Guest Contribution from Dr. Thara Vayali
Stress burnout occurs when coping mechanisms have been tapped for too long or when rejuvenating resources are lacking. We often react by either collapsing with fatigue on downtime, or else veering away from challenging situations. “Why was I able to handle the same stressors X years ago?” or “Why is this so difficult for me, and not X?” These are often the questions that arise when we are in burnout mode. The resilient nature we may have had earlier in life wanes as we unconsciously slide into lifestyle habits and thought patterns over time. In the classic work-life-play balance, we sometimes forget to tend to what makes us resilient.
Simply put, resilience is the ability to bounce back from damaging or stressful situations. Resilience is not a trait, it is the culmination of four habits; each part equally important:
- Sense of Purpose;
- Social Support; and
There is a focus in popular health media on such topics as finding your purpose/passion, discovering the purpose of your life, and uncovering the true meaning of your life. What I am speaking to is distinct from these attempts at purpose building. Putting time and energy toward a singular pressure of THE, YOUR or TRUE purpose is overwhelming, alienating and occasionally misguided. Though it is valuable to sit with your personal philosophy and reflect on humanity’s place in the universe, it is not efficient resilience training.
The fundamental search for resilience is not intended to send anyone into an existential crisis. A sense of purpose within a resilience framework has to do with:
Dropping it: Let go of the idea that there is a better choice and begin to see choices as consequences that we are either willing to work with, or not.
Making it up: Create personalized (as opposed to absolute) reasons for likes/dislikes, actions/inactions, values/ethics.
Working it out: Start with lightweight, high repetitions.Exercise the muscle of self-governance and personal reasoning when making decisions in daily life.
Beneath these actions there are elements of reflection as to why you get up in the morning; beyond finances, beyond obligations, beyond achievement – what drives you? Yes, this is the bigger question – but we do not need to dwell or even search there. It serves us better to focus on accepting and being secure with why & how we’ve chosen the life we already have, and changing it if we choose to.
The Stability Stickie Exercise (10 mins):
This is a what, when, where, why, how activity.
Preparing for your next day each evening, grab a stickie note (or any small piece of paper) and use this as a representation for your sense of purpose for your next 24 hours. It is important to remember, this is not a “To-Do” list for the day. It is a Stability Stickie – a note that reminds you what is important to you. It will change every evening.
It bears repeating that this exercise is not to carve out daily affirmations nor to wonder if there were some absolute reason you exist, but to help you cultivate the ability to wake up each morning and have choice and meaning surrounding your actions.
Choose three main objectives for the next day – Clear and succinct, achievable within the day and relevant to your day’s requirements.
It may be time-engulfing productivity based goals, or it could be something as simple as eat breakfast, read the paper, walk to the beach. Either of these options could exist on a task-oriented or wide-open day. It is based on what you deem to be personally valuable on that day.
What is key here is that your stickie has three achievable goals; No more, no less. Often careers or a course of study require more than three tasks in a day; or days off slip away without feeling rejuvenating. To balance the swinging pendulum of overworked to apathetic, what I recommend is to allow “To-Do” lists to exist elsewhere, as well as putting purposeful energy into choosing personal goals on “task-less” days.
In essence, the Stability Stickie is today’s “Sense-of-Purpose” list. On a “Sense-of-Purpose” list, too many tasks will overwhelm, and too few will foster aimlessness. The goal is to allow you to create meaning each day anew and feel a sense of commitment to achieving those personally chosen goals. Don’t cloud your personal choices with excess to-do’s or dismiss the simpler activities. There is no one judging this list, so pick whichever three achievable goals that are important for you, on that particular day.
The rest of the activity is to further clarify details to help you in your day’s purpose. If the Stability Stickie is new to you, making sure to clarify these details is a crucial part of finding a sense of purpose and stability.
When: When will I put energy toward that objective in the day?
Where: What location will I be in when accomplishing this goal?
Why: What category of life does this goal fall into? What part of your life are you putting energy toward?
How: Does this goal require more time or energy? Reflection or action? Self-directed or interaction with others? Creative or methodical?
Take this list with you everywhere and cross your three goals off within the next 24 hours. At the end of your day, throw the list away. Let it go.
This is for the days when there is so much to do that it feels like nothing gets done. This is for the days when you are so exhausted that you can’t get out of bed. This is for the days in between.
In all cases, the Stability Stickie is a beacon, a guiding light, a preventative habit you can build, so that each day you wake up with a sustainable drive. Resilience is built slowly in complementary layers of strength. Train your body and mind to harness choice whenever possible and accept the consequences of self-governance. Build a strong resilient nature with confidence, support and a sense of purpose.
Previously, we had the expertise of Dr. Geoffrey Soloway as the author of our Mindful Moments column. This new column continues to explore mindfulness through the lens of a new guest contributor, Dr. Thara Vayali.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.