Resilience Part Two: Developing Mental Strength

Part Two

See part one of my Resilience focused blogs here.

Part two of my blog focuses on some small steps we can take to develop our own mental strength, build resilience and cope with change.


How do you think?

I would like to hypothesise that people generally have two kids of mind-set those who believe they can influence things that happen to them and those who believe they can't, and things just happen to them. The first group might be convinced that the outcome of their lives are more or less in their own hands, and take a proactive approach. The second group take a more reactive stance reacting to what happens to them and sometimes feel they are victim of circumstances that's outside their control. Although we can't control life's events we can take control of what's happened. 

People who feel they control the events in their lives (more than the events control them) tend to be able to manage anxiety and become more confident and have better resilience when dealing with stressful situations.

Everyone experiences anxiety which is a necessary emotion as our brains are hardwired with the fight or flight or freeze response and as such anxiety cause us to take action.

We know that living under stressful conditions has serious physical and emotional consequences and the ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure would be beneficial and the trick is to manage your stress/anxiety to keep it within manageable levels.

Research has found that intense stress actually reduces the volume of gray matter in the brain and Central nervous system (CNS) responsible for self-control.

As you lose self-control, you lose your ability to cope with stress. It becomes harder for you to keep yourself out of stressful situations, and you’re more likely to create them for yourself (by overreacting to people, for example). People get sucked into progressive rounds of greater and greater stress and negative thinking until they become completely burned out.

Dwindling self-control is particularly difficult when you consider that stress affects physiological functions in the brain, contributing to chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes and it’s linked to depression, obesity, and decreased cognitive functioning.

So what can we do?

You can get better at managing the anxiety you inevitably feel when facing difficult and uncertain situations. One of the key things to understand is that are all facing uncertainty–the outcome of your future has not been decided and that sometimes we just have to sit with this Life changes people change and we all go through ebbs and flows. If you believe that you are fully capable of dealing with changes then something positive can happen.

Step 1: Become mentally prepared for change

If you don’t anticipate change naturally it’s good to set aside some time either every week or every other week, to create a list of important changes that you think could possibly happen. The purpose of this task is not to predict every change you’ll face, this would be overwhelming, rather it’s to open your mind to change and sharpen your ability to spot and respond to impending changes. Even if the events on your lists never happen, the practice of anticipating and preparing for change will give you a greater sense of command over your future.

Eric Berne the father of transactional analysis sums this up by saying

“A loser doesn’t know what he’ll do if he loses but talks about what he’ll do if he wins and a winner doesn’t talk about what he’ll do if he wins but knows what he’ll do if he loses.” ― Eric Berne

Step 2: Identify and try to stop negative self-talk

A big step in managing stress and anxiety involves stopping the negative self-talk we all experience the more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them.

Remember most of our negative thoughts are just that–thoughts, not facts. Stop yourself anytime you catch yourself blaming others, taking everything so seriously, or giving in to distraction. Stop blaming the past or external factors for the choices you make.

Sometimes we believe the old adage “life isn’t fair” and this belief develop into our psyche since we were young. This mantra is a voice of despair, anxiety, and passive inaction. While it’s true that we sometimes have limited ability to stop negative events from occurring, we are always free to choose our response.

When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.

By doing this you can challenge this negative thinking and evaluate that your statements probably aren’t true,

Next then jot down all of the positive ways in which you can take action and respond to each thought in a positive way by reframing them. You’ll surprise yourself with how much control you can wield in response to seemingly uncontrollable circumstances.

Step 3: Celebrate the little things and count your blessings.

Celebrate the little things you achieve each day like a successful work task, tidying your home, paying a bill, finishing off some homework or even just getting out of bed!

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for can lessen your anxiety. For example you may have a good marriage, research at UCLA found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy, as well as substantially less anxiety, due to lower stress hormone (cortisol) levels.

Step 4: Rewrite your script

Eric Berne identified scripts as being the protocols and thoughts, as to how life should be lived it’s the way of thinking that you’ve grown accustomed to. Over time, we all develop mental scripts that run through our heads and influence how we feel about our circumstances and what we do in response to them. These scripts go so far as to tell us what to say and how to act in different situations.

In order for change to happen and for you to become empowered, you’ll need to rewrite your script.

To do this, recall a tough time you went through recently. What was it you believed about your circumstances that prevented you from making the most of your situation or responding more effectively?

Write this script down, and label it your hard-luck script.

Hindsight is helpful and with this in mind go ahead and write a more effective mental script that you wish you had followed next to it. This is the empowered script you will use to replace your hard-luck script.

File these away so that you can pull them out and study them whenever you are facing stress or strong anxiety. When you do pull your scripts out, compare your present thinking to your hard-luck and empowered scripts. This will enable you to adjust your thinking and challenge negative thoughts in that you’re operating from an empowered script.

These periodic reminders will help you rewrite your negative hard luck scripts, enabling you to operate from a more empowered perceptive.

Step 5: Create new routines and seek purpose

One of the best ways to bring change into your life is by creating new routines and sticking to them until they become habits. This helps us cultivate new behaviours and if we repeat these actions again and again it becomes ingrained and the new behaviours become natural.

Purpose drives meaning. When you have a purpose and you believe it can make a beneficial change in the world, you’re motivated to make things happen.

In our busy lives it’s difficult to adapt to new thinking how you go about it is entirely up to you. Hopefully these steps will help.

What do you think please get in touch and share how you deal with stress and anxiety Please share your thoughts as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

Alan Heyes is a counsellor and therapist and founder and CEO of Therapy Partners.

He also runs his own private therapy and coaching practice in Maidstone, Kent, UK.


Eric Berne