People have different abilities to recover from adversity, called resilience. If you don’t feel particularly resilient, the good news is you can learn to be. In the book, Bouncing Back: The Neuroscience of Resilience and Well-Being, Linda Graham, MFT explores the ways in which you can do just that.
The 6 C’s of Coping
1 – Calm
Learn to regulate your flight, fight, freeze response to experience inner peace vs numbness or collapse.
Try This: Hand on the Heart
Place your hand on your heart, close your eyes and breathe gently. Call to mind a moment with someone who loves you unconditionally. Feel the moment with them, notice their kind expression towards you. If no one comes to mind you may use a religious figure or pet. Experience the feelings associated with being in this safe and held space.
Oxytocin, the hormone of safety, calm and connect, is the brain’s antidote to the stress hormone, cortisol. Exposure, even imagined, to the people we feel secure with can release oxytocin. Physical touch can amplify that sensation.
2 – Compassion
Compassion helps to overcome your negativity bias to be more optimistic and flexible. Self-compassion is awareness and acceptance of what’s going on internally. Kristen Neff, PhD speaks of “putting your own oxygen mask on first” which helps you to notice, recognize and have compassion for your moment of suffering.
Try this: Seeing Yourself as Others See You
Imagine sitting across from someone who truly loves you, then switch places and imagine yourself as they see you and why they love you. Take in the good of what they see. Then imagine yourself as you again, taking in their love.
3 – Clarity
Understanding that thoughts are simply thoughts is the first step towards improved clarity in challenging situations. Often times we can slip into a cascade of thoughts leading to emotions that don’t serve well, particularly if the original thought is not an accurate assessment of the situation. Belief systems can be at the root of the original thought so familiarity with your underlying beliefs serves to improve clarity.
“Every moment brings a choice, and every choice has an impact.” – Julia Butterfly Hill
4 – Connections to Resources
The more you can tap into the resources around you, the more support and grounding you’ll be able to call upon in moments of distress. People, practices and places can all serve as external resources for resilience. Be aware of who is in your life that can be a support. Get familiar with practices such as daily gratitude journaling and taking in the good of particular moments to get resourced. Nature has been shown to improve brain functioning. Find a sacred spot or refuge outdoors that you can go to.
5 – Competence
Feeling empowered and a felt sense of, “I can!” is an important skill for resilience. Identify the story you carry about your competence. Does it serve you? Is it accurate?
Try this: Create a Coherent Narrative
Take a recent incident experience that you found challenging. Reflect upon what you did, the cost, what you learned and what you’d do differently moving ahead.
6 – Courage
Challenging yourself to do things differently can be scary but anxiety relief can actually come out of doing that scary and different thing! Dopamine in the brain is disrupted signaling, “Uh-oh” but then is restored after mastery of the situation is achieved. “I did it!” According to Linda Graham, this is “reconditioning at it’s finest” and a mechanism for brain change.
“The greatest oak was once a little nut that held its ground.” – Author unknown
There are other practices to accelerate resilience and brain change including presence (mindfulness) to prime receptivity of the brain and perseverance to create and install change. Linda’s book is full of specifics about the neuroscience of resilience and many exercises for you to add to your toolbox.1