Resilience

Me lately:

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Well, okay – not really… But the thought frequently crosses my mind.  Have you ever opened the fridge in the morning and instead of grabbing your almond milk to make your protein shake, you catch a glimpse of your leftover wine and its almost as if it’s speaking to you?  Who am I kidding… there’s no such thing as leftover wine.

Before I totally start sounding like a complete maniac, I wanted to speak to the word resilience.  A friend and fellow yogi posted the other night:

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It was exactly what I needed to see after what felt like the peak of frustration lately… I commented to her that I needed to steal this reminder and that I felt like I nailed resilience for a few weeks (especially with all the international travel, complications, and hiccups we experienced!!) and then this week happened and I’m like:

Wise Ericka told me this: “I think the point of resilience is just that! You can’t even learn or practice resilience without those disturbances, shocks, and challenges! It’s a journey!”

Ugh, yoga FTW. Seriously.  I was literally watching my self-doubt creep in, that destructive thought pattern evolves and the spiral begins to deepen.  That inner monologue had begun and it was all but productive. This is definitely not the first time, oh no… I’m well versed and experienced in this game.  And I’m acutely aware of the fact that this will not be the last time I experience this “self-vulnerability.”  I’ve developed some tips over the course of the last three and a half years of PTSD recovery that might come in handy to others (and let’s be honest, I need the reminders as well) of how to cope when you’re feeling less-than-resilient.  Here are my favorite mechanisms that are personally tested when #icanteven :

1).  Recognize and acknowledge the emotions you’re feeling.  Anger? Resentment? Frustration? Chaos? (Chaos is an emotion, right?) Sadness? Grief? Guilt? Whatever it is, try to isolate that emotion and get your thumb on it.  If you’re anything like me, sadness can often lead to anger, which makes me feel guilty that I’m feeling angry that I’m feeling sad…. WHAT??? Yes, that spiral is wayyyyyy too familiar over here!  So try to take the attachment of other feelings away and get to the root of the issue.  Recognize that root issue, firstly.

2).  Admit responsibility for your emotions. In a wonderful article in Elephant Journal, author Alex Myles states that “although we may not want to admit it, we are responsible for creating all of our own emotions.” Wooooaaaaaahhhh… that is extremely powerful to hear, and depressing at the same time!  This guilt, this anger, this resentment, this sadness is actually all created by ME???? Yep. I am responsible for the good, the bad and the ugly.

3). Allow them to be authentic, even if they aren’t necessarily pleasant to experience. Years ago I saw this incredible interview with Louis C.K. on Conan O’Brien where a comedic rant on cell phones and technology turned into a paradigm shift moment for me. He spoke about a time in which he heard a sappy song while driving that brought up some emotions that he wasn’t particularly comfortable with… He stated: “I started to get that sad feeling and reached for my phone, but I thought ‘don’t’ — just be sad, let it hit you like a truck… I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch, it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic.”  He goes on to state how grateful he was for that moment to feel sad and authentically allow himself to feel sadness because it was met with “true, profound happiness.”

The pendulum swings both ways, so in order to truly experience happiness, you have to allow the pendulum to swing into the not-so-happy places as well.  Guess what?? That’s okay!

4). Don’t let others tell you what to experience. My yoga guru always said something like this: When someone asks you how you’re doing and you say “not good” or “depressed” or “I’m angry…sad…hurt…etc” the most common response is “Oh don’t be sad!” or something along the lines of restricting that emotion or experience and trying to push for the positive.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to experience the positive, and who honestly wants to admit that they’re sad, depressed, angry, etc., but that’s actually exactly what should happen.  She stated to me once (maybe more than once!) “See if you can withdraw your involvement in the drama of the struggle and instead witness the struggle and get really curious about it- almost like you’re analyzing the struggle itself.”  Ughh… that darn struggle.

5).  Finally, think about your maintenance plan.  Yes, develop a personal mental health maintenance plan.  It’s different for everyone, mine involves a good balance of (mostly) healthy eating, getting in several solid workouts per week, listening to podcasts or audiobooks (I’m obsessed with Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why right now, and Audible usually has free trials out there somewhere), and arguably the most important factor in my plan: meditation. Pranayama (breathing techniques).  I learned about it in therapy after my accident when I was working through some PTSD and other mental health issues. At the time, my doctor didn’t explain what he was having me do with these breathing techniques and mantras, I was just trusting his process in helping me.  Fast-forward three-and-a-half years and I’m in Yoga Teacher Training delving into meditation and pranayama, and the effects, benefits and why they work, and literally:

There’s science behind the physiological responses that occur when you practice even just a few moments of breathing techniques and meditation, there are hundreds of articles online at your fingertips as to all the benefits, why you should do it, tips and tricks, etc… There are apps that make meditation simple for you.  However, from a first-hand account, I can attest to the fact that even 5 minutes a day is life-changing.  Here’s the trick that I have found, though: don’t stop when it’s working… This is why it’s a maintenance plan.  Keep up your 5 minutes a day, especially when it’s working.  I used to have multiple panic attacks and anxiety symptoms every single day. They varied in intensities and durations; however, it was completely rare that I would exist in a day that anxiety, panic, depression or something of the sort wouldn’t find its way into my life.  Small stressors became big stressors which impacted my life, my friends, my family, and my job… The first homework I was assigned for my Yoga Teacher Training was a 5-minute daily pranayama and meditation practice. In the first 3 weeks of training, I went from having multiple symptoms per day to THREE in those three weeks.  THREE! TOTAL!

All in all, resilience in and of itself is an oscillation… It is not a destination, just as happiness is not a destination.  Resilience is a journey with ups and downs, strides and struggles.  By the very nature of our existence, our resilience will be tested, and the only constant in our lives is the constant of change.  Everything around us is evolving, and our ability to adapt and evolve with it is that definition of resilience. I do not enjoy struggles, but it is the struggle that teaches us the most valuable lessons.  It is through struggle that we learn new limits, growth potential, and strength.  Without struggle, there is no strength.

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