Author: Ann Grandchamp, Mental Health Editor
Happy new year! How has the year started for you? I’m guessing, like most people I know or work with, you’re tired of this pandemic, tired of not knowing what’s going to happen, tired of the rules changing all the time, tired of not being able to see who you want when you want, tired of not being able to go out, tired of the mixed and contradictory information we’re getting. Just plain tired. Maybe also feeling pretty down and depressed.
And you know what? If that’s you, then you are completely normal. Because this whole situation is exhausting. And so now, more than ever, we need to look after ourselves and learn how to build our resilience.
We can’t change the situation. But we can change how we respond to it.
Let’s face it: before the pandemic hit last year, a lot of us were already close to burnout or burned out. The current situation wasn’t the drop that made the vase overflow, it was the tidal wave or tsunami that completely sunk us. We didn’t have a resilience plan in place before the pandemic, and we probably still don’t have one now. so we’re just sinking lower and lower.
So, I’ve got a brilliant exercise prepared for you, to help you establish a resilience plan.
Choosing yourself first
Let me ask you a question: are you choosing to put yourself first? Are you choosing yourself? Because that’s the first step. If you’re putting yourself at the bottom of your to-do list, then chances are you’re depleted and exhausted, grumpy and impatient, maybe anxious and depressed.
So the first step is: choose to choose yourself.
The river metaphore
Close your eyes and imagine you are a river. Your water level at the moment is pretty low. So when you’re cruising down slowly (the highs of life), all is well and relaxing. But when the rapids appear (the lows of life), or the rocks, or the rapids and the rocks!, then panick settles in, you get splashed, you hit rocks and you may well hurt yourself and sink.
But what if the water level was higher? So high that you’re above the rocks? It wouldn’t prevent the rapids from coming up, but you would navigate them a lot more easily. That’s what I want for you.
The replenishing graph*
In this metaphore, your ideal level of water above the rocks is your wellbeing level (the blue wavy line in the graphic below). There are hard times (the dips) and there are good times (the bumps). There are things in life that drain you and make you cope less well with life (the red arrows). There are things that replenish you, help you flourish and meet life’s challenges with stamina and confidence (the blue arrows).
It’s much better and easier to increase the level of water in the river rather than try to avoid the rocks. Our wellbeing level is something that we have a role to play in. We can grow it; we can strengthen it. Isn’t that great news? The people with the highest resilience levels are those who have a self care plan in place. I’ll say that again:
The people with the highest resilience levels are those who have a self-care plan in place.
We all have a stress signature. The things we do, the things we say, think and believe, when we’re stressed. For example, your stress signature might be yelling at the kids, or binge eating, or drinking too much wine. It’s important to recognize your stress signature because when you notice it for what it is, with no self-blame or self-hatred (because let me tell you, those 2 emotions are highly stress inducing), then you can do something about it.
Make a self-care plan – 3 easy steps to build your resilience
So this is how to do it. Take an A4 piece of paper and some coloured pens. Draw your wellbeing water level in blue in the middle of the page. Draw red arrows going down towards the water level (as above). Draw blue arrows going up towards the water level (as above). Then:
Above the red arrows, write down the things that drain and exhaust you. It could be:
- too much noise
- not enough time to yourself
- kids fighting
- a messy house
- a difficult friendship or relationship
- a never ending to do list
- health problems
- not enough exercise
- not enough sleep
If you need help reducing the impact of some of these draining things, then contact a mental health professional or a life coach.
Under the blue arrows, write down the things that replenish and boost you, that leave you feeling energized and joyful (this can sometimes be harder ;-)). It could be:
- eating a balanced diet
- having a bubble bath
- time to yourself
- hanging out with friends
- restful sleep
- walking in nature
- watching a good movie
Choose 3 to 5 things in your replenishing list and put them in your resilience toolbelt. What does that mean? Decide which ones you are going to start implementing more regularly or daily in your life. Then do it. Put reminders in your diary or around your house, make appointments with yourself or with other people. Just do it.
A great and clever way to add self-care to your day is to habit stack. Add a self-care item to something you are already in the habit of doing. For example:
- listening to a podcast while you walk
- singing while you clean-up
- knitting while you watch TV
Now some of you may say that at the moment, with all the gyms, restaurants and cultural events closed and cancelled, there isn’t much to do. That’s where you put your creative hat on. A client of mine feels really energized after a date with her husband. Obviously, this is a bit tricky at the moment. So they put their thinking hats on and this is what they did: they packed a couple of beers and some nibbles into the car, drove to a place with a great view, and had their beer and nibbles together in the car while wathcing the view and having great conversations. Sometimes, simple is best.
Of course there are many other things you could do to boost your resilience (have a look here if you’re interested). But I can garantee you that if you start with these simple steps, your resilience and energy levels will improve. You will feel a lot better prepared to tackle day to day life, despite the current challenges. But remember, the very first step is to CHOOSE to:
Put your own oxygen mask on first.
Take care! Stay safe!
* A big thank you to one of my colleagues, Kate Gare, for teaching me the principles of the Replenishing Graph a few years ago.
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