Resilience and the Final Straw
People have had great insights about our nature and our feelings for thousands of years. These pop up in our everyday language. Three of the most common explanations in our culture of how stress arises are:
It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back
It’s the final straw (or last straw)
I’m at the end of my tether
What each of these imply is very important in learning how to manage stress and become resilient in everyday life. They remind us that stress and breakdowns are the results of hundreds of smaller incidents. Each one create minor stress, and these slowly build up inside us, one on top of the other, until eventually it reaches a point where everything collapses.
So how do we deal with this very common experience in life? How do we get rid of the little frustrations and annoyances so that they don’t build up into a full, explosive stress reaction?
There are three parts to the solution, each connected to the others.
Elimination: learn to notice when we are beginning to experience a moment of irritation or stress. If we notice it, we can then use the simple techniques of mindfulness to let those feelings go. This is basically nipping it in the bud. If we can stop the negative feelings from growing they won’t build up inside us.
First, accept that the irritation or stress has appeared. Don’t fight it or get angry at it. Simply change your attention to your breath for a minute or two, relaxing your mind while keeping clear attention on the cool, fresh sensations of the inbreath followed by the quiet, peaceful sensations of the outbreath.
Doing this usually eliminates minor stress or frustration.
Prevention: we can learn to keep our mind cheerier and more positively-focussed so that new negative reactions are less likely to arise in times of difficulty.
Draw up a list of simple common things you enjoy experiencing. The breath, as above, is just one example. Go outside for a one, or two minute, walk, with thinking or ruminating. Just enjoy the fresh air. Even in the rain, a short walk can be positive and enjoyable. Look at a favourite photo on your wall. Listen to a single song you like. There are hundreds of positive things you can notice and experience every day. Doing this keeps your mind more positive and act as antidotes to stress and frustration arising.
Nurturing: we can learn to grow and develop positive views of ourselves, others, and life generally. These build up inside us as the opposite of the growth of stress – the growth of love of life. When we have difficult moments, this love of life keeps them in proportion, and we can deal with them without becoming stressed, because our life view is very positive.
In short, love of life is the strongest form of resilience, and the best antidote to stress. These are deeper, lifelong techniques, but as with Prevention above, we use everyday things in life, but we try to linger longer with them – maybe play the same song two or three times in a row to more deeply appreciate it. Or instead of a two minute walk, make it ten minutes.
Experiment with these methods. See what works best for you, and keep doing it. That’s how to build real resilience in life.