The most recent experience that challenged my resilience was this pandemic. I think everyone I know, including you, had to cope up with this situation. Everyone is experiencing this for the first time – even doctors and government leaders.
It was hard to respond and move forward seeing the news, knowing the cases kept rising. But, it felt like there was no end to it, especially during the first quarter of 2020.
I remember the first few weeks of the pandemic. I was in my room, crying. All the cancelled plans, dates, and goals I had for 2020 seemed to vanish. The emotional and mental effects of it were my greatest struggles. I had hormonal imbalances that led me to have difficulty living my everyday life.
I experienced depression, not the clinical one, but more of sadness, loneliness and, isolation. I felt uncertain, and that brought fear to my heart. I was trying to control things yet, I couldn’t. There was helplessness and hopelessness. I kept asking if this would ever going to end.
I’m not sure if someone can relate to me. Maybe you’ve felt this too, not from the pandemic, but from losing a loved one, getting sick, breakups, failures, or whatever struggle that brought you down to your knees.
But if you are still reading this today, that means you never gave up. That means you are still alive. We are humans. We break, we fail. But waking up and trying again, that’s what makes us stronger. That’s what makes us resilient amid the number of challenges and difficulties we face in life.
What is Resilience?
Psychologists have defined resilience as a process where an individual can cope up well over time with life-altering and frustrating situations like a severe illness, accident, death of a loved one, financial stress, workplace conflict, etc.
In simple terms, resilience is bouncing back from the hardship that comes your way. It’s a chance to experience personal growth and greater insight. Challenges that come to you aren’t always easy. It can cause you a lot of heartbreaks and anxiety and can even cause your mental health. But having resilience means using these setbacks to continue living. It gives you the chance to empower yourself and use what you’ve learned to help you bounce back.
What Does a Resilient Person Do?
They practice acceptance
Acceptance might seem easy, but it’s not.
It’s hard to accept when something terrible happens to you.
It’s hard to accept when you lose a loved one.
It’s hard to accept when you lose a job or when your business is failing.
It’s hard to accept when things are not going your way.
It’s hard to accept when challenges keep on pouring in.
Resilient people are the ones who accept their situation. That doesn’t mean that they let other people step on them. But they don’t focus on the past anymore. They get what is, and they think of actions that they can do.
They help themselves
It’s easy to blame people and circumstances when something terrible happens. That makes it easier to be less responsible. But, of course, I am not saying that it is your fault that things happened to you. We can’t control things. But in this context, I am talking about things that you can control: your attitude, your perspective, your choice whether you’ll move on from this or not.
Resilient people will find a way to take responsibility and help themselves after going through a tragic moment in their life. It could simply be getting 15 minutes early in the morning to meditate and be mindful. It could be asking help from a doctor. It could be planning on how to get back on their business or work.
Resilient people could feel they’re stuck for a while, but they know that doesn’t fully define their life.
They look ahead
Dwelling in the past can sometimes block you from moving ahead. It keeps you chained. It makes you ruminate. Resilience doesn’t mean forgetting what happened to you, but it means not letting the thing of the past hold you. Rather, you look forward to seeing possibilities and what’s next for you.
They know their thoughts are just thoughts.
It’s easy to get swayed by the numerous thoughts we have throughout the day. When something bad happened to you, as humans, we tend to go back and tried to figure out what went wrong, and we started telling ourselves that we should’ve done this or that.
Our thoughts would be up in our head telling us different things. It can also become a negative voice sabotaging us. But resilient people know that their thoughts are just thoughts unless they give power over it.
They focus on the truth
As challenges come your way, you can create these labels: defeated, failure, it’s too late for me, nothing’s going to change, this is all I’m ever going to be, etc. But those who are resilient focus on their truth and that is: it’s not too late. I failed but not a failure. I am capable of changing my present circumstances. I am not what I experienced yesterday. I am powerful. I have the set of skills to change this.
They let go of the victim mentality.
When bad things happen, we can easily adapt that victim mentality. A victim mentality says “poor me”. You can give yourself a specific time to feel that pain and sadness. That is totally okay. But victim mentality means you’re just letting yourself become the product of your circumstance.
When you have this mentality, you think that people are always going to take advantage of you. People are always going to do something bad towards you. Or you might even think that you’ll always be a loser. Your present moment now is your responsibility and yours alone.
They choose to grow.
Resilient people would use what happened to them to push them to become more empowered. They would choose to grow and see this as a chance to be stronger mentally, physically and mentally. Again, there are things that we can’t change immediately, but challenges could be a foundation to make us appreciate life, for us to learn lessons we have never learned before.
They ask for support when needed
Asking for support can sometimes be considered as a weakness by some, but it’s not. It’s actually courageous for someone to step back and know that you need help. This could mean seeing a therapist, an accountability, a coach etc. That doesn’t make you weak. It’s one of the steps that would help you bounce back.
You don’t have to feel bad If you feel like all the above character traits aren’t applicable or you’re still in the process of becoming that person. Having these traits doesn’t mean you have to have it all together. To make it simple and easy for you, here are some practices or guide that can help you build Resilience.
How to Build Resilience
Change the narrative
Have you ever heard of the phrase, find the silver lining? It basically means when you’ve faced a difficult situation in your life, you search for the good thing thus, finding the silver lining. In a study made in 2014, researchers found out that doing this practice helped individuals feel less depressed and improved someone’s wellbeing. The practice is simple.
How to practice:
- Look at your life and list 5 things that make it enjoyable, enriching or worthwhile. For example, being able to sleep in a comfy bed, being healthy, or having the resources to stay healthy.
- Look back on an event where you felt frustrated, or it didn’t go as plan. Describe the situation briefly and then write 3 things on how you can look at it on a positive way.
- Do this in the next three weeks.
This practice helps you to change the narrative of what happened. Most of us, when negative things happen, we go back to it from time to time thinking of the different alternatives that could’ve happen. However, this just hampers you to look ahead.
Changing the narrative means looking at the positive side no matter how bad it is. It brings you feelings of hope and expectancy that the bad situations don’t necessarily mean that it’s permanent.
Self-compassion is how you act towards a friend who comes to you when they are struggling or experienced a difficult time.
Can you remember a time when a friend comes to you when they were in pain or hurting? What was your action towards them?
Being compassionate means you understand the suffering of others and have that motivation to help and reach out to that person. Practicing compassion towards yourself means being accepting of what you’re going through without criticizing yourself or putting yourself down.
How to practice:
- When you’re feeling a negative emotion or you’re having difficulty, pause and take a few minutes to recognize and acknowledge that emotion. You can say, “Right now, there is a feeling of _____ (sadness, pain, depression, loss, anger, etc.).
- Identify all the emotions you can observe. Don’t rush this process. As you are acknowledging those feelings, put your hand on your heart. This activates oxytocin – the hormone that is for safety and trust. Then you can say kind phrases towards yourself such as:
- I accept my emotions as it is. I know it’s just trying to protect me.
- I accept myself for what it is feeling right now.
- I accept this present moment as it is.
- I am showing up for myself.
These phrases don’t need to be the exact words, but it can be something that sounds like this. The important thing with self-compassion is you can accept yourself, your emotions, where you’re at, and show up for yourself.
Meditation comes in different forms. There are apps like Calm and Headspace where you can practice this every day. It doesn’t need to be long. You can meditate for three, five, 10, 15 or 20 minutes. You can also do unguided meditation where you just focus on your breath and sit in silence.
How to practice:
- Sit still inside a quiet room. Focus on your breathing.
- Inhale through your nose. Exhale through your mouth.
- Check if there’s any tension in your body and try to release that tension by relaxing the muscles.
- You can do this for three minutes or more.
Meditation cultivates awareness of the present moment. Instead of going back to the past or being eager to figure out the future, you become still. This helps in letting go of thoughts and being able to hold which thoughts are helpful and not.
Find a sense of purpose
Purpose will make you resilient because that is what will push you through when you’re feeling demotivated, lost, tired, or exhausted. Remember the time when you failed at something? What anchored you to keep on going? It could be a goal in mind or a dream you’ve always wanted. That thing should always be close to your heart and will make you grounded when things are tough.
How to practice:
- Get a notebook or your journal
- Try to draw a mind map of what you love doing, what you’re passionate about
- In the center, you can put “passion” and then from there, try to write the things you love doing.
- And for every passion, you can put stems of why you love doing it.
Strengthen your skills and Take Action
When you feel like you are in the bottom, it’s easy to feel out of control. When something terrible happened, it’s easy to feel that there’s nothing you can do. But you can try to look at the things that is within your control and from there decide which action to take. One of which is the skills you already have.
On the other hand, taking action doesn’t mean huge steps immediately, it could just be small steps that you are committed to doing consistently.
How to practice:
- Have an inventory of all the skills you have or the skills you want to develop.
- Write an action plan on how you can use more of those skills.
- That could be enrolling yourself in a class, practicing your drawing skills for an hour every day.
- This doesn’t have to be a massive action. Start small and be kind to yourself.
- Commit to it and track your calendar if you were able to do it every day.
An Encouraging Word for You
It’s always hard to recover from something tragic, from something bad that have happened to us. It’s always hard to stand up again when you feel like you are lost or you are confused. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen anymore. I believe that you have the power to be resilient and you have the strength to bounce back from any situation or heartbreak or heartache you have experienced. A step no matter how small it feels is still progress.
Suicide has been an impressing issue for most countries. Some people are open to talk about it, but some are not. Some still feel like it’s not a problem, and some are too scared to mention it. More than ever, this is the right time to be more open about what suicide means and what you can do to prevent it not just in your own life but also for the people around you.
First, let’s define what suicide means. It means harming oneself with the intent to end one’s life. Based on American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, here are some facts and figures:
- In the United States, Suicide ranks 10 as the leading cause of death.
- Daily, an average of 132 Americans dies each day.
- 1.4 million Americans have attempted suicide.
- For people ages 10 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
- For people ages 35 to 54, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death.
- 90% of those who died because of suicide was diagnosed with a mental health condition.
- 10.3% of Americans have thoughts about suicide.
- 54% of Americans have been affected by suicide.
As you see, it is a serious problem, but this is not a lost cause. This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. You might have heard about suicide from a friend, family member or even from the news. Sometimes it could feel like it’s not real until a close person you know experiences it.
If you’ve been close to someone who has been telling you about how they want to end their life, who have been depressed for several months now, who always think about death and such, here’s a tool that you can use until professional help comes in.
Suicide First Aid Kit
It could be overwhelming when someone tells you that they want to end their life. It could be a friend who has been depressed and want to give up or a family member that you know. Here’s what you can do to help them.
First things first, do not panic. Do not go around calling all people that you know. If you panic, then you can’t be of any help. When someone tells you that they want to commit suicide, the best thing to do is take action and be there and be genuinely authentic to show that you are concerned about them.
Help them process their thoughts and keep them talking.
The fact that they told you about having suicidal thoughts means that they are still not 100% sure that they will do it. It means that they have it in their head. And that means a big opportunity to help them realize that suicide is not the answer and that life is worth living. To help them with safety and risk, you can ask these questions:
You can ask them questions like:
- How are you planning to end your life?
- What will you use?
- How do you think it’s going to solve the problem?
These questions are not to provoke them nor to encourage them that suicide is okay. But this is you being there for them and taking seriously what they are telling you. This is also a way to delay what they will do, especially that it’s harmful. Maybe they need someone to talk to during that time, and that’s more than enough.
The last thing this person needs is to feel distressed or judged because they felt that way. It might only make the situation worse. Imagine talking to a friend who has a problem; do you reject them? Of course not. You show that you are present for them. This applies in this situation too. Your friend doesn’t need you to solve their problems. They need compassion and understanding. You can try telling these to them:
That seems hard, and I appreciate that you trust me with your story. How can I help you?
I care about you, but I don’t know how I can support you. Let me know and remember that you can always talk to me.
I know that your situation feels so difficult right now, and it’s challenging to feel okay when things are hard.
Continue to be there for them
Talking might have relieved their stress, but that doesn’t mean that they are fine already. The best thing you can do is to continue checking on them and show that you truly care. You can start sending them a message like, “I’ve just remembered about you. How are you doing?” or “I am always here to listen if you need someone to talk to.”
Open about professional support
This could be tricky in a way because they might not be ready for the idea, or they could be defensive once they hear you asking them to go to a therapist. But you can do it in a subtle way that’s not forceful and not judgmental.
Instead of telling them that, “I think you need help.” You can say, “Have you thought of talking to a professional?”, “I am here to listen to you, but do you think it could help you better if professional help is available?”
Here are the things you shouldn’t do:
- Offering various solutions
- Telling them to get themselves together, snap out of it, man up, just get over it or just cheer up.
- You are changing the subject and making it about you.
- Telling them they shouldn’t feel like that
- There’s no reason to feel that, and they’re just dramatic
- Telling them that they are ungrateful and there’s someone feeling worse than them.
- Telling them they are just silly, and they are not serious
Saying these things could just make them feel judged, unheard, isolated, alone, criticized or analyzed.
Someone who tells you that they are having suicidal thoughts trusts you enough to share this. Because it’s not easy to share your feelings, especially when you are afraid to be judged and rejected, so if this happens, be there for them. Be a friend. Take them seriously.
If you’re currently struggling with suicidal thoughts or have ended your life numerous times and wondering why you are still alive, I know life could be so tough and hard and it could feel like ending your life is the easiest thing to do. I understand you. You are not alone on this. Feel free to reach out and I would love to be there for you!
As the world shifted to work from home setup, it has also been prone to less physical activities since everyone was encouraged to stay at home. Even so, doing physical activities affects one’s mental health. For instance, physical exercises help in increasing mental alertness, positive mood, and energy. It also reduces anxiety and stress. Being engaged in physical activities prevents further development of mental health problems.
Due to COVID-19, a lot of establishments were closed, like gyms. For those who are fitness buffs, this has been a significant hit because going to the gym is not just going to the gym. It also created a community where you are inspired and encouraged by others who want to get more fit and healthier. But since this is hard to do, especially now, the question is, how can stay healthy?
There are a lot of exercises out there: Pilates, Yoga, Weightlifting, Running, Biking, Swimming, or for some, walking as many as 10,000 steps already helped them to stay healthy during the pandemic.
What does it do to the body when you walk 10,000 steps a day?
- In a study made by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, walking for sixty minutes or an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Exercising like walking 10,000 steps a day is good for the brain as it promotes neural growth and new activity patterns that encourage a feeling of calmness. At the same time, it reduces inflammation. It also helps release endorphins that make you feel good and energize your spirit.
- Exercise such as 10,000 steps a day is a natural way to relieve stress and tension. It also helps in boosting mental and physical energy. But, of course, anything that allows you to move gives you the benefit of doing something else rather than worrying and getting anxious, which’s unproductive.
- Moving and walking break the cycle of stress. You could notice that your muscles might be tensed when you are under a lot of pressure and stress, including your face, neck, arms, or shoulders. You can also have muscle cramps, instead of lingering on your thoughts and over-analyzing, walking and exercising help in relaxing the body.
- For those who have PTSD and trauma, if you focus on your body as you walk or exercise, it helps the nervous system not get stuck and start to move out of the immobilization stress response when you have PTSD—paying attention to how your body moves (exercises that include cross-movement and engage both muscles and joints) stops the mind to wandering around.
- Exercising could also help in stimulating the growth of new brain cells.
- This could also strengthen your self-esteem since you are doing something for yourself that makes you feel better and have a sense of achievement.
- This also gives you more energy. Increasing heart rate several times a week is reasonable.
- Lastly, it’s a means to cope with complex and challenging times rather than resorting to drugs, alcohol, or other negative things that could make you worse in the long run.
Is 10,000 steps a day enough, too much, or just okay?
Everyone has different fitness goals. While some might want to include physical activity during a busy day, some people want to be more fit and build muscles. But for the general population who wants to make sure that they will have a good lifestyle, the proper perspective is that the more steps you take, the more benefits it’ll give.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, a person needs 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, whether walking or swimming. If you are doing a rigorous workout, the suggested time is 75 minutes. If the goal is to lose weight and reach for a specific body built, then that would require someone to do more other than walking 10,000 steps a day.
Here’s a quick interview with someone who has been doing 10,000 steps a day ever since late last year.
Q: On average, how many steps do you take per day?
The average is 10K. I’ve been doing it every other day most of the time. There are some days I do 10,000, some days 15,000, and I also have rest days. The most I did was 22,000 steps. I was hiking for a week.
Q: How did you start?
I didn’t have an idea about the 10,000 steps before. I just saw the app on my iPhone, and it says that 10,000 is the ideal number. So I used the Health app. I researched about it and then saw the app’s functions, which helped me monitor my steps. For example, when it was winter, I did 5,000 steps per day.
Q: What do you think are the benefits you’ve gained out of it:
It helped me to sleep better because the body becomes tired after walking for so long. Perhaps, my mood also improved. I get to have some fresh air instead of staying in the room and be anxious because of COVID. I think it also helped to maintain my weight or stop me from gaining extra pounds. As I walk, I call people, and that allowed me to connect with them while exercising.
Q: Do you think this could be a replacement for someone who goes to the gym?
Definitely not because it doesn’t build muscles. It has low impact and resistance. It helps in standing longer, but the focus is only on my legs.
Q: Do you think that 10,000 steps a day are a way for you to be healthier?
It’s a component, but there are other things you have to consider, like having a healthy diet. Although I think that it helps avoid back pain because of the blood flow you get from walking.
Q: Do you recommend doing this?
Of course, I already recommended it to the people I know. I think it’s good for general health.
The brain is so amazing when you take a closer look at it. Imagine what you can do: recognizing faces of people around you, reading, writing, cooking, driving, typing, researching, comprehending concepts – there are many things that you can do because of your brain, and isn’t that amazing?
People get so used to doing the simple that it can rob you of the fact that you have a brain, and having a brain is one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever receive. This statement might sound a bit sarcastic, but not really. When you think about it, what if you don’t have a brain? What could happen? But maybe that’s for another blog.
People’s brain is plastic (yup, but not like what you’re thinking right now). Several neural pathways continually form and automatically adjust because of a phenomenon that’s called neuroplasticity. Neuro means that it’s related to the nerves or the nervous system, and plastic means that it’s easily shaped or molded.
Amishi Jha, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami, describes neuroplasticity as “the capacity of the brain to reorganize its connections based on experience.”
Dr Campbell put it this way,
“It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences.”
When you think about it, brains are very extraordinary. Because of our experiences, the brain forms different pathways; others are dormant, created and discarded. This happens when a person learns something new. The brain makes new connections between neurons. A person rewires their brain to adjust to new situations. This kind of thing happens every day, but you can be proactive in doing this.
Neuroplasticity and Psychology
Since there is a lot of research about neuroplasticity, it’s evident how neuroplasticity can affect someone’s psychology.
Christopher Bergland (2017) mentioned,
“One could speculate that this process opens up the possibility to reinvent yourself and move away from the status quo or to overcome past traumatic events that evoke anxiety and stress. Hardwired fear-based memories often lead to avoidance behaviors that can hold you back from living your life to the fullest.”
There are certain things that neuroplasticity can change since it affects the way a person’s brain works. Psychology has continuously been transforming to help people change their thought pattern to live healthier and better life. But it has been a real challenge, especially for those who have traumatic experiences. But when you think about it, what if you can change your thought pattern that’s not fear-based or anxious-based? Will you do it? If it’s going to help you throughout the day, then why wouldn’t you take it.
It seems odd how a person can change their thought patterns if a lot of factors growing up has influenced them: environment, upbringing, educations, friendships, failures and success – all those experiences that shaped who and what you are right now. But sometimes, people’s experiences have a negative effect on them. Let’s take for example anxiety. If your whole life, there are specific things that make you anxious more than the others, you’ll have a new way of looking at things because of neuroplasticity. Instead of being fearful, you’ll be more courageous.
Isn’t that interesting?
Benefits of Neuroplasticity
- Boosts current cognitive capabilities
- Ability to learn new things
- Recovery from strokes and other traumatic injuries
- Strengthening areas for some functions that were lost or declined because of accident or disease
- Developments that can promote brain fitness
- Developed memory abilities
- Better emotional regulation
- Opportunity to create new healthy thinking patterns
How Neuroplasticity Takes Place
An adult usually has 7,500 synapses per neuron. This is half the number compared to younger children. As someone gains new experiences, some of the connections are just improved while others are removed. This process is called synaptic pruning. The brain can develop new connections and prune away weak ones so that it’s able to adapt to the changing environment.
What is it to you?
Because of the discoveries in neuroplasticity, you can rise above what you’re used to, especially the ones that aren’t good for you. That means that since the brain is plastic (or changing), it can relearn, unlearn, and learn. Imagine if you’re a person with unhealthy thinking patterns that caused you to have eating problems. The root cause of that might be what you experienced in school or at your house while growing up. You never saw yourself as enough or beautiful that you needed to make to do that to cope.
But with neuroplasticity, you don’t have to be stuck. You can change your thought patterns and eventually change your behavioral patterns because the brain does not stop growing in a particular change. It continues to change in response to learning.
Now, are you ready to maximize this ability?
- Traveling: Being in a new environment is good for the brain because it helps in forming dendrites. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go in another side of the world to do that, but going on a weekend trip to a different city gives your brain stimulation.
- Doing mnemonic techniques: Doing memory training promotes connectivity in the brain and slows down memory loss that comes through aging.
- Learning a musical instrument: Brain scans appeared and showed that learning to play a new instrument causes brain growth.
- Learning a new language: Studying a new language positively affects cognitive abilities, reading, and verbal fluency.
- Exercising: Exercise helps in preventing neuron losses in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory.
- Mindfulness: Practicing Mindfulness benefits cognitive functions such as focus and regaining focus. The more discipline you are doing mindfulness, the more you’ll increase your focus and concentration throughout your day. Furthermore, practicing mindfulness helps in regulating emotions and mood. Because you can step back when you are experiencing difficult emotions and then identify negative thought patterns. From research, they found out that mindfulness promotes positive changes in neural pathways involved in focus, stress, mood, memory and attention. In addition, they found out that there’s an increased grey matter in the hippocampus, which controls focus and memory control and less grey matter in the amygdala, which is associated with fear, anxiety, and fight or flight response.
- Creating artwork: Based on the research of a 10-week art course, it showed enhanced connectivity in the brain area that’s called default mode network. This region plays a role in mental processes such as empathy, introspection, and memory. Engaging in Art also improves the neural pathway for attention and focus.
- Dancing: A research also found that it also increases neural connectivity that pushes a person to integrate several functions all at once: emotional, kinesthetic, rational, and musical.
- Sleeping: A research from NYU stated that sleeping helps in learning retention.
- Non-dominant hand exercises: Using the non-dominant hand also increases neural pathways. You can do it in your everyday routine like brushing your teeth, texting, holding/grabbing something. A study also showed that one benefit of doing this is enhanced emotional health.
The term neuroplasticity might be unfamiliar, or you might’ve heard about it before. It could be a complex concept. But one thing is for sure, because of neuroplasticity, the brain can grow, and different thinking patterns could change that can help you regulate your emotions and have better cognitive abilities. If you feel like you are stuck or are not growing, touch your head and remember that you have a brain, which is the answer to unstuck.