This is a guest article by Kerry Cable Dip. Couns
The subject of mental resilience has followed me around since I was a teenager. At 14, struggling with anxiety and eating problems, I started to wonder why some people seem to navigate the traumas of life with skillful agility, whereas others seem to be left clinging on by their fingertips.
It wasn’t until my first year of studying psychotherapy, at the age of 24, that I discovered the term “mental resilience”—which led me to think that many others may have no concept of it. The skills for protecting and nurture our minds are essential, especially for anyone who hopes to pursue meaningful life goals and have successful, healthy relationships with the people around them.
Mental resilience is defined as our ability to adapt in the face of the challenges that life throws at us. Here are 3 great ways to build mental resilience:
1. Inject a daily dose of gratitude
Gratitude has been revealed as one of the key factors in maintaining a healthy mind and improving interpersonal relationships. Robert Emmons, PhD., has conducted a number of studies on how keeping a gratitude journal can have a huge impact on the way people approach their lives.
In 2003, Emmons ran a study that revealed keeping a weekly gratitude journal made a huge difference to how positively the subjects viewed their lives as a whole and how they felt about the upcoming week, compared with others who only recorded neutral, or stressful details. Those who recorded positive events in their gratitude journal were not only more happy with their lives and optimistic about the future, but they also reported far less negative physical symptoms—showing that gratitude can improve your health and how your body feels.
In another study, young people who kept a daily gratitude study reported feeling more focused, alert and determined from day to day. Gratitude practices also made them more generous—they reported more incidents where they helped another person or provided emotional support.
Start a gratitude journal and read it when you need a boost of positivity. You could include anything from being grateful for a sunny morning to giving thanks for a supportive family member or close friend.
2. Improve your sleep hygiene
Without good quality sleep, your brain will struggle to rest and recharge. In an interesting Ted Talk, Jeff Iliff shares new research showing that the only time the brain can actually get rid of waste toxins is when we are asleep.
There are many things that can interfere with your ability to sleep well. The one habit that has made the most difference to me is banning all screens from my bedroom—especially my phone. This allowed my brain to relax and get away from the distractions brought by messages, social media, and notifications. I am more positive and awake in the morning as well as being able to fall asleep with no problem.
Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Charles A. Czeisler revealed how the artificial blue light emitted from electronic devices like cell phones, smartphones and tablets activates arousing neurons within the brain, preventing us from feeling sleepy and diminished the quality of the sleep we achieve.
Put your devices on charge downstairs and give yourself a couple of hours without any phone or tablet in the mornings. This will free your brain capacity to be at it’s most efficient and resilient.
3. Let your mind live in the present
Anxious thoughts and stress are nearly always caused by thinking about something that has already happened in the past or worrying about something that is due to happen in the future. The wise Buddha once said, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
Mindfulness builds mental resilience. It has been an incredible help to me when trying to focus my mind and get off the spinning carousel of anxious thoughts. It is a tool to help you be in the moment without judgement. Mindfulness gives your brain a rest from the strains of our hectic existence. Simply taking a step outside, taking three slow, deep breaths and looking at a beautiful view, can be enough to center your mind.
Another lively and fun way that you could break anxious thoughts is to put on your favourite song, dance around and sing like no one is listening. You will be triggering all sorts of happy chemicals and remembering the words will get you out of your negative train of thought for a few minutes.
These are just a few ideas to get you started on a journey of strengthening your mental resilience muscles and protecting yourself against the damage that can be caused by a build up of negative and anxious interference in your mind. Don’t wait until adversity shows up in your life before wondering how much strain your mental health can take, think ahead and take positive steps to future proof your happiness and wellbeing.
If you have any suggestions for useful tools and tricks that you have come across, I would love to hear about them in the comments! Please let me know if any of these work for you and I’ll be happy to follow up with a part two…
Kerry is a qualified psychotherapist, writer and mental health support worker for The Project, a UK based charity providing support to young people age 13-24 who are struggling with their mental health.
In addition to providing ongoing support for their young clients, Kerry runs a freelance counselling, coaching, and writing business focused around mental health, wellbeing, and helping others to achieve their potential.
Writing has been a constant in her life and it has provided an effective coping strategy during her own struggles with mental health issues, as well as her more recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. These experiences are informing and shaping the writing of her first book that, she hopes, will help others find their own methods of building and nurturing mental resilience.
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