Resilience is something that we can practice daily. There are many tools to build resilience. I wanted to share a time recently when I used grounding.
I was starting to feel overwhelmed and my thoughts were spiraling. I could feel the stress increasing in my body. For me this feels like a pit in my stomach and my body tightening. Before I learned about resilience I would feel this way and let myself continue to spiral. This time I knew I needed to decrease my stress. I stepped away and went outside. I sat on a bench and closed my eyes and grounded myself. Here are some of the ways I did this:
I put my attention on the support of the bench beneath me and against my back.
Then I put my attention on the feeling of the breeze against my skin.
After that I allowed myself to put my attention to the sound of the birds around me.
Grounding is all about allowing your attention to totally shift from your stress to one of your five senses. Taking this moment to take care of myself was huge! I felt so much better and my stress decreased. I could now think clearly and wasn’t spiraling anymore. Sometimes stepping away is essential!
How could you use grounding when you get stressed?
The more you practice grounding, the easier it will be to use it to decrease stress.
Comment below with your favorite way of grounding!
We all face stressors in various ways throughout our days and lives. Stress can have impact on our physical, emotional, and mental health.
How do you feel the effects on your mind and body when the stress is mounting?
How have you managed stress in the past?
When we are wanting to start managing stress it’s important to do a stress inventory. This just means taking a step back and looking at your life to see what areas are causing you increased stress. Here are some questions to reflect on.
What areas of your life are causing the most stress?
What areas of your life are least stressful?
Is there a change that has happened recently that is stressful?
In the brochure pictured below I wrote about the five categories for managing stress. I wanted to discuss these in this post!
Changing our behavior: this could mean setting boundaries, changing our responsibilities, scheduling breaks, and making time for activities you enjoy.
Engage in Physical Activity: this could be in an active form of doing exercise, going outside, or getting a massage. This could also be done in a passive form of meditation, deep breathing, or stretching.
Tune Into Your Feelings: to do this you could consider journaling, talking with a friend, or listening to music.
Think Positive: practice positive self-talk, gratitude, and positive thinking.
Strength in Faith: activities to do this are different for all of us. Some ideas could be praying, singing, or reading scripture.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by stress that you find yourself just reacting?
Have you ever found yourself reacting impulsively when something reminds you of a past trauma?
These are possible situations where our body is in a survival zone. When we are feeling overwhelmed by stress, experience a trauma, or our body detects a danger our brain signals our body to release stress hormones to get to safety. The danger could be emotional, mental, or physical and our body is working to get to safety through enacting a survival response. This is a good system our body has when we are in danger and needing to get to safety. But when we stay in these zones for long periods of time it can have impacts on our brain and body. It impacts how our brain perceives safety and may cause our body to be in a survival zone when we are actually safe. This can impact our decision making, our ability to accomplish our goals, our relationships, and the way we perceive safety within ourselves. We will briefly look at the four survival zones and then discuss how to move beyond our survival modes when we are safe.
The survival zones are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. For most of us we probably experience a mixture of these survival reactions in our lifetime. There is not a linear answer when looking into our own stress and survival responses.
Physically and verbally acting out in aggression
Being stuck in this survival zone can cause the body to release excess stress hormones
Feelings of numbness and disconnection
Not being able to physically or verbally respond
Being stuck in this survival mode may result in it being more difficult to work through the stress
Physical or mental reaction to get away
Being stuck in this survival zone can cause the body to release excess stress hormones
Seeking safety by pleasing the people around you
Satisfying others at the expense of your own needs to feel safe
Being stuck in this survival mode for long periods of time may cause excess stress hormones when interacting with others we are trying to please.
In this survival response our safety is linked to appeasing other people which could impact how we experience safety within ourselves.
Working through our stress and trauma involves a variety of steps and looks different for all of us. Here are some possible considerations when working through our own survival responses, stress, and building resilience.
Working to increase calm in our mind and body on a regular bases. We can do this by practicing resilience skills like grounding, focusing on things we love, and shifting our attention when we are getting overwhelmed.
Consider talking to a mental health professional. This can be a really helpful option to work through past and present issues that are impacting your stress levels.
Practicing yoga. I am a big fan of yoga specifically for increasing calm in our mind and body. Practicing yoga gives us a safe space to tune into our body and to release stress and tension through slow movements. This can be a great thing to add into your life to release some of the stressful energy and to incorporate into your daily calming techniques.
Resilience looks different for all of us, but the one thing that is the same is that it allows us to carry on when life gets hard. There are many ways that we live out our resilience every day. One of my favorite things about resilience is that it can grow! The basic way we grow resilience is by learning to balance the stress we feel inwardly with calm. When we have this balance, we are in our resilient zone.
The picture above depicts the resilient zone, which is a concept from Social Resilience Model. We are able to be our best selves and think more clearly when we are not overwhelmed by stress. The goal is to have an eb and flow of stress and calm so that we are not controlled by the stress and living in survival mode.
Stuck in a situation, relationship, or moment, that left you feeling shut down or like there was nothing you could do?
In these situations when we are experiencing the freeze survival response, our body is seeking to restore safety by getting through whatever distressing event is happening by being still. This happens when our body detects that it is not possible to achieve safety through fighting or fleeing. In these situations, the survival response is to disappear and simply get through what is happening (Seltzer, 2015). The freeze response is also associated with feelings of numbness, disconnection, exhaustion, inability to physically respond or move.
The freeze response is different than fight or flight in that the stressful energy from the event is not resolved and stays within our body. One of the videos below talks about how this can impact someone when they are reminded of the past event, in which they coped with the freeze response. Mental illnesses such as phobias, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks may be symptoms of an unresolved experience with the freeze response (Seltzer, 2015).
Here are two videos that I thought were very interesting about the freeze response:
Tools for Coping with the Freeze Response
These are tools of resilience that can help with coping with being outside of our resilient zone. If you are feeling distressed or in crisis, consider talking with a mental health professional.
Tune into the sensations in your body. Track the sensations you are feeling.
Practice grounding. This is the practice of focus on a surface supporting you. Below is a recording of a grounding exercise.
We experience stress in a variety of ways. Life has so many twists, turns, transitions, and surprises it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed. There are big life events that are stressful, but there are also moments, demands, duties, obligations, and more throughout our days that may trigger us to feel overwhelmed or stressed. I previously made a pamphlet about coping with stress that is available to be downloaded below. There are four kinds of stress:
Acute Stress: fight or flight response when the body is preparing to defend itself. In this type of stress the body may experience increased heart rate, tense muscles, and breathing faster (National Institute of Mental Health; American Institute of Stress).
Chronic Stress: ongoing acute stress without the body being able to find relief (AIS).
Eustress/Routine Stress: Stress from daily life with positive connotation, such as work, relationships, marriage, school, hobbies, etc. (AIS).
Stress impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is important for us to have a balance of stress and the release of stress in order for us to thrive and be functioning at our best. How do we go about doing that though? How do you cope with stress? Some of the ideas below are possibly things you are already doing or might inspire you to try a new technique to cope with or manage stress in your life.
Coping with Stress
There are healthy and destructive ways that we choose to cope with stress. There are two main ways that we can build resilience, which allows us to cope with stress effectively. The first way is through our sensations and the second is through capturing our thoughts and emotions. Both of these strategies are essential to building resilience and being our best selves.
Our body’s natural way of experiencing anything is first through sensations. When we experience stress and relaxation we experience that through sensations in our body. For example when I am stressed I often feel a tightness in my chest, a clinching in my stomach, or tension in my shoulders. When I am feeling relaxed or calm I feel my tension loosen, tingling throughout my body, or deeper breathing. Here are some activities you can practice to possibly increase calming sensations:
Tracking Your Body: It can be uncomfortable or odd to tune into our bodies to see what sensations we are experiencing when we are feeling stress or calm. Take some time to notice the sensations you are feeling in our body, but if it is something that is triggering to you for any reason shift your attention to one of the other activities.
Grounding: put your attention to a surface supporting you. This could be the ground underneath your feet, the chair against your back, or any solid surface. Put all of your attention on that surface and when your thoughts drift just refocus.
Resourcing: focus your attention on a positive experience. This could be a favorite hobby, place, or moment. Focus on what sensations you experience when doing that activity. For example, one of my resources that I think about is bookbinding. I put my attention to what it feels like to have the waxed thread in between my fingers, what it feels like to fold the paper, or glue the covers. Just focus in and allow your mind and body to relax into the resource you are focusing on.
Capturing our thoughts or using our thinking brain to experience calmness and build resilience can include a variety of activities. The essence of this is resetting, processing, reframing, or shifting our thoughts so that we do not spiral or become overtaken by our stress. Here is a list of ways to possibly do this:
Exercise, Walking, Yoga
Listening to Music
Comment below if there is a strategy in this post you are going to try or how you cope with stress in life!
Safety relates to our physical and emotional wellbeing. It is being protected against dangers and comfortable to live without risk of harm. There are three levels of safety including internal, micro, and macro.
Internal safety is when we feel comfortable, secure, and protected within ourselves. This could include in our emotions, thoughts, or simply within our physical body. We could feel unsafe internally due to abuse, sexual assault, struggling with unhealthy thoughts, or overwhelmed by our emotions or stress. There has been times when I am in an emotional spiral and having dark thoughts and feel unsafe within myself. What does it look like to feel safe internally? This could be feeling balanced and not overtaken by emotions or past traumas, or it could be feeling comfortable to be yourself, to feel whatever feelings you feel, and be in your body with feelings of acceptance and trusting yourself.
Micro safety is being safe within our immediate relationships, living situation, our daily habits, work, and social interactions. There could be a number of reasons why peopl feel unsafe in these areas. A small example from my life is from the last apartment I lived in. I loved the apartment at first, but the longer I lived there the more I felt uncomfortable with my neighbors because of their lifestyle, their arguments, and unsettling noises. I was on edge all of the time and even started wearing ear plugs or headphones 24/7. I would get frustrated with myself because people arguing and yelling is normal for a lot of family systems, but it was so triggering for me that I just wanted to run away. I laughed with my grandma about this once because even though I did not know these people and the argument had nothing to do with me whenever I would hear them arguing I was definitely going to be falling apart before the couple who was actually arguing. Because I felt unsafe emotionally within my home it impacted other areas of my life too and even my physical wellbeing because I had such a hard time sleeping and I was not able to enjoy my space. It is so interesting to compare that situation to my current living situation. I feel comfortable and my neighbors are very nice. Because I feel emotionally and physically safe I have found that I am crafting more, hanging out at home more, dancing and singing around the house, even gave my neighbors gifts for Christmas, and I got a pet rabbit. Feeling safe in my immediate context has been a game changer.
Macro safety is when we feel safe within our community and in society. Factors that could contribute towards not feeling safe include living in communities with violence or not feeling accepted in society because of racism, classism, agism, or any other “ism” that puts people at a disadvantage. This would also apply to groups that face stigma due to having physical or mental illness. Not feeling accepted, wanted, or valued in society can have a huge impact on whether or not a person or even group of people feels safe. I saw someone post on social media recently that they are tired of this “woke crap.” This is how the dictionary defines woke as an informal adjective, “alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism.” I just want to note that even if you are not in a group or space where you feel unsafe within your community or society, having empathy for others is being willing to consider someone else’s perspective and situation and how that might impact them, even if it is not your particular experience.
Safety & the Brain
Our brain, specifically our amygdala, is constantly scanning for signs of danger. It is sometimes referred to as the smoke detector of the brain. The amygdala can be triggered by a danger of a physical or emotional nature. There could be times where the amygdala communicates with your body that it is in danger in times when you are actually safe, due to being triggered by something around you, whether that be a smell, tone, appearance, or sound that reminds the brain of a past danger.
Our nervous system has two different responses being sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic just means our nervous system is activated by danger or stress. Whereas parasympathetic is when we experience calm and relaxation. It is incredible how both states of impacts our whole system. This is due to the vagal nerve that runs through our body, as well as hormones that are released during times of stress and danger (Dana, 2020). You can see this demonstrated in the image below.
How Safety Impacts Us
The autonomic nervous system ladder is a concept from Polyvagal theory (Dana, 2020). Author Deb Dana, has written several books that discusses this well and I would recommend these if you want to dive into this concept deeper: The links below are my referral links for Amazon:
When we feel safe we are able to be our best selves, be engaged, connect with others, and build resilience. Like displayed on the ladder as our safety decreases, we disengage and go into one of three survival mode of flight, fight, or freeze. Safety is essential to thriving (Dana, 2020).
Evaluating Your Feeling of Safety
Here are some reflective questions to journal or think about to consider safety and how it is impacting you:
How can you increase your feelings of safety?
Think of a time when you felt safe and secure within yourself. What was that like and how did it impact you? How did you feel or what kind of thoughts were you having? Were you in a certain situation or atmosphere that contributed towards feelings of safety?
Imagine what it would be like to feel safe internally. What kind of circumstance would you be in or what kind of feelings or thoughts would you be having?
How has safety impacting your thriving or resilience?
Where do you feel you are on the autonomic ladder?
You are worth protecting and are a valuable person who should be kept safe internally, in relationships, at work, in the community, and in society. If you are in crisis or in danger here are some numbers you could call for 24/7 support:
Emergency Services: 911
Crisis Text Line: 741741
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services Administration Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP
Dana, D. (2020). Befriending Your Nervous System. Speech. Audible.
How do you cope with transitions? I am in the midst of a big transition right now. I previously moved back home to go to school for my masters in social work. I finished my masters and am moving back out on my own! So excited!! But along with the excitement is fear, anxieties, and pressure. I tend to not handle transitions well. There are times when I don’t choose the best ways to cope like going shopping or get a large pizza. But here are some other ways that help me cope!
1. Pray, Pray, Pray! I don’t know about you but for me, my faith is a big part of my coping process. But it’s not simply that I trust in Jesus to get me through transitions, but I trust him daily to hold me together and provide. So even today as my mind was full of concerns and things to do on my list, I also continuously ask that the Lord would be honored in my life, praying for his help and seeking his wisdom.
2. Laughter! If you know me, then you know I am continuously laughing and giggling. It helps me to find humor in life and just enjoy being silly! Like when I bought this scarecrow hat that I had seen on the Shabby Tree. It’s so silly, but it made me happy, it made me smile and relieved some of the pressure of this move.
3. Time with Friends and Family! During this time I’ve gotten to spend time with several friends and family members that had brought me joy and reminded me that I am not in this transition alone. Sometimes when we are moving or in the midst of a transition it can feel lonely. But take a moment and look to see who is in your corner and is willing to weather through the transition with you!
4. Spending Time Outside! I was so thankful to have some time this weekend to be outside at my favorite park and enjoy the trees, nature, and water.
5. Get Creative! Sometimes we just need a creative release. Try a new craft or one that is dear to you. Just spend time enjoying a moment of focusing on making something with your hands.
6. Exercise! There’s has been many times this week when I needed a break from the stress of life and did a few yoga poses, walking outside, or exercise at the gym. Consider using movement to release some of that stressful energy. But be careful not to over due it and listen to what your body needs!
7. Gradual Progress! I know this isn’t always an option, but something that helps me is to work towards a change gradually. For me this had looked like packing a few boxes at a time and gradually getting ready for the move so that it’s not overwhelming to all the sudden need to do the whole move at once.
8. Take A Break! Enjoy some time to just relax and rest! You are important and it’s essential to take care of you! Sometimes this means choosing to rest instead of pack or stopping to eat a nutritious lunch or going to bed early.
9. Journal! Take time to journal how you are feeling about the transition. A way of journaling I’ve been doing to help with the transition is to write something I’m grateful for or looking forward to about this transition whenever I start feeling stressed about it. Sometimes perspective is everything and journaling can help release stress and refocus our perspective.
10. Be Present! Sometimes when we are stressed and worried we are not being present in the moment. It’s easy to be consumed with what could happen or with what might go wrong. Be intentional to be present in the moment you are in.
Stress and trauma impact the way our body and brain functions. Have you ever felt so stressed or upset that it was hard to think clearly? It can be hard to calm our mind and think clearly when we are stressed, working through traumatic experiences, or living in survival modes. But there is hope! We have the power to change our brain! You and I can use tools of resilience to increase our calmness and to release stressful energy and sensations in our body.
First let’s talk about how stress and trauma impacts our brains and bodies. Our brain has something called the amygdala that acts as an alert system. When the amygdala detects a trigger of a past trauma or danger to our emotional or physical safety it alerts the body to release stress hormones in order for the body to get to safety. When this happens we begin to be in survival modes of fight, flight, or freeze. When we are in these survival modes we can have a hard time thinking clearly and we may lose our ability to problem solve and can become emotionally reactive. Being in a state of survival for long periods of time can impact our brain and body in negative ways.
But do you remember that hope I talked about earlier? Hope that we can change our brain? It’s all because our brain was designed in a way that allows for it to have something called neuroplasticity. This just means that our brain has the ability to build new neuropathways in order to support the habits we are living out today. This is important because when we are first doing something new it feels really hard and difficult. But eventually as we keep pursuing this new habit it gets easier and easier. The reason for that is that our brain is building new neuropathways to support our life choices.
What kind of tools can we use to create this new habit of feeling calm instead of being in a survival mode or overwhelmed by stress? The key to allowing the brain to build new pathways for new habits is practicing tools of resilience by using the tool of attention. We can use our attention by focusing on things that bring us sensations of calmness. This could be a grounding exercise where we are placing our attention to a solid surface that is supporting us like the seat of a chair, or the floor beneath our feet. During this type of exercise you would just want to focus all of your attention towards that solid surface and allow any distracting thought to be still as you focus in on that support. Another skill is to focus on a good thing in your life or something that is a resource to you. It could be your pet that you love dearly, a hobby you enjoy, a place you love to go, or a memory that is dear to you. Taking a moment to think of something that brings you joy can be a calming experience. Below is a journal prompt to help practice using the skill of attention.
When thinking of resilience we might think of someone who has overcome an extremely difficult situation or completing a goal like being in the Olympics. It’s easy to think of the most extreme situations when defining this word. When I think of resilience I think of YOU! I think of people who are…
Working towards a goal at their work
Striving to be a good parents
Working through traumatic or hard childhood memories
Survivor of an abusive relationship
Getting up daily and going to work and living life even when dealing with chronic illness or mental health challenges
Survivor of sexual assault
Starting a new chapter or a new goal
There are so many examples that we could list of what makes someone resilient and how showing up and doing life takes having resilience. We experience stress, disappointment, heartache, and frustrations that often require being resilient. Resilience is typically defined as the ability to bounce back or recover quickly from difficulties.
I recently went through a ten month training to become a trainer for Social Resilience Model by Threshold Globalworks. It was honestly life changing to learn that it is possible to increase our resilience. This might seem like an obvious statement, but our brain plays a big role in how our body reacts when we experience stress, trauma, and relaxation. It’s through training our brain that we can increase our resilience. There are two well known ways of training the brain to increase resilience including top-down resilience and bottom-up resilience (Van Der Kolk, 2021). Top-down resilience is focusing on our ‘thinking brain’ and doing activities like meditation, yoga, mindfulness, therapy, journaling, and spiritual practices to captivate our thoughts and refocus them to build our resilience (Van Der Kolk, 2021). Bottom-up resilience is using how our body first experiences anything in our environment, which is through our senses (Van Der Kolk, 2021). So it is teaching the body to shift from stressful and traumatic sensations to calming and relaxing sensations. It’s about teaching the brain to shift to things that bring calmness to the body in order to not be overwhelmed or for the body to be triggered to release stress hormones. We will explore all of these areas of resilience and learn together what is helpful for each of us individually. Here is a journal prompt to consider what resilience means to you!