The Science of Resilience | 5 ways to become more resilient

Did you ever wonder why some people seem to be so resilient despite what life has thrown their way, where others seem to have great difficulty dealing with even small obstacles? It is absolutely dependent on the environment that we are in as a child and as an adult. However, it is not innate within us, it is something that can be developed and refined as our lives go on. It allows us to deal with adversity, overcome adversity, and be able to live the life that we want to live regardless of our experiences.

Let’s talk about the science of resilience. What are some of the studies and research showing and how can we become more resilient?

1. Changing the narrative. There is something that we all tend to do when something negative happens to us is we replay it over and over again in our minds. This is a concept called rumination, where we just keep reliving whatever experience we have had. We can begin to shift the language that we speak and we can do that through journaling, writing, and speaking.

2. Expressive writing. This has been shown to be very effective in changing and shifting our perspective. You can begin to write and share your deepest thoughts on paper for 20 minutes or so, as opposed to having some kind of structure or writing about something very superficial. This allows you to reflect and shift your thinking about this experience that you have faced. This has been shown to improve overall outlooks on life and helps you become more engaged in life. Even for some of the pessimists that participated in the study, it allowed them to become less depressed and pessimistic.

3. Practicing self-compassion. This is something that we all have such a hard time with but allowing yourself grace and compassion for the deep human emotions that we all experience especially during suffering.

4. Meditation. The practice of mindfulness can be so powerful. The process of rumination causes us to continuously focus and dwell on our past experience, whereas mindfulness, conversely, is focusing on the present moment. It helps you to be truly in the present, knowing what’s happening in your body, and around you. Being able to cultivate a practice of meditation can be so powerful in giving you clarity in your life, allowing you to respond to situations rather than react to them.

5. Cultivating forgiveness. This can be profound in your mental and physical health. You can start by identifying someone that you may need to forgive, and recognizing that person, too, has suffered. That person has made the choice that they’ve made for some particular reason, and that they are human, as well. This practice through research has been profound in once again impacting your overall mental and physical health, and therefore resilience.

So, can resiliency be developed or is it something that you’re born with? I truly believe that our environment, past experiences, and circumstances play into our ability to overcome adversity. However, it is also something that we can consciously bring into our lives and work on and develop so that we can overcome life’s challenges and obstacles. We are always going to have obstacles and they are always going to be there. Expect the unexpected. We know that there’s always going to be change in our lives, so if we can expect that, then we may be more prepared to deal with what might come from it.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule a FREE 15 minute virtual consultation.

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How to Map Your Own Nervous Sytem: The Polyvagal Theory

With anxiety, depression and stress on the climb, have you ever wondered how you can understand your reactions to life’s challenges and stressors? Or maybe you wondered how you can become more resilient? Did you know that you can map your own nervous system? This is such a powerful tool that can help you shift the state of your nervous system to help you feel more mindful, grounded, and joyful during the day, and more importantly during your life. Before we discuss how to map your nervous system, let’s break down the autonomic nervous system a bit more.

The terms “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” are typically what we refer to when discussing this autonomic nervous system. However, there are different aspects of the nervous system referred to as the polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges. The vagus nerve, referred to as the wandering nerve in Latin, is one of the longest nerves and is a cranial nerve that originates in the brainstem and innervates the muscles of the throat, circulation, respiration, digestion and elimination. The vagus nerve is the major constituent of the parasympathetic nervous system and 80 percent of it’s nerve fibers are sensory, which means the feedback is critical for the body’s homeostasis. .Pretty amazing, wouldn’t you say?

When we are in this stressed state or potentially anxious state, then we cannot be curious, or be empathetic at the same time. In addition to not being able to be empathetic or curious, we are also not able to break the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function,  communicating, guiding, and coordinating the functions of the different parts of the brain, back online. This essentially means that we are not able to regulate our attention and focus. Sound familiar?

Three nervous system states

  1. First, our “fight and flight” response is our survival strategy, a response from the sympathetic nervous system. If you were going to run from tiger, for example, you want this response to save your life. When we have a fight response, we can have anger, rage, irritation, and frustration. If we are having a flight response, we can have anxiety, worry, fear, and panic. Physiologically, our blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline increase and it decreases digestion, pain threshold, and immune responses.
  2. Second, we have a “freeze” state, our dorsal vagal state, which is our most primitive pattern, and this is also referred to as our emergency state. This means that we are completely shut down, we can feel hopeless and feel like there’s no way out. We tend to feel depressed, conserve energy, dissociate, feel overwhelmed, and feel like we can’t move forward. Physiologically, our fuel storage and insulin activity increases and our pain thresholds increase.
  3. Lastly, our “rest and digest” is a response of the parasympathetic system, also known as a ventral vagal state. It is our state of safety and homeostasis. If we are in our ventral vagal state, we are grounded, mindful, joyful, curious, empathetic, and compassionate. This is the state of social engagement, where we are connected to ourselves and the world. Physiologically, digestion, resistance to infection, circulation, immune responses, and our ability to connect is improved.

Rather watch or listen than read? Click here

Adapted by Dr Stephen Porges

As humans, we have and will continue to experience all of these states. We may be in a joyful, mindful state and then all of a sudden due to a trigger, be in a really frustrated, possibly angry state, worried about what may happen to then feeling completely shut down. This is human experience. We are going to naturally shift through the states. However, when we stay in this fight or flight or this shut down/freeze state, that is when we begin to have significant physiological effects and also mental/emotional effects. As I mentioned earlier, this could be an emergency state. This can also be a suicidal state, if we are in this shut down mode for too long. If we are in a fight or flight state, we can have constant activation of our stress pathway, also known as the HPA axis, and we can really impact our stress hormones, sex hormones, our thyroid, etc. This stress will have significant inflammation effects on the body as well. All of these states can have considerable effect on our overall health, positive or negative, of course. Also, you can not get well if you are not in your “safe” state. No treatment intervention or professional will help you if you are not safe. This is why it’s really important to identify the states for each of you.

How can you map your nervous system?

  1. Identify each state for you.

The first step is to think of one word that defines each one of these states for you. For example, if you are in your ventral vagal state, this is also called the rest and digest state, you could say that you feel happy, content, joyful. etc.

When you are in your fight or flight state you could use the words worried, stressed, overwhelmed, etc.

In the freeze state you could use the words shut down, numb, hopeless, etc.

The first step is identifying the word that you correlate with each of those three states. This is really important because then you’re able to recognize which state you are in and identify with it quickly. This will allow you to really tune into your body and understand how you feel in that state, so you can help yourself get out of it.

2. Identify your triggers and glimmers.

You’ll want to identify triggers for your fight/flight state as well as your freeze state. These could be things like a fight with your boss, an argument with your spouse, a death of a loved one, if someone cuts you off while driving, etc. It is whatever things that cause you to feel stressed. You want to eventually have at least one trigger, if not many, written down for each of those states.

Glimmers are the things that bring you to that optimal nervous system state. It could be something as simple as petting a dog or something bigger like going on a vacation.

Click here for Deb Dana’s Worksheet to Map Your Nervous System

Summary

Once you can identify what those states are for you, then you can recognize what your triggers and glimmers are for that state. You can really begin to make a profound difference in your nervous system state. You can take ownership of what’s happening to your body, you can tune in to what’s happening, and know how to regulate your emotions and your responses to stress. Ultimately, this is how we can begin to develop resilience. This means being able to have respond appropriately to life’s challenges, go to that fight or flight state for a short period, and then return back to your state of social engagement. That should happen a few times a year not multiple times a day, or every day for that matter. To truly enjoy life, returning to your state of safety where you are mindful, grounded, and joyful, is a practice. It can start with mapping your own nervous system.  

If you need help on your journey, please reach out!

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