Updated: May 31, 2020
As I write this I was meant to be on a flight to Dubai, travelling with one of my best friends to enjoy a chilled week in the sun before her wedding that is planned for June. In situations like these that are out of our control, it is important to focus on what we can control and just make the best of the situation. Some people, my friend included, may have to postpone their wedding, many people are celebrating birthdays alone and missing family and friends, unfortunately many people are losing their loved ones. I am missing my holiday to Dubai, which isn’t that important in the grand scale of things and I’m lucky to be safe at home with family, making the best of this situation.
I’d like to share some knowledge, tools and strategies with you that can help during these uncertain times to build resilience. We can’t build resilience without going through tough times. That’s when we build our resilience. The good news is everyone can build their resilience. It is important when you see someone going through a struggle or a challenging time, that we support them through it, but we don’t try take the struggle away. It’s important we don’t try fix the problem for them, but we support them to solve the problem themselves.
I think the story of the butterfly struggle captures resilience perfectly. Without the struggle of breaking out from the cocoon i.e. someone helps the butterfly escape from the cocoon, the butterfly isn’t strong enough to fly, its wings and body do not develop well enough without the struggle. It’s only from the struggle of wriggling and pushing its way out of the cocoon that the butterfly is strong enough to fly.
It’s not easy to build resilience, it takes practice, many people would love to do one gym session and get a 6 pack, but unfortunately, we all know that’s not enough. It’s the same with building our resilience and learning to choose our mindsets by tapping into our emotions and and managing our thoughts, it takes time and we have to actively work on it.
"We can’t build resilience without going through tough times. The good news is everyone can build their resilience"
If you have a pen and paper handy, write down all the things we can’t control about this situation we are in. Then write down all the things you can control about this situation. If we focus on what we can’t control, this increases the worry, the anxiety and stress we feel. To reduce those worries and anxieties, what we need to do is accept we can’t do anything about the things that are out of our control and focus on what we can control. This helps us to feel calmer, less anxious, and we will achieve even small daily tasks that will help us feel better.
Our mindset is very important to building resilience. When a photographer can’t change a scene, he changes his angle and lens to capture the best of the scene. Similarly, when you can’t change a situation in your life, change your perspective and mindset to get the best out of that situation. Our brains are hardwired to see the negative, we all have a negativity bias from our ancestors from millions of years ago. This means the negative news stories will jump out at us, whereas we have to work harder to look for and find the positives around us.
When we are faced with a danger, like meeting a grizzly bear in Canada, a part of our brain called the Amygdala automatically turns on and activates fight, flight or freeze. This is your body gearing up to protect you. But sometimes the Amygdala triggers when there isn’t a real threat, it’s maybe just a talk you have to do at work, it’s a project your struggling with for school, it’s watching the news about coronavirus. But our amygdala doesn’t know this isn’t life or death, it still reacts in away to protect you, even though sometimes it over-reacts to situations.
When our Amygdala triggers off, it shuts down our Pre-Frontal Cortex, the part of our brain that does the logical thinking and reasoning, where we can tell ourselves ‘everything is ok’. Our Pre-Frontal Cortex actually doesn’t fully develop until our mid 20’s. So there is a scientific reason for the grumpy teenagers who can’t control their emotions. So how do we calm the Amygdala down? We need to change our mindset, we achieve this by learning how to control our emotions and manage our thoughts.
Understanding our emotions can help us when things feel like they are getting out of our control. It is important to note that every single emotion has a positive intention. I don’t like using the terms positive emotions and negative emotions, because some emotions we would call ‘negative’ like anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, are actually there to help us. Imagine coming across a loose grizzly bear in Canada and not having any fear …. It wouldn’t turn out well. Our fear is there to tell us to run away and stay safe.
"Every single emotion has a positive intention"
It is absolutely ok to feel anxious, worried, stressed, angry or bored, during these times, every emotion has its purpose. When emotions start to cause a problem is when we feel anxiety or stress for a few days, a few weeks, about things that aren’t an immediate threat to us and out of our control. We can start to catastrophise and think of the worst-case scenario.
So, the first step to managing our emotions is actually just to name them. When you feel happy or sad or anxious or excited, just name that emotion. “I notice I am feeling anxious.” Rather than bottling your emotions up and ignoring them, accept them and acknowledge them.
When we start thinking about the future, which is very uncertain at the moment, we don’t know how long we will be staying at home for or going back to school/work, it is very easy to start making up different scenarios and stories in our heads which then make us feel worried or upset. In these situations we need to focus on the here and now, focus on the present moment. Right now I am feeling a little anxious, but I’m in a cosy house, surrounded by family, I’m safe, I can hear the birds, and so right now, I’m ok. This helps us to feel calmer and happier.
We need to focus on building more positive emotions and creating an upward spiral rather than a downward spiral of emotions. That might sound a bit hard to do, how do we build positive emotions during coronavirus? People are ill in hospital; people are worried about getting enough protective equipment? But it is important that we make a conscious effort to build our positive emotions for a number of reasons:
Positive emotions help build up and strengthen our immune system, so if we were to get ill our body and immune system can fight off the infection – so with coronavirus around, we obviously want to do everything we can so we don’t catch it, but if we do, we want to have a strong healthy immune system to deal with it.
Positive emotions help to build our resilience so when tough times do happen, we have the internal resources to help us overcome those tough times and bounce back quicker.
Positive emotions are contagious – least that’s one good thing right now that is contagious! Your positive emotions will rub off on other people and in these times, we all need some positivity, we need to still enjoy life and help brighten up someone’s day.
7 Strategies for Building Positive Emotions
Practice Gratitude: There are a variety of gratitude exercises you can pick from – write a letter to someone you are grateful for, make a list of 30 things/people/places you are grateful for. Send a thank you card or postcard to the NHS, or local care home.
What Went Well: Notice the things that went well or you enjoyed throughout your day and these can be very small things, like I finally completed that 1 hour course I’ve been meaning to do, I finished the jigsaw puzzle, I sat outside in the garden, in the sun.
Good Things: Write down 3 good things from your day before you go to sleep or at dinner get your family to all share their 3 good things round the table.
Journaling: Keep a journal and write down your 3 good things, what you are grateful for, what you are learning, what you did with your day, and set small intentions for the next day.
Acts of Kindness: Research shows that helping others can be beneficial to our own mental health. It can reduce stress, improve our emotional wellbeing and even benefit our physical health. What acts of kindness have you noticed recently on the news, in your community, amongst family members or friends? There are so many things you can do to make someone’s day that doesn’t need money, sometimes it’s just picking up the phone, a message, a homemade card, a photo.
Savouring: ‘Remember when we went on that holiday!’. Get out the old photo albums and savour those old memories and stories. This will eventually pass, we don’t know when, but looking forward to finally being able to go out for a drink again, going shopping with your friends, taking that trip, and hopefully we will all appreciate these things a little bit more. A really effective way of savouring is also in the moment you are in, whether it is watching tv, eating chocolate, on the phone to a friend, out for a walk, try to just be in that moment and not worry about tomorrow or yesterday. Just appreciate and enjoy that moment.
Mindfulness / Breathing: Try some mindfulness or breathing. This really works for some people, it’s worth giving it a go if you haven’t tried it before. There’s lots of useful apps, like Calm and Head Space you can try.
When we do something to build positive emotions in other people like acts of kindness, it not only benefits the other person it benefits you too and quite often when someone receives an act of kindness or gratitude letter, that kindness spreads to so many more people like a ripple effect.
Another thing to learn about our emotions is, many people think that an event, situation or challenge they face, has made them feel a certain way. For example, coronavirus is making us all feel anxious, or being stuck in traffic is making us feel frustrated. It isn’t actually the event, challenge or situation that is making us feel that way, it is the thoughts we have about that event or situation, the perception we have, that is causing those feelings.
You can see two people stuck in traffic, one is quite happy the other is annoyed, you can see two people during this epidemic, one is anxious and terrified staying inside, the other feels a sense of purpose and is volunteering to deliver meals to those that are vulnerable and need it. How we think about a situation causes the feelings we have, so if we notice our thoughts and change our mindset, we can also change how we feel.
We all have automatic negative thoughts, that’s part of the negativity bias. We have around 70,000 thoughts a day, most of these we won’t be aware of and happen subconsciously, but similar to our emotions, we need to start noticing our thoughts. Here are some ANT’s people tend to have, ‘I’m rubbish at that’, ‘nothing is ever going to go my way’ ‘I’m going to fail my driving test’, ‘I’ll never get that job promotion’.
For a couple of days, try to notice when you have an ANT and when you have a more helpful thought. Each time you notice those thoughts, take a note of it on a pad of paper. By the end of the day, compare how many ANTS you noticed compared to the helpful thoughts you had. Don’t worry if the ANTS outweigh the helpful thoughts, now that you are aware of your thoughts, you can make an effort to change them.
Not all of our thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves are true. But we tell ourselves so many times that we are rubbish at maths for example, that we start to believe it. Thoughts are not facts and we need to remember that and challenge certain thoughts we have. We shouldn’t believe everything we think and try to keep things in perspective. A very effective strategy for encouraging accurate effective can be found below;
The 5 C’s Technique to More Accurate Thinking:
1. Catch your thought: ‘I’m rubbish at maths, I can’t do it, I never get anything right’
2. Check for ANTS: How accurate and useful is this thought?
3. Collect evidence: Use evidence to support or dispute your thoughts. Be a detective or go on trial. Look for the facts and evidence. ‘I did really well in the fractions unit, I almost got full marks. I’m struggling with division, but I did manage the first topic, I’m just struggling with this topic.
4. Challenge the thought: Based on the facts/evidence collected.
5. Change the thought: Make it more accurate and helpful. ‘Ok, I’m not rubbish at maths, there are lots of topics in maths I’m really good at and I can ask my teacher for more help on this topic’.
Our thoughts affect how we feel and therefore affect the action we take. If we think we are rubbish at maths, we won’t be feeling particularly good about ourselves, so we probably won’t revise for the next test, ‘what’s the point? I’m rubbish and going to fail.’ You don’t ask for help or revise for the test, guess what, you got 2/20. That confirms our belief, but actually… If we think a different way about the situation, ok I’m finding this hard but I’m going to ask my teacher for help before the test, we will feel a bit better in ourselves, we feel like there is something in our control that we can do, and therefore we take action to get help, we then feel better about revising for the test and end up doing better than we expected.
During this pandemic, it can be quite easy to have lots of ANTS going through our head, but we need to try reframe things as much as we can. ‘I’m not stuck at home, I’m safe at home’. Instead of ‘I’m going to get ill’, ‘I’m practising social distancing, I’m washing my hands regularly and this decreases the chance of me getting ill.’ Making sure our thoughts are more accurate will help us to feel better during these times and we can focus on building more positive emotions and changing our mindset. As more of us do this we can create a ripple effect which could spread more kindness and joy to others.
PE Teacher | NLP Practitioner | Positive Psychology Practitioner | Founder of Full Colour Coaching | ICF Accredited Professional Coach | Passionate about Positive Education
Angie has free coaching sessions available to young people thanks to a crowdfunding project. To find out more visit: www.fullcolourcoach.com