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Surviving Uncertainty and Building Resilience

Jen Wood is an emotional wellbeing coach, psychotherapist and wellbeing consultant. She is based at Restoration Yard in Dalkeith Country Park. Here she offers some tips on how to keep our minds healthy in these uncertain times.

I understand what an uncertain world we seem to be living in today. Amid this pandemic, the social distancing and self-isolation, there is a lot of fear and information overload. My intention is to share some simple, evidence based tips to help us shift this panic into resilience. My 'how to survive social distancing and self-isolation' guide. One way that I’m getting through is to focus on improving my ability to soothe my nervous system. When we have something positive to focus on, we are less susceptible to the tidal wave of panic. Our attitude and our levels of stress impact our immune system, so at the moment it is so important to practise calming and finding ways to boost. I’m sharing three things today to help in surviving uncertainty and building resilience.

Keep connecting and building relationships

We are hard wired to connect, and being disconnected can shorten our lives. In this period of social distancing, I’ve been encouraging people to think of this as physical distancing but social closeness. When we become socially isolated, it can cause stress, inflammation, rumination and reduce the effectiveness of our immune systems. Tip – could you connect with one person each day who may feel isolated, and let them know you are thinking of them? This will help you both, so really is a win win.

Breathe consciously

Breathing is one of the fastest and simplest ways to settle an anxious nervous system. Developing a breathing practice can bring our soothing system online, allowing us to access a part of the brain which can help us to make better decisions. It can increase our Heart Rate Variability which increases our wellbeing and quality of life. Tip - start to bring attention to your breath as you breathe in and out through your nose. Notice how cool the air feels as you breathe in, and warmer as you breathe out. Use this awareness of the breath to tune into the state of your nervous system. You might become aware of some of the physical signs of anxiety such as shallow and irregular breathing. As much as possible, try to accept your breath as you find it. Then deepen the breath as you feel the abdomen expanding as you breathe in, and flattening and softening as you release the breath. Notice how that feels. Then, become aware of the speed of the inbreath. If you are breathing in for a count of 3, then breathe out for a count of 3. Then see if you can slow it down to breathing in for 4 and out for 4, and finally breathing in for 5 and out for 5. If you can do this for 3 minutes, you will start to settle your threat system and activate your soothing system. I will talk you through this in the video below.

Don’t panic

There is a lot of fear and panic around. Most of us have never experienced a pandemic before. Uncertainty is extremely difficult to cope with, and it activates our threat system, our ‘fight and flight’ response. This releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline which suppress our immune response. The most important thing we can do for our immune system is to calm down.

Stop Sign Wellbeing Restoration Yard

Use STOPP. First, visualise or imagine a red STOP sign.

S = Take one slow, deep breath.
O = Observe what you are thinking and how you are feeling in your body. Where is the focus of my attention? What am I reacting to? Is it fact or opinion?
P = Pull Back. Take the helicopter view and see the bigger picture. Is there another way of looking at this? What advice would I give to someone else about this? How important is this right now, and will it be as important in 6 month’s time?
P = Practise what works. What will be the most helpful thing to do?

Jen Wood is an emotional wellbeing coach, psychotherapist and wellbeing consultant. She is based at Restoration Yard in Dalkeith Country Park and consults on our Wellbeing Lab schedule. As well as posting her advice and tips here, Jen is currently offering sessions online (via Zoom).