Coping Mechanism,  Depression,  Health and Wellness

How to Manage Stress with Gratitude and Resilience

I just attended a Webinar through BetterHelp.com, which– by the way– is included with your subscription to them, on gratitude and resiliency. It was an enlightening, warm, and inviting experience. There were about 30 or so other people who were in the chat with me participating by answering questions, sharing their stories, their experiences, and their own tactics for dealing with their issues.

Cutting to the chase, if you expect to survive in this tough world, you must have resilience. But similarly, in order to not become jaded, depressed, anxious, unhappy… you must express feelings of gratitude.

I will share some of the things I’ve learned, other things that I’ve researched on the topic, how I will be implementing them in my life, and ways that you can start using resilience and gratitude to combat stress. The short of it and your actionable steps can be quickly accessed in the “Conclusion” located at the bottom of the article. 

Stress

Stress is a common component of being human. It is also a very necessary evil for growth. When you exercise, you break down muscle fibers and rebuild them to make them bigger and more efficient at carrying out physical tasks. As we move forward with technological advancements, stress and stressors are inherently growing. There are environmental, social, and chemical stressors, everyday life and workplace stressors, and more.
And the body then responds– physically, mentally, and chemically– to those stressors. Below is an infographic from livelovefruit.com that shows all of the different organs and organ systems and what problems manifest as a result of chronic stress. Alternatively, here is the link to the American Psychological Association if you would like to read about some of these in detail.

Related image

 

I don’t know if you guys have this problem, but I certainly do. Stress, anxiety, depression all cause gastrointestinal problems for me. A lot the time if something really stressful is happening to me, my stomach will start to hurt and I’ll have to rush to the bathroom. My doctors have just called it IBS, but I’m like… 90% sure that this has everything to do with my stressors.

We are not designed to be stressed for exaggerated periods of time, as the body has mechanisms in place to ensure that after a stressful situation we can again return to a normal state. The body has everything that it needs to do that, but not everything it needs to maintain that for a long period of time. Stress will wreck havoc on your body after prolonged exposure.

OK, so now that we know the basics of stress, how do we fix it???


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Resilience

So, you’ve had a tough childhood and matters regarding your adulthood followed suit. You were abused, you were bullied, you were treated unfairly, and life always seems to find a way to knock you on your ass again right when you’ve got the footing to begin to stand up again. Something bad happens again and you find yourself picking up the pieces and trying to push forward.

That? That is resilience. That is about as natural a biological function as you can get. The human body is programmed to do things that will aid in survival. And doing things that go against that innate urge is a signal that something is wrong.

Resilience — the ability to recover quickly from difficulties; a display of toughness.

You can, however, transcend adversity and build your resilience if you have little to none. You do have the capability to be resilient, even if you are not aware of or don’t believe it.

The Damage Model

On Projectresilience.com, Dr. Steven and Sybil Wolin give us a little information on what they call “the damage model“, pictured above. It is the general idea that what you experience as a child will ultimately negatively shape how you behave as an adult.

Challenge Model Diagram
The Challenge Model

They have proposed that while this “germ-theory-of the-mind” kind of approach has its merits, it is– at its core– lopsided because it ignores the learning and growth that one often experiences during and after dealing with adversity. They call it the “challenge model“.

The challenge model includes the damage model but expands on it by introducing resilience as a core component of what makes up an adult’s ability to still lead amazing lives despite troubles as a child. I mean, troubles are what provide that opportunity to learn, grow, and build resilience.

The Resiliency Mandala
The Seven Resiliencies

The second, third, and fourth innermost circles are not values that we care about, as those are developmental resiliencies from early childhood to adolescence. We want to focus on the outermost circle — the seven major resiliencies.

On this worksheet from cobblearning.net, there is a section that is dedicated to explaining how all of these resiliencies play a huge factor in how to deal with life’s day-to-day challenges.

  1. Insight- The ability to reflect, ask yourself the hard questions, and be honest about the answer. Having insight helps you figure out problems and how to solve them effectively.
  2. Independence – Keeping a healthy distance from people helps you set boundaries and establish things that are needed to do what’s best for you. It helps you to step away from people and situations that are toxic.
  3. Relationships – Finding people with whom you can build a healthy and supportive relationship. Having people you feel connected to can help you feel less alone in the world, and when you have different perspectives, sometimes it can be easier to make a decision.
  4. Initiative – Take control of the problem and try your best to solve it. Become the conductor in your situation and drive it the way you want until you reach the solution.
  5. Creativity – “Using your creativity requires that you use your imagination and resourcefulness to express your feeling, thoughts, and plans in some unique way. Remember, when you make something happen, it shows resiliency or spirit and a positive attitude.”
  6. Humor – The ability to find something (especially yourself) to make light of in your situation.  Humor allows you to recenter through the release of strong emotions and helps you regain the perspective needed to solve a problem.
  7. Morality – Knowing the difference between right and wrong and being able to stand up for yourself, or someone else, when they are unjustly treated.

There is also an accompanying worksheet in which your “hero” uses these resiliencies. I think it’s a good exercise, but I think that writing down how you would use your resiliencies and different situations. It’s a premeditated attack and it’s useful so that you don’t have to think as hard about how to handle tough situations.

On PsychologyToday, where they explain the art of resilience, they say, “It is also possible to be hurt and to rebound at the same time. We human beings are complex enough psychologically to accommodate the two,” Marano says. “What the resilient do is refrain from blaming themselves for what has gone wrong. In the language of psychology, they externalize blame. And they internalize success; they take responsibility for what goes right in their lives.”

Personally, I am done with feeling like a victim of my own circumstances. So, now that I know this, I am going to do what’s called “reframing”.


Reframing, in the world of therapy, essentially means to overwrite your biased thinking into something more beneficial to you.

So, instead of being like me wherein trying to say something nice to yourself you say, “I’m not ugly.” When doing this, say something that is hard to misconstrue. Don’t be vague. “Yeah, well, if you’re not ugly, what are you?” Say something that will make you feel good, “I am beautiful”, I am smart”, “I’m definitely capable”. Solidify those beliefs and get comfortable saying them — that is the point of this exercise.

Even something as basic as, “I like how this shirt looks on me today,” is beneficial.

Be kind to yourself. 

“BUT ALTHIA”, I hear you shout boldly and in no uncertain terms, “IT’S NOT TRUE, ANYWAY. WHY EVEN BOTHER TRYING TO FOOL MYSELF?”

Oh, friend. It doesn’t matter. Remember this: “Thoughts always come before feelings.” In time, you will feel the way you are reprogramming yourself to think. How do you think you even got to the place where you think the way you do now? It will all take time to rewrite those automatic thoughts and biases. It’s OK to slip up, sometimes. Just get back to it next time. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself.

You can reframe virtually any problem into an opportunity. That is why they say there is a silver lining behind every cloud. Though, sometimes, while you’re in the downpour it may be hard to see with an untrained eye.

Protective Factors

Come again? Is that like a… type of blood platelet or a thing in math I slept on…?

I am also going to start reciting this mantra, “I am just visiting this feeling. I will not stay here.” Whenever something goes wrong, whenever I’m having a shitty day, whenever I feel like I’ll never get through what I’m going through, I will run back to that mantra and use it to guide my feelings back to a state of calm. Use this in combination with visualization techniques (where you “go to your happy place”) or something called protective factors.

Protective factors are things that make you feel good in stressful situations. They are like your coping mechanisms, remember those? As childwelfare.gov puts it, protective factors “are conditions or attributes (skills, strengths, resources, supports or coping strategies) in individuals, families, communities or the larger society that help people deal more effectively with stressful events and mitigate or eliminate risk in families and communities.”

To add on to our coping mechanisms from before, use: supportive relationships through meaningful connections with friends and family and learn to express yourself and solve problems through open lines of communication that you’ll have established with them. Or even more simple things like going window shopping, taking a bath with candles, your hobbies– anything, really, that will make you happy.

Avoid risk factors like, substance abuse, self-mutilation, delinquency, trouble with law enforcement, and stealing. Unlike protective factors, risk factors lead to much more negative health consequences.

So, whatever protective factors you need in order to help yourself get through those tough times, use them.

Check-In’s

Also, at a minimum of 3 points during your day, check in with yourself. Morning, noon, and night is a good start.  Hell, when you’re feeling something significant, check in with yourself. Ask yourself these three questions as a way to monitor how you feel throughout your days. Reflection is key on your journey to feeling better; it helps you better tune into yourself.

  • How am I feeling?
  • What am I feeling/thinking?
  • Am I telling myself the truth?

The last one is truly not to discredit anyone’s struggles and how they have affected them, as I know there are some truly horrific things that some people have gone through and different things affect different people differently. But typically when people feel terrible, it’s because usually, you’re not telling yourself the truth. For example, “I’m not pretty”, “I’m not thin”, “I’m not smart”, “I can’t accomplish anything”.

  • if you’re stressed, feeling a lack of energy, or otherwise “down”, reach for those resiliencies and protective factors.
  • be intentional in reaching for them, that way you build the muscle memory to pull from these tactics.
  • use your resiliencies and protective factors before they happen or get too bad.
  • focus on your protective factors and reflect on your gratitude (nice segue? oh, thank you 😉 ).

Gratitude
Image result for gratitude quotes

Gratitude is when you express feelings of appreciation and thankfulness for something or someone. The world is filled with so many uncertainties and change that it is vital to just be thankful for things that you can get to experience. Life, food, shelter, whatever little or grand amount of money you have, the people around you, etc.

Gratitude is a facet of positive psychology and very useful in eliciting long-term feelings of well-being. Positive psychology is simply the study of happiness and how to best enrich someone’s life leaving them feeling fulfilled. It is still psychology and still requires science, but plain ol’ psychology focuses mainly on how to diagnose and treat mental illness. Positive psychology is a complement to that.

This article on PsychologyToday cites one study, in particular, that shows proof of how being grateful in one’s life has tangible benefits like improved health. One study found in the Psychosomatic Medicine found that in a group of people with poor cardiovascular health when asked to keep a daily gratitude journal they found interesting results. Participants showed signs of reduced inflammation and increased parasympathetic HRV (heart rate variability). Which, according to EliteHRV, is basically a measure, of sorts, that objectively quantifies your sympathetic (fight-or-flight, response to external/internal stressors) and parasympathetic (digestion, pupil constriction, energy conservation) nervous system health. So, increased HRV — definitely good.

In an American Psychological Association article, they cite other benefits like better mood, higher-quality sleep, more self-efficacy. Additionally, in another article that centers around a study with teens, they assert that it’s also good for developing a sense of personal meaning in life, overall life satisfaction, decreasing negative emotions and depressive symptoms, and increasing personal happiness.

The general idea is that when you focus your attention on things you’re grateful for, you can spend less time on the things you wish you had, wish you were, and be happier with what you have in life and what you are. Simple, right?

Now, how do we incorporate this abstract idea of “being grateful” in our lives? Glad you asked my dear Watson!

Image result for sherlock holmes smoking pipe
I’m sure you’ve conjured up a few ideas in your head when you saw “being grateful”. So, I’ll list a few contemporary ways of being grateful. Of course, our number one thing we want to do, so that it melds in nicely with what we already want to do, is:

Meditation!

Incorporate a few lines in your however-long session of meditation in which you express gratitude for something. Really liked the new episode of Game of Thrones (toooopicaaaaaal)? Say you’re grateful for it and why you’re grateful for it. Did you really appreciate that bomb-ass lasagna your dad/friend/partner made for you the other day? Go’ne ‘head and let the ethos know that they are missing out on that delectable dish that YOU just got to devour.

Image result for shit was good

 

A few other things are starting your day off grateful for something, making gratitude lists in your daily journaling, gratitude post-it notes or letters for other people, create a visual gratitude library/bulletin board/shrine/journal, or sharing your gratitude on social media (if you still use it, I don’t really recommend it, though).

I definitely like the visual board idea. Sort of like a vision board, but instead just full of things that I like. A visual reminder, I think, is an easy way to quickly remind yourself of all the great things that you have around you. A few pins, decorations, and pictures is a great way to make it unique to you and help bring you back to a sense of calm. A great addition to any sort of “meditation corner” you might have.

A few things about gratitude
  • You don’t need to overdo it. You don’t want to hamper the effects of being grateful by being overly diligent and it becomes a pain. You can add things that your grateful for every couple to few days if you want. Hell, you can do it weekly. (Just make sure that you do it at least weekly.)
  • Don’t gloss over serious things that need your attention and action by “being grateful”. This is sort of obvious, but it still needs to be said. Don’t gloss over abusive relationships. Don’t gloss over
    unhealthy environments. Don’t gloss over your health.
  • YOU are an important factor in your daily doses of gratitude. Don’t forget that. Being grateful every day that you’re even attempting to take the steps needing to heal and help yourself is huge.

Conclusion

In short, resiliency is your ability to handle all of the things that life throws at you and bounce back. Gratitude is your expression of appreciation for the things in your life. If you don’t already do things like expressing gratitude and if your mental resiliency is low, you might not see the benefits immediately. That is fine. (Remember: be patient). This stuff takes time and you need to be willing to be in it for the long haul when you have to develop these skills while ALSO breaking down preexisting biases and thought patterns. It is a long road ahead, but it certainly is possible.

That being said, here are some things to do to help facilitate and expedite that process (as opposed to fumbling around and trying to see what works, that is).

ACTION LIST:

For building resilience:

  • Reframing.
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Use all of your resiliencies
  • Mantra to be repeated as needed: “I am just visiting this feeling. I will not stay here long.” use with Protective Factors, if needed (though, strongly recommended).

For becoming grateful/expressing gratitude:

  • Think of someone or something that has made you happy, brought you something/somewhere you otherwise would not have and express gratitude for it. You can even express it
    to it/them. Build those relationships!
  • Create a journal or make some sort of place to track all that you’re grateful for. Refer back to these daily. Update the list frequently.
  • Use your gratitude list to help you better become resilient! Use them to help you get over your current hangup. The list might just help you gain some perspective by virtue of it just calming you down.

Update (04/04/18): Additionally, the stress subsection on the Better Help website talks a lot about stress and it’s many different facets. On the front page, there is a bevy of links. Some of them are: “How to Better Your Life with an Online Stress Test”, “Can A Depression Chat Room Be Helpful”, “Causes and Treatment of Psychosomatic Pain” (one that I highly recommend), “What is Duck Syndrome and Are You Suffering from It”, among many others.

Also, if you go to the top right and search “managing stress” in the search box, you’ll happen upon several more articles that teach you how to deal with it. A few of the topics that I saw there are “How to Overcome Stress in Everyday Life”, “Stress Constipation: The Causes and Cures”, “What are the Three Stages of Stress and How to Cope”, and a ton more.

If you’re interested in reading and learning more, here is a link that will take you directly to the portion of the Better Help website that I’m talking about.

(This link is sponsored. But I am NOT in the business of trying to scam people when it comes to something as delicate and IMPORTANT to ME and the public at large as mental health. It truly is a wonderful website to use, and I couldn’t recommend it any more highly than I currently do. I do hope you all will at least try out their 7-day free trial. I know you won’t regret it. 🙂 )

And there you have it folks, resiliency and gratitude. I hope this helped you as much as it helped me.

This is why I am forever grateful for BetterHelp. It is a gift that keeps on giving and I never imagined I would be able to get it and be able to help others.

Until next time,

Peace and Peace.

Hi, I'm Althia! I love psychology have a particular obsession with promoting mental health. That being said, I have one specific goal that I want to achieve. I want to help millennials to finess mental illness and inspire personal growth one motivational & informational post at a time.

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