Are we resilient enough for this?
How are you feeling right now?
I don’t know about you, but I need some resilience right now.
I voted yesterday for the UK to remain in the UK, and went to bed last night desperately hoping my fellow Brits would have done the same in sufficient numbers for us to stay.
Sadly, they didn’t. We are leaving the EU.
I would be lying if I was to tell you I have spent today in a state of inner space and calm. I really haven’t. Like many, I have mostly been in shock, anger and disbelief.
I have cried, paced aimlessly around in my living room, stared at my laptop screen in horror, impotence, frustration and disbelief. I have got angry, got scared, panicked, and tried to work out which country I can emigrate to on a tiny pot of money. To my shame, I have got into arguments and sought arguments and people to blame, thought horrible things, and raged on social media.
None of it has made me feel any better.
The only thing that has made it all easier to bear, if I am honest, is seeing that everyone I care about, everyone whose opinions I respect and value, are feeling the same as me. I have friends who I am in alignment with. That means a lot. There are a lot of people who recognise that we need to stand together, not in isolation.
Resilience through Yoga
Yoga means Union, and Yoga is helping me to keep myself together today. Not so much today’s practice – I am going to live in Satya (truthfulness) and tell you that my practice today has been very distracted, but the way Yoga impacts my life in general is helping me.
I realised earlier that ‘old’ Esther would be drowning her sorrows in the pub, or on her living room this afternoon. New Esther thought about that (just about it, didn’t think about doing it), and whereas in the past that thought would have triggered a need to drink, I am simply here, at my laptop. I am not feeling great, trying to stay away from Facebook conversations in which I am arguing with people I have never met, and feeling like I want to cry with every other news article or post I read, but I am not drinking or smoking, and I am not going to.
Yoga has given me resilience, it hasn’t made me immune to fear and all the responses that fear creates. I am human, I am a mother, and right now, I am very frightened of the future. We are looking into the darkness here, it is scary.
I am all those negative things, but I am not drinking, I am not smoking. Today, more than any other day for months, I celebrate my sobriety with real gratitude.
It is easy to retreat into fear and panic. But to do that would be self destructive. What we need to do now, as well as anything we need to do to ensure our outer security as much as possible, it work on developing our inner strength to get us through tough times.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to withstand change, even intolerable change, and not let it break you. It is that ability some people have of looking adversity in the face, getting through problems and getting through them apparently unscathed.
Resilience doesn’t mean that life’s troubles don’t get to you, it doesn’t mean that you don’t get frustrated, angry, upset, hurt or any of those other negative emotions. It doesn’t mean that life can’t have a negative impact on your life.
Resilience doesn’t make you immune to stress. What is does mean is that you don’t let stress dictate how you feel about yourself, you don’t let it grind you down, you get back up after it is all over and move on.
Resilience is not something we are either born with or without. All babies are resilient. You may have heard people talk about babies’ ability to ‘bounce’. Maybe they don’t quite do that, but they are incredibly resilient. We are born with resilience, but our experiences through life affect our resilience.
When we are low on resilience, life’s storms really hurt us. We feel every hurt with every nerve ending. Our nervous system goes into meltdown, with the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response, in overdrive.
I have felt this too many times today – heart rate quickening, blood pumping, heightened responses to any perceived threat, mind racing as it tries to imagine all the possible scenarios and tries to calculate how to escape them.
But the reality is, we need to adapt. We need to calmly sit back and work out what our next step is. Changes are always going to affect our life, we need to be able to process the change that is coming, not from a place of fear, but of calm detachment and rational thinking, and work out what to do.
How breathing can help us develop resilience
One of the many gifts that Yoga gives us is teaching us the power of the breath.
As well as being necessary to our basic survival, breathing well allows us to step back from a situation and reflect with a little more detachment than we can when we are in stress.
It calms the nervous system and brings the parasympathetic nervous system into play (the rest and digest response).
This calming of the nervous system allows our blood pressure to return to normal, our minds to calm down, our muscles to relax. It allows us a space between the source of stress and our response, giving us time to choose a different response.
I know that the reason I was able to beat drinking after years of alcoholism was that my resilience increased through incorporating Yoga into my life. Learning to breathe was a massive part of this resilience building. If you would like to learn more about this, watch this webinar I delivered during Stress Awareness Week