5 PHYSICAL Things To Do Every Day To Increase Your Mental Resilience
I have lived in the Burlington, Vermont area for over 20 years and find Vermonters a generally resilient species. The problem is most people think it is a purely mental trait you either have or you don’t. With my professional training as a chiropractor, having studied the nervous system for over 40 years, I believe there is a strong physical component that is often missed and that if applied can be regarded as a bio-hack for resilience.
What is it that separates a resilient person from someone who wishes they were?
We can get conceptual, or we can get real. When I say real, I mean Physical.
“Physical resilience refers to the body’s capacity to adapt to arising challenges, maintain stamina and strength in the face of demands, and recover efficiently and effectively when acutely damaged or besieged by microbes. If health is the body’s natural state, ‘resilience’ simply refers to the body’s ability to realize and express its true power and always return to that state. “~ Gill Mathias
I want to explore the idea that resilience in a person is not just a state of mind, but can be founded in their physiology. Although resilience may suddenly appear to be demonstrated in a dramatic moment where demand is high and the moment is met, matched and mastered, resiliency is something that is built over time, not from a single big event. It springs from consistency in the 10,000 choices we make every day.
Much discussion of resiliency is in the mental emotional realm. Certainly we think of the brain as the organ in charge of mental processing. So much of the brain’s performance comes from responding to the experiences we have. The brain is a use-dependent organ. Resilience is developed and learned over time from being exposed to challenging – but manageable – experiences. It is a set of skills that can be developed.
Learning for the body means experiencing. Having experiences outside your comfort zone expands the brain and neural pathways. If you want to build resilience, get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Like an athlete that trains, they get stronger, faster, and more accurate the more they train. Weight training produces strength from pushing the muscle to the point that it breaks down and then rebuilding the damaged fibers to be ready for the next bigger challenge or stress. This is what healthy living systems are designed to do. They adapt.
I once met an old-timer who had been a body builder professionally and it was quite sad that his muscles had been worked so hard to develop bulk that he was unable to scratch the back of his own head and had difficulty dressing himself. How could this happen? The bulk was developed without keeping the muscle stretched and supple. Although he won competitions, in his real life, his bulk made him very vulnerable because he lacked the range of motion to be able to readily and appropriately adapt to varied circumstances.
So it is with resilience. To be effective, there must be strength AND flexibility to provide the full range of adaptability that offers greater choice in any given moment, whether it is mentally or physically. Be flexible. Trees and shrubs that don’t bend in the wind will break.
I believe we are born with a certain degree of innate resilience. Life force itself naturally strives to maintain life. Living systems are adaptable by definition.
As Hans Selye, the pioneer explorer of the effect of stress on health said: “Stress is not necessarily bad for you. It is also the spice of life, for any emotion, any activity causes stress…the same stress that makes one person sick is an invigorating experience for another…Complete absence of stress is incompatible with life since only a dead man makes no demand on his body or mind.”
A toddler learning to walk keeps getting up and trying again demonstrating the natural resilience all living things possess. Did you ever notice that toddlers have amazing posture because if they don’t their large head will bring them toppling over? Once they have mastered walking, they are soon off running. This is healthy normal. So what happens to that innate superpower over time? At what point do we begin to lose our innate resilience? I believe a key factor that begins to drain our energy is physical. And I believe the earliest sign of decline is seen in our posture. When our posture starts to slump it is an indicator of overload… survival posturing. But is it just the evidence of lost resilience or is poor posture contributing to a downward spiral of compromised adaptability? In my 37 years of practice I have witnessed a decline in posture that is starting younger and younger. There is a direct correlation between poor posture and degenerative changes in the spine. 40 years ago, one would expect to see degenerative arthritic changes starting in middle aged folks. Recent research in the last 5 years is now showing degenerative changes in 9% of 10 year olds. This next generation is in trouble.
Posture is an indicator of the degree of resilience. I remember a Charlie Brown comic strip of Charlie standing with his head slumped over, depressed, talking with Lucy at her psychiatry booth. He said that the only way to get satisfaction from being depressed was to hold his head down, because if he stood up with great posture he no longer felt depressed…
So how does this work? How can our emotions be related to our posture and our posture to our resilience?
Candice Pert, PhD, the discoverer of neurotransmitters, describes them as the molecules of emotion. The limbic system is the part of the brain where we process emotions. It turns out there is more limbic tissue in the spinal cord than the brain. Watch my quick video for a better understanding of the spinal cord in relation to health.
Dr. Pert refers to the spine as the back of the mind where our subconscious lives. We are literally processing emotions in our spine. But what if our spine isn’t healthy? Could that impact our capacity for resilience?
What system in the body is responsible for managing stress? The nervous system!
Flexibility of the spine is correlated with cognitive and emotional flexibility. When someone is “stuck in his ways” it means a lack of flexibility or adaptability… rigid patterns develop from trying to adapt to overloading experiences. As the spine gets healthier, we see increased resilience both physically, mentally and emotionally. If you are looking for help in getting your spine healthier, please contact our office to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you develop better spinal hygiene habits for you and your family.
Resilience requires insight: the ability to focus internally. When the body is stuck in stress or defense, the attention shifts outwardly to be ready for the next big stress. Resilience requires one to look internally and take subtle cues from the body as it experiences the many silent signals coming from the environment. Vibrant health can remain elusive until we take the time to pay attention and listen to our bodies.
A day in the life of a Resilient Human Being
Let me share with you some of the best practices of resilient people including 5 Physical Habits for Resilience.
Starting the morning right.
Starting off a day resiliently actually starts the night before with good sleep hygiene. Best practices for sleep include…
- Use your Circadian Rhythm as a guide: realize you are manipulating your physiology every day. Ensure adequate exposure to natural light to set circadian rhythms.
- Shoot for 8 – 9 hours sleep in 24 hours, but try to limit naps to 30 minutes or it may affect the ability to sleep later. 5 ½ to 7 hours of sleep is when real repair happens so if you are only getting 6 hours at a stretch you are missing out on the repair opportunity.
- Create a sleep sanctuary: Dark, quiet and comfortable, like disappearing into a cave, pitch black, no sounds, about 60°F.
- E-Fast: 30-90 minutes before bed: Shut off electronics and screens or use blue light blocker glasses so melatonin is not shut down.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime.
- Establish a household culture for everyone going to sleep on a set schedule. It is tricky when night owls and morning glories are in the same home.
If you find yourself lying awake and not sleeping, but think, think, thinking about all the worries of the day, take a breath and sink into my 4-2-1 rule for preparing for sleep.
After a good night sleep, you are ready for your resilient day. Strong starts are the name of the game.
Developing your own hour-of-power will set the tone for your day rather than being at the whimsy of all the tugs on our attention and focus that can happen when the first thing we do is check our phones when we wake up, the urgent or enticing time sucks that leave nothing for the important things that build resilience.
Best practices for starting your day strong:
- No snoozing
- Hit the floor with gratitude
- Some combination of meditating/ praying/ visualization or a morning affirmation (see below an example of my morning affirmation process so you can create your own)
- Breathing/ exercise – Daily exercise is a key component of physical resilience but also increases endorphins (the feel-good hormone) and helps with better sleep. Getting it in first thing in the morning is a best practice before the day runs away with you and it is missed. Try this 4 minute workout if you are pressed for time but still want to be sure to get exercise in.
- Inspiration: So many people reach for their social media feed or emails as the first mental input for the day. Instead design your day by reading a bit of something uplifting to set the tone for your day.
- Planning your day. This can be done at the end of your day to prepare for the next day or at the very beginning before there are more distractions. Choosing how you spend your time means putting the most important (not necessarily the most urgent) into the schedule in set blocks of time and sticking to it. See below to determine what’s actually important.
- Work from a to-do list, not your email. As you do this, you will gain trust in yourself and add momentum to your ability to overcome obstacles.
Now that you have designed your hour of power, it still needs to be installed as a habit. The key to any new healthy habit is consistency… repeating them! Use this habit tracker idea to help you install the healthy habits you want to in a more effective way. You will be able to spot patterns that are sabotaging your plans so you can course correct.
What about the rest of the day now that you have set the tone? Chances are this alone will boost resiliency, but there is no question that you also WILL encounter stresses during the day, especially as you start to push yourself. Here are two amazing physical tools to neutralize stress and make decision-making easier. Use this physical exercise EFT to neutralize mental/emotional stresses in 30 seconds.
And when you are feeling stressed about needing to make decisions where you don’t necessarily have all the info you wish you could have, use this tool to access your own inner sense by dowsing it.
When it comes to your diet, clearly this will have a huge impact on your energy levels and resilience. The body must have adequate nutrition and the functional capability to utilize that nutrition and effectively eliminate toxins and waste. Keep in mind the burden that unhealthy foods place on the body and the extra energy required to manage them as well as the deficiencies in key nutrients that are the building blocks for the tissues in your body that allow your organs to function optimally. Best practice here is an anti-inflammatory diet. You can also use dowsing to choose the best foods for you and if cravings are undermining you, use EFT to stop them in their tracks.
In summary, incorporate these 5 PHYSICAL strategies to build mental resilience:
- Good sleep
- Daily exercise
- Anti–inflammatory diet
- Meditation/ brain based ways to deal with emotions, such as physically tapping using EFT
- Spinal hygiene and good posture
- The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy.
- The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed; elasticity.
- The act of resiling, leaping, or springing back; the act of rebounding.
2:00pm - 6:00pm
7:00am - 12:20pm
2:00pm - 6:00pm
7:00am - 12:30pm
3:00pm - 6:00pm