In this article we take a look at what you can do to create long-term mental resilience and lead a happier and more fulfilled life. Mental resilience reduces the low level worry and anxiety that is experienced by so many which in turn can distract us from being aware of our surroundings and the situations that develop around us which highlights its relevance to self-protection.
1. Me Time.
It is so easy to get embroiled with work, home chores, and family responsibilities among many other activities that you find yourself working completely for the benefit of others. While working for others can hold its own value, it is important to carve out a little slot for you. Me Time doesn’t have to be a long period of time and can be as simple as reading a book or going for a walk. This allows your mind time to relax and escape and gives you space to think. Don’t be put off by the rain or freezing conditions, as the saying by Alfred Wainwright goes, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. This relaxation and focus on something simpler and more enjoyable can often lead to your mind finding solutions to long standing problems, allow you to see that which is most important in life and, in turn, strengthening your mental resilience.
Many people try and manufacture or engineer quality time. We can feel that we are too busy to allocate more than this set time to their loved ones. Forcing quality time invariably results in increased stress due the pressure put on all involved for it to be ‘quality’. Quality time rarely happens at these contrived events. Rather, quality time is something that happens when you are least expecting it and when you are completely comfortable in the presence of the other person and they in yours. It follows therefore that spending time with your loved ones will result in quality time naturally occurring, unforced and wonderful.
3. Be Fully Involved in the Moment.
This leads on nicely from the last tip. Mental resilience is often undermined by feelings of worthlessness, disappointment in the past and/ or worries for the future. Rugby player Jonny Wilkinson suffered mental health problems after being plagued with injury after the highs of World Cup glory. He found that grounding himself in the moment through what he refers to as ‘deep engagement’. Deep Engagement highlights neither worrying about the past or the future and was invaluable to Wilkinson’s recovery. Having the presence of mind to realise that you are experiencing something special at the time you are experiencing it is a fantastic ability to nurture but difficult to perfect. Working towards this skill provides clearer memories in the future and magical, fully realised experiences in the present. When fully involved in every moment without distraction, you will give your best and receive the most from life.
There will, of course, be challenges along the way. A key component in your mental resilience tool kit, is how to deal with these challenges. If these events occur with no warning, they have limited impact on fear and anxiety because you are already dealing with the problem; you are in action. Fear and anxiety come when you have notice of a pending stressor. This can be fear of anything from a big presentation to an attack on your way home from work. The fear of any situation can be alleviated through visualisation. For visualisation to be effective you need an idea of some solutions to the problem that concerns you. You must also be able to construct a mental scenario which involves as many different senses as possible. While sitting comfortably, close your eyes and run the scenario with as much detail as you can. If you are concerned about being attacked, think about the darkness of where an attack might occur. Consider the sound of the crack of branches under foot, the smell of damp earth and the cool temperature of the night. As you play the scenario through, react to the attackers expected actions. Then allow your mind to create the unexpected attacker actions. This creation of alternative possibilities will require further thought as to what actions you should take. However, the more alternatives that you find solutions for, the less the scenario will hold uncertainty and fear. These pre-thought decisions will also allow for quicker reaction in the moment. This is due to the fact that while you may be experiencing the situation for the first time, your brain has experienced the event before, and possibly several times before. The reduced stress in the moment also allows for conscious and unconscious cognitive flow. This flow gives you access to the actions you have previously decided upon and dramatically increases the chance of success.
Both the mental and physical health benefits of keeping physically fit are well-documented. Despite this, keeping fit is often the first thing to go when time is at a premium. Taking the time to find something physical that you enjoy will significantly improve your life and work. Exercise enhances your mental resilience by increasing energy levels, releasing endorphins and oxygenating blood. This all contributes to making you feel better, improving your focus and increasing your productivity.
We all know how terrible we feel after a bad night’s sleep. The effects, however, go much deeper than feeling drowsy and have a significant effect on our mental resilience. After going to the gym, sleep is often the second casualty when life gets busy. Dr Matthew Walker in his book ‘Why We Sleep’ reveals that we all need between seven and nine hours sleep opportunity every night. Many people who feel that they can run on less than this are often just used to chronic sleep deprivation. The book also details the link between a lack of sleep and many serious illnesses from dementia to cancer. Sleep is significantly affected by alcohol intake and other pre-bedtime activities such as emailing and use of interactive screens. It is also worth noting that sleep cannot be ‘banked’. If you have a bad night’s sleep one night, having a lie in the next morning doesn’t counteract the deficit. Despite the fact that we can feel better after a lie in, the damage is already done.
The act of helping others not only holds value for those that are being helped but also builds friendships and provides a great source of self-worth. Self-worth is a key component of mental resilience. Seeing ourselves in a positive light, as good people, gives us the power to brush off negative attacks. It also supports the wider society and increases the quality of life for us all. There are many and varied opportunities to volunteer and you don’t need to change the world on your own. Simply positively contributing to someone else’s life can have a profound effect on them.
8. Leave your Comfort Zone.
Whether it’s standing in cold shower for 30 seconds every morning, taking a swim in a cold sea (particularly in the British Isles!), living outside for a week away from your creature comforts, or even completing an ultra-marathon, the benefits of getting outside your Comfort Zone are far reaching. Not only do you appreciate what you’ve got when you return, you also have a great sense of accomplishment. Scott Carney investigates the origins of these benefits in his book ‘What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, And Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength’. He also studies the Wim Hof Method of breathing and cold emersion. While this is an extreme example, it does seem to have significant results for many that try it. Professor Giovanna Mallucci, the head of the UK Dementia Research Institute’s Centre at Cambridge University, highlighted that regular cold water swimming which has been found to release a protein in to the blood that can protect the brain from degenerative diseases like dementia, ‘could point researchers towards new drug treatments which may help hold dementia at bay’. It must be emphasised that cold water immersion can be dangerous. It quickly raises the heart rate and blood pressure which can cause heart attacks. In addition, as anyone who has been standing in the shower when it goes cold will know, creates a grasp reflex which could result in inhaling water and drowning, so take it easy if you’re going to try this.
9. Have a plan.
Often when I read articles like this, I wonder how on earth I will fit it all in. The key is planning. Having a plan reduces the worry and uncertainty of whether you will be able to fit everything in. Worry just acts to distract your mind. You are, therefore, less likely to get as much done as you could without having the devil of worry continually whispering negativity into your ear. To free up time, you could try doubling up elements of this list. Part of your ‘Me Time’ could be doing something active like going for a long walk or practicing a martial art. General planning ahead means that less time is wasted wondering what to do next. As the saying goes, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person.’ This is because a busy person will have to plan it into their schedule, and it will get allocated a specific slot. I often find that I get more peripheral work done when I am busy than when I have more spare time.
10. Don’t compare yourself with others.
There was a two year period when I was working away from home during the week; I was missing my wife and the kids and at the weekend it was super-high pressure for everything to be perfect. While I was on this posting, I was working with a person who had less experience than me, who did less work than me and, I felt, was less competent than me, yet was more senior, earned more money, and went home to see his wife and family every night in their massive farmhouse that they were doing up. I tried my best not to be jealous, but it was very hard. Towards the end of my posting his wife was diagnosed with cancer and I remember counting my blessings. It is very difficult not to compare ourselves with others, it gives us a social view of how we are doing in life but almost always you don’t know the whole story. Most people are good at highlighting how great their life is, how awesome they are at their job and how great at remote learning with their kids they have been during lockdown, and social media is made for their bragging! It’s easy to see all of the good bits from other people’s lives and feel that yours doesn’t even come close, but remember that you don’t see the bits where their kids are screaming down the house because they don’t want to get in the bath or they’ve got money troubles or any one of a million different things that happen to you no matter how rich, successful or energetic you might be. You can only compare yourself with your former self, strive to be better than yesterday even if it is only in one aspect of your life. When you have these small successes, make sure you give yourself a pat on the back and don’t feel that this is somehow less valuable because you are praising yourself. In the game of life, we are only really competing with ourselves.
Stay safe, be kind and be happy.