With all of the recent super-hero movies, many of us may have identified at one time or another with one of the characters. Maybe we would love to have the engineering ability of Iron Man, the super-strength of Captain America, or maybe even the ability to throw Thor’s hammer. However, while we may hope to identify with all of the super-powers, we may most often identify with Bruce Banner, the Hulk. Bruce Banner is always combating the “stress monster” that comes about when his anger gets the best of him. He manages to keep it all in check sometimes, but when he loses control, he transforms into the Hulk and can no longer think rationally about his decisions. Does this sound familiar when stress and anger get the best of you?
While we may not transform into the Hulk, stress can cause mental, emotional, and physical problems when we experience it long term. So, how can we keep our inner Hulk in check? Bruce Banner is very aware of his heart rate, breathing patterns, and how his body specifically responds to stress. All of these things are key to managing our own stress when life throws us curve balls. Self-awareness or knowing how our bodies individually respond to stress is the key to managing it. Next, once we recognize these heightened types of mental, emotional, or physical patterns in ourselves… stop… and BREATHE. Breathe deeply from your belly. Imagine how a baby breathes when it is sleeping- its belly, not its chest, rises and falls. Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing can help slow our heart rate and bring our other physiological symptoms back to manageable levels. Taking time each day to breathe deeply for 5-10 minutes, and it will make a big difference when the stress monster creeps up in the day.
When things in life get tough, what do you do? Just keep swimming! Through life’s challenges I often hear the voice of Dory from Disney’s Finding Nemo singing, “Just keep swimming, swimming…What do we do we swim, swim, swim,…” Dory is the voice of resiliency in my life!
Resiliency is one’s ability to roll with the punches. When stress, adversity, or trauma strike, one with resiliency is able to experience anger, grief, and pain, but they are still able to keep functioning both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Resiliency does not mean ignoring your emotions but rather acknowledging them and gaining the ability to control your emotions, not allowing them to control you. The great thing is that even if we find that our ability to bounce back and keep swimming has been lacking in the past, resiliency is a skill that we can practice and strengthen. So how do you strengthen resiliency? Our resiliency curriculum, Back on Track*, suggests 6 ways to help you develop your resiliency skill.
· Get Connected – Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with support and acceptance through the good times and the bad.
· Make Every Day Meaningful – Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
· Learn From Experience – Think back on how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider skills and strategies that helped you through rough times before.
· Remain Hopeful – You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
· Take Care of Yourself – Tend to your own needs and feelings, both physically and emotionally.
· Be Proactive – Don’t ignore your problems or try to wish them away. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action.
Practicing resiliency each day can strengthen your ability to keep swimming through life’s small struggles and large stressors. In challenging times, my inner Dory gets fainter, but I work to strengthen that voice, to strengthen my resiliency. Through getting connected, making each day meaningful, learning from your experiences, remaining hopeful, taking care of yourself, and being proactive you can keep swimming and moving forward in life.
-Bethany McNeely, staff therapist
*Back on Track, written by Mary Ortwein, Sharon Bryant, and Benita Peoples, is a curriculum developed through our work with people in a wide range of life situations to help them bounce back by being real, relaxed, responsible, and resilient.
I’ve heard it said that a person can tell where another’s priorities lie by looking at his or her calendar and checkbook. I agree, but a blanket statement such as this can be discouraging in situations where there is little we can do to change our current circumstances. For example, if my calendar reflects weekend visits and my checkbook reflects alimony, my priority is likely seeing my children (though this doesn’t make my situation any easier to deal with). In reality, not many of us have the option of doing first what we value most. So, what can you do when you find yourself in the midst of a situation that requires a lot of your mental, emotional, or perhaps even financial capacity? Self-care.
Self-care is tending to your personal health—emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually—in order to improve your well-being, regardless of your circumstances. Self-care is paying attention to your body, mind, and soul, and taking action to guard against or prevent stress and worry from building up in your life. Here are some self-care tips to consider:
1. Exercise and watch your diet. If you are consistently tired and lacking energy, consider what you are eating that may be contributing to your lethargy. For example, too much sugar or carbohydrates may leave you feeling sluggish, whereas incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein sources into your diet may boost your energy level. Or, going for a relaxing walk or a jog after a long day may be enough to release endorphins and increase dopamine levels, which can lead to your feeling more optimistic and energetic.
2. Pick up a hobby, join a group, or recreational sport. Add something to your schedule that you would enjoy doing, which would break up your normal routine. Perhaps you always wanted to take a pottery class or a cooking class?! Maybe you would just like to get a group together to play pick-up basketball in your neighborhood or at the local YMCA. Whatever you decide to do, it needs to be good for your mind and soul. In other words, make sure it’s a stress reliever for you!
3. Rest and relax. Maybe all you want is to be by yourself for one hour a week! As in all self-care endeavors, carve out the time to do so. Make arrangements for someone to watch the kids for an hour, or finish up all your paperwork before you leave for the day. Then, once you’re alone, leave your to-do list and other menial tasks behind. Take a nap, read a book, pray, enjoy some tea on your porch, or learn a deep breathing exercise:
We all have obligations and responsibilities, time pressures and scheduling conflicts. But among those responsibilities is self-care, not for ourselves’ sake as an end, but for the sake of our relationship with others. We cannot be our best in relationship to those around us if we have not first kept our own health in check. Your heart, mind, body and soul are God’s gift to you. There will never be another like you, nor will anyone else’s life influence others the way yours does. With this in mind, please…take care.
-Kensi Duszynski, staff therapist