With the explosion in noise around the concepts of resilience and well-being, one would be forgiven for thinking these were new ideas belonging to the 21st century. In fact, in both Roman and Greek mythology, Hygieia was the goddess of health. Spa treatments were the brainchild of the ancient civilisations, albeit perhaps not quite marketed in the same fashion as today’s offerings!
There is little doubt though that the challenges we are faced with these days require us to regulate ourselves in ways that support our ability to cope. We need to cope with the changing context around us along with an ‘always on’ culture. It is this ability to self-regulate which can determine how well we manage in a society which moves at a constant fast pace.
The need to log out, sign off, pause and re-charge are activities we associate with our electronic equipment. However, the most important piece of equipment we own is the human body with its intricate engineering which requires nurturing and maintenance. It is vital that we know when to hit the pause and log out buttons in our busy lives as we allow time for rest and recreation, silence and sleep, daydreaming and downtime.
The correlation between mental and physical well-being is now well established. A healthy body will support a healthy mind and vice versa. For many of us the simple practice of running, walking, cycling, swimming – whatever physical exercise is your preference – offers a vital break from the daily routine of work. Such physical exercise will release natural chemicals (endorphins) into our systems which can trigger a positive feeling in the body. At its simplest this is why we often feel more alive after exercise whereby we are energised and upbeat.
Of course, the challenge very often can be, particularly at the end of a hard day, to find the motivation to engage in physical exercise when it is easier to hit the couch. This is where the idea of simply getting started is so important allowing yourself to build up, over time, to a higher level of effort and output. Community based initiatives such as ‘Couch to 5K’ over a period of weeks are a great support in this regard to help us begin and, hopefully, commit to regular exercise.
Specific mental health initiatives are, of course, just as vital. The quotidian pressure of everyday life takes its toll on our capacity to maintain balance and perspective. Many organisations are now trying to support their employees with accessible initiatives in what is termed ‘workplace wellness’. These can range from efforts to create a productive environment where diversity is encouraged, where people are listened to and allowed to speak up, where there are clear policies in place for dealing with stress, bullying, discrimination etc. and where there are pathways for progression within the organisation and financial support towards continued professional education.
Knowing that there is a structured, non-judgemental support system that can be accessed in time of need, whether personal or professional in nature, is a source of real comfort to people. Having a support route open to traverse, at a time of one’s choosing, can be a significant contributor to successfully managing an issue before it becomes a disabling factor in someone’s life.
Of course, not all companies can or do provide such support. Many people will rely on family or friends to provide the support base when needed and it is important that we nurture these relationships in good times so that they can be called upon in times of need. We should try to recognise the good in our lives, be grateful for it and acknowledge those people closest to us who provide our solid base.
Many people practice initiatives such as mindfulness or journaling to help them manage stress. Journaling simply involves keeping a diary (record) that explores thoughts and feelings associated with the events in your life. It allows us process an event, clarify how it has impacted us and help us come to terms with this impact, particularly with regard to more emotionally driven outcomes. Scientific research shows that journaling can counteract many of the negative impacts of stress.
Mindfulness has a similar impact insofar as it is defined as purposefully bringing our attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. Again, it is scientifically shown to reduce stress and anxiety by maintaining a focus on the here and now and what is actually happening as opposed to worrying unduly about events that may never take place.
Finally, a few thoughts on resilience. In the old days, people talked of someone being ‘a survivor’, whereby they had the ability to keep on going. There was an implicit sense in this of an individual who, no matter what came their way, would see it through and emerge on the far side. The challenges cited above around 21st century living with its relentless pace have given rise to a concept of resilience as a pre-requisite to survival in this modern world. We define it as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. We call it out as being a necessity in many job ads, we admire it in those who are deemed to have best weathered a particular storm, we aspire to have it, show it and practice it.
My sense is we need to take the pressure off ourselves in expecting too much from ourselves by way of resilience. Of course, we have to learn to cope and we have to move through situations to the far side at some point. But we need to be allowed to falter, to go down the wrong path, to bend, to react emotionally as opposed to cognitively in circumstances where our reactions are not always influenced by prior experience, or indeed, even at times when they are.
We are human and will, on occasion, react accordingly in that flawed human fashion. The learning in each experience, be it new or repeated, is one of the main contributors to build our self-awareness thereby facilitating a capacity for resilience. Knowing that we have come through a challenge before or believing that we can come through a new challenge will sustain us in times of adversity, as will the benefits accrued from physical and mental well-being as discussed above.
If you would like to hear more from us, why not try our October Podcast: ‘Looking for a fresh perspective?’
Eadine Hickey and Gerry Prizeman