heart and it’s variability of heart rate).
And the whole body gets to calm down too. The biochemical and hormonal responses that are continually going on can go from being stress responses and processes to peace processes – that of repair and health promotion.
Don’t let the rhino run rampantly through your body trampling all it comes across, leaving you as a run-down, sick and unhealthy mess. Get into a practise of balanced breathing two or three times a day. Reflect on what you may have been bottling up or stuffing down – better out than in and sometimes having a coach to guide you through the process will allow you to feel safer.
As for the lady with the new carpet on the ad? I imagine she is grateful for the resilience of her carpet and also that of her own resilience as I am not sure it was only the carpet that got trampled in her house.
I am Paula Ralph, a pharmacist with training in neuroscience, mind/body and human behaviour. I was seeing so many people failing to achieve their health goals or, worse, not even have a health goal apart from the one given to them. I coach them to achieving a better outcome than they thought they could have.