Resilience is the alternative to stress response. Learn skills to increase resilience and experience joy rather than feel stress.
How do we strengthen ourselves in ways that enable us to experience challenging situations without experiencing a ‘stress response’?
Consider the joy and openness of a child engaging life. With children we see curiosity, vitality, self-assurance, and ease. As adults we may recapture these feelings when we play with children, connect with the beauty of the night sky, feel the splash of the warm ocean on our ankles, smell night jasmine blooming, or in some other small way connect in a simple conversation with the natural elements of earth.
It is the absence of a kinetic connection with our body and with life, that often results in an ‘authenticity gap’. That is we are not living from our deep centre. Power, clarity, even the strong internal fire of our ‘will’, benefit from a sense of connection with our physical body and with the natural elements.
Most of us have an accumulation of stress, and stress perpetuating habits, which maintain the separation from our body. This contributes to an ‘authenticity gap’, that keeps us from feeling and living with childlike joy and openness.
Deep relaxation breaks the chronic stress pattern. The strategy for increasing our resilience is to insure that deep relaxation follows experiences that are intense and demanding. One common technique to both strengthen our resilience and to release stress is physical exercise. Intense exercise can facilitate deep relaxation. Adaptive stress pushes our limits towards new and greater capacity. Relaxing after engaging in this strengthening behaviour builds resilience.
Creative ‘play’ goes a long way towards releasing stress. Our intellect acknowledges that most of life is outside our personal control. Still, the mind and body are often locked in a holding pattern, as if focusing our thoughts narrowly, and holding our digestive tract tight, will somehow keep challenging things from happening. Rather, let us attend to our authentic feelings and our authentic response, to ourselves, and to the situations that arise in our lives.
Releasing attempts at controlling the external environment usually takes discipline. Meditation and breath work help many. Living with ‘questions’, and conscious inquiry or curiosity, also helps. For example, the question, “I wonder how I get this book published?” is a more spacious stance than “I have no idea how to do this and I’m stuck”.
We need to actively cultivate relaxation, vitality and meaning. Many of our habits take us away from rest and authenticity. Identifying small shifts and acting on them can profoundly impact our health, contentment, and resilience.
Action – Here are a few ideas
Shift to Connection and Wonder
Sit quietly, connect. Feel the physical body; feet, legs, hips, belly, chest, arms, neck, and head. Notice the areas that are easy to connect with and notice the areas that are harder to feel. Is there tension in any part of the body? If so, breathe into the area. Consider accepting that your mind may not know everything. Accept that parts of life are not in our control.
Shift into wondering about ways of seeing yourself, life, this moment, and the future. Wonder and imagine. Look at a flower or mountain, or anything in nature, letting the mind shift from ‘naming’, to wonder and joy.
Notice how the body and mind feel now. Do you feel that you have more space? Can you feel openness where there was contraction? Spend time each day, wondering.
Play . . .
Remember what it felt like to play as a child. Go back to a time of innocence and ease. Let the feeling of that experience permeate the body. While still feeling this way, wonder what activities you might add to your life, that will bring back some of the authentic innocent joy of childhood. Note the activities, and weave these lighter moments into the fabric of daily life.
Relax . . .
Within the constraints of your current fitness, try pushing the boundaries once or twice a week. Then rest deeply after exerting yourself. The push alone is not sufficient to adjust chronic stress patterns. Push without recovery time, may perpetuate, or add to, the stress load. So push, then engage in some form of deep rest. Let yourself be in this state of rest and spacious openness. We want to increase the amount of time each day that we are comfortable feeling deeply relaxed.
Given the demands on our lives, this call to wonder, play, and deep rest may be one of the most challenging tasks. Over time, we will increase our ability to maintain a feeling of deep peace and relaxation, even when presented with highly charged situations.