How to become more resilient
By Juliana Kassianos, Transformational Fertility Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of The School of Fertility
From a young age we hope and expect to live a ‘fairy-tale’ notion of life – one where we live happily ever after. We map out a timeline of our lives, which tends to go something along the lines of that old playground rhyme we used to sing: 'First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes baby in a baby carriage'. But as we grow older, we start to learn the hard truth that life doesn’t always go to plan.
Although we don’t always have control over what happens in our lives, we can choose how we respond and move forward. It’s our ability to work through the tough times that makes us grow stronger not only in person, but in our relationships too.
This soldier on attitude requires a certain amount of resilience, which isn’t something we’re born with, it’s something we develop and nurture throughout our lives. We can do this by putting into practice what I call the three A’s: Acceptance, Awareness and Action.
It’s important we accept early on that life doesn’t always play fair. Plans we make might not always work out the way we thought they would and life itself may be a little harder than we’d imagined it to be.
There are bound to be some bumps, turns and dark tunnels in the road ahead of us. By accepting this, it gives us the readiness and willpower to work through any obstacles that come our way, making sure that we get to our desired destination, no matter how hard it may be or how long it may take.
When we hit these obstacles it can feel like the breaks are being slammed on our life. We’ve suddenly stalled, whilst everyone else appears to be happily moving forward, leaving us behind feeling scared, lost and all alone. A feeling you might be all too familiar with if you’re struggling to conceive.
As a form of control, we tend to react by either suppressing our thoughts, feelings and emotions or resisting them, but this only makes their power over us grow stronger. As Shinzen Young formulated ‘Suffering = Pain x Resistance’; the more we resist pain, the more we suffer. Think of it like quicksand, the more you struggle, the faster you sink. But if you stop struggling, it gives you more time to find a way to free yourself.
Embracing the struggle isn’t easy; it’s something we have to make a conscious decision to do. To choose to accept obstacles we come across as part of our journey, to embrace them and believe in our ability to work through them. To know in advance that’s it’s not necessarily going to be an easy ride, but confidently say nonetheless “I’ve got this”.
When we get knocked down, it’s tempting to hide under the duvet and shut-ourselves out from the world or go about our day pretending we’re fine, as though nothing’s happened. To be able to pick ourselves up, we need to be completely honest with ourselves, acknowledge that there’s something we need to work on and have a sense of self-compassion. To not beat ourselves up about how we’re feeling. To realise it’s okay not to be okay. To admit to ourselves: “I’m not coping”, “I’m anxious” or “I’m lost”.
Certain life events such as miscarriage, termination or still birth can have such a traumatic impact on us mentally, physically and socially, that they can be life-changing. As a result, we can’t necessarily bounce back to who we were before, but we can grow through what we go through and use the experience to gain a better understanding of ourselves.
If we suppress our thoughts, feelings, emotions, it may help us to get through each day, but it’s not going to help us heal. It’s putting a plaster over the wound. In order to heal the wound and recover, we need to acknowledge and address all that we’re suppressing either consciously or subconsciously.
In order to reflect, it may be helpful to start writing in a journal every day. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a powerful tool to help develop and increase your self-awareness. To get into the habit, schedule a time in your day to do so, such as first thing in the morning or before you go to bed. Keep your journal and pen on your bedside table to act as a daily reminder, so you don’t forget to fill it in.
Your emotions may be more deeply-rooted, so much so that you might not even be aware of their existence. One way to unearth them is to see a therapist like me, who can help work through past events, challenge negative beliefs and reframe the way you think, enabling you to recover quickly and move forward with your life. It may make you feel vulnerable, but over time it can help you develop inner strength as you learn to take control of your mind and the thoughts that you have.
Why is this important? Negative thoughts can lead to self-destructive behaviour, which get in the way of you accomplishing what you really desire in life, whilst positive thoughts lead to you making healthier choices in life and having healthier relationships with yourself and others. With greater self-awareness and the right mindset, you can start to create a new empowering plan to help get you back on track. With a direction in mind, focus and intention, you can then take positive action towards achieving what you want.
A lot of the time we let our feelings dictate our actions. For example, if you’re down in the dumps, you might not feel like getting up in the morning. Try instead acting in a way that is consistent with how you want to be. Easier said than done right? Mel Robbins has a useful five second rule that can help you take action when you don’t want to. Instead of hitting the snooze button, count backwards from five to one and launch yourself out of bed, just like a rocket launching into space. It may sound stupidly simple, but trust me it works, at least give it a go.
Every day do something, however small it may be, to help you move forward. This may be just getting out of your pyjamas, going for a walk in nature or cooking a nourishing meal. It’s all about the little wins you can make throughout your day. To make time for the things that make you feel good inside, stronger in person and happier with your life. Here are 10 small wins to put into action.
1. KEEP PHYSICALLY ACTIVE
Try to schedule at least 40 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine. This could be walking to work, going for a swim or practicing yoga. When you exercise you release endorphins, these are happy hormones that may you feel good. Moderate movement can also reduce stress and tension held in the body and has been shown to help improve the quality of your sleep.
2. HAVE A HEALTHY BALANCED DIET
It’s important that you fuel your body and provide it with the nutrients it needs, to make sure you have sustained energy throughout the day and the nourishment your body needs to work optimally. It also helps to create a nourishing environment for eggs or sperm to mature, conception to take place and a baby to grow. Why not start by simply reducing the amount of processed food you eat, whilst increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.
3. MASTER YOUR BREATHING
Learning how to consciously control your breathing can enable you to experience both physical and mental health benefits. Just as your breath is in influenced by your thoughts and emotions, your thoughts and emotions are in influenced by your breath. For example, when you’re anxious, worried and upset, your breathing becomes faster. If you then consciously slow your breathing down to a gentle wave-like pattern, you can soothe your nerves, settle your thoughts and calm yourself down. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique whereby you breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts and breathe out for eight counts.
4. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
You need sleep to be able to restore your energy reserves, to allow your whole body to repair and rejuvenate, as well as enhance your quality of life. Take note that if you’re trying to conceive, research indicates you’ve got more of a chance if you have seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Try to practice regular rhythms of sleep, by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
5. PRACTICE DAILY MEDITATION
Meditation is a mental exercise where you practice focussing your attention on one point of reference at a time, e.g. breathing, movement or attention itself, to increase awareness of the present moment, quieten the mind and bring you into a calm state. The Headspace App provides simple guided meditations.
6. PRACTICE FORGIVENESS
Learn to practice forgiveness, whether it is forgiving yourself or others. It doesn’t mean you condone your own actions or that of others, it means that you learn to let go and free yourself from feelings such as anger, hatred and resentment, which can otherwise make you bitter and self-destructive in your behaviour towards yourself and others.
7. HAVE AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Gratitude is an appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to you. Research supports an association between feelings of gratitude and our overall sense of wellbeing. It can also help you regain a sense of perspective, especially when all your focus is on what you want and don’t currently have. Try keeping a gratitude journal where you write down three things your grateful for each day.
8. PRACTICE SELF-CARE
Do you feel you’re body doesn’t deserve to be looked after? Perhaps it’s failed you in some way. Self-care is about nurturing the relationship you have with yourself, making sure that you actively take care of yourself and give yourself permission to do so. When was the last time you gave yourself a facial or paid to have a massage?
9. EMBRACE YOUR FEARS
Fear is that unpleasant emotion you get when you’re afraid or worried you’re in danger, or that you might experience pain or loss from something that is happening or might happen. Try to embrace your fears and understand what the driving force is behind them. That way they’ll become less scary and you’re more likely to overcome them.
10. LIVE IN THE MOMENT
By practicing mindfulness, you can change the hardwiring of your brain, enabling you to spend more time truly living in the moment, create new healthy habits to live by, make better choices and grow into the highest version of yourself. We can practice mindfulness by meditating or by bringing mindfulness awareness to everyday activities, like washing our face, eating breakfast or walking to work.
Article published in Fertility Road magazine, p38-41, May/June 2018