Guest contribution from Dr. Thara Vayali
Resilience is the ability to experience discomfort, recover, adapt and grow from challenge. This does not mean enduring or subjecting oneself to repeated discomfort for the sake of “being resilient”. To strengthen our resilience muscle is to build a buffer between what is happening and how we deal with it.
There are many ways to activate and strengthen the resilience muscle. Variety is crucial: no single direction or exercise will create an agile, responsive muscle. The key is to begin with the basics. A coach would generally recommend becoming adept at the basic skills before you try any fancy moves. Daily training may seem repetitive or minimal compared to facing overwhelming or exciting challenges, but it is the only way to prepare for those challenges. The same goes for resilience.
The primary tool for resilience-building is mindfulness. It has been shown that our ability to navigate discomfort begins quietly, in a daily practice that refines our awareness, focus and self-care. Ten minutes of quiet, focused breathing with the intent of observing and allowing sensation to pass is the practice. The best athletes know that persistent, daily practice is what gives them the framework to excel.
Let’s begin with three common situations where mindfulness can be harnessed.
Notice the auto-pilot moments
Auto-pilot exists to save our brains from consciously choosing every daily decision. Unfortunately, auto-pilot can also drive our actions, reactions, desires and values. As you find 10 minutes of daily mindfulness, begin to notice how your auto-pilot impacts your thoughts, interactions and relationships. The goal is simply to notice, as self-awareness is a primary exercise for resilience-building.
Survival of the focused
Focus may be our most valued resource. Neurologically, the best practice is to observe when, where and why your attention drifts. “Task-switching” gobbles up our energy through notifications, emails, open-door policies and a fear-of-missing-out, along with the urge to always be “doing” something rather than sitting still. Sitting still is a skill. Build a schedule that allows you to have one hour of single-task focus time – with no communication devices or interruptions. Notice how that feels. Ten minutes of daily mindfulness is the very beginning of this practice.
Rest for the weary
Getting through challenges does not mean losing sleep, though somehow we have associated the two. Rest allows us to think more clearly, and quality sleep tempers our reaction time and biases. Some of the major obstacles to our sleep are staying up past our natural sleep time, thinking about difficult situations close to bed time, and having screens too close for too long. Think about where and when you allow phones, computers and in-depth processing in your space – do you have any boundaries? If not, choose times and places where these are off limits in your home and at work. In the hour before bed, avoid screens, leave behind the big thoughts, and take the time for a mindfulness practice before bed.
Consider this your resilience physiotherapy. Practice diligently and you will see a change in how you experience situations and how you respond to and grow from them.
Dr. Thara Vayali is a Vancouver-based naturopathic doctor and yoga teacher, UBC alum and popular guest contributor to our Healthy UBC newsletter who specializes in intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. For more information about Thara, visit www.tharavayali.ca
Photo Credit: Student Communications & UBC Thrive