Sabotaging your Resilience?
We are all prone to resilience undermining thoughts (Palmer) that can adversely affect our feelings and reactions. Now, more than ever, we need to be very aware of these normal responses of the brain as we try to navigate our way through this unsettling time.
With the uncertainty and significant changes that have become our norm for the time being, our brain’s amygdala is more likely to be in panic mode. I liken this part of the limbic system to our security officer who wants to keep us safe. When he detects a threat to our security, he rings the alarm bell, creating a stress response that activates our fight/ flight/ freeze system. His role can be helpful but it can also be debilitating if we listen to and follow his negative rhetoric – he is definitely a glass half empty type and often focuses on the negative perspective in challenging situations. These negative thoughts undermine our resilience.
Adams clearly outlines some examples:
Resistance to reality: “This shouldn’t be happening!”, “This shouldn’t happen to me!”
Awfulizing/Catastrophizing: “This is awful, nothing could be worse!”
All-or-nothing thinking: Evaluating experiences on the basis of extremes; things are either “excellent” or “terrible”, “perfection” or “failure”, with no shades of grey. Also called black-and-white thinking.
Personalization / Blame: “It’s all my fault/their fault!” (no other factors contributed)
Ignoring context: Interpreting events in isolation, without considering the bigger picture or relevant contextual factors.
Self-doubt / Fortune telling / Jumping to conclusions: “I won’t be able to handle it!”, “It’s going to go badly”
Low Frustration Tolerance: “I can’t stand it!”
Avoidance: Refusing to think about something as it’s too uncomfortable.
Condemning (self or others): “I’m useless!”, “I’m a failure!”, “He’s a total ****!”
Demands (musts, shoulds, oughts, have-tos): “I should/shouldn’t be…”, “Others
should/shouldn’t be…”, “My circumstances have to be favourable or else it’s awful and I can’t stand it!”
Negative filter: Focusing only on what is wrong or lacking without acknowledging positives.
Resilience-Undermining Imagery (Playing dodgy videos): Mentally running images of e.g. not coping, bad outcomes.
Which are you prone to using most?
Are these thoughts in the driving seat or are you able to recognise them and deal with them appropriately so that you remain in control? This question is critical. If you’re not aware of the power of these thoughts, they truly undermine your resilience.
Take the example of the adversity being stuck at home during the Coronavirus. Now recognise the undermining thoughts you might have, in other words, your beliefs. For example, ‘This is going to be terrible!’ What do you think the consequences are likely to be? They’re more likely to be what you think they will be, because your brain is focusing on that. If someone asks you not to picture a pink elephant flying through the sky, what do you imagine?!
Once you’re aware of this A (adversity) B (beliefs) C (consequences) model of thinking, you can change your thoughts to increase your resilience. It is not the adversity that causes our reaction but our beliefs about the situation, and they are under our control. This is a cognitive-behavioural approach that recognises our ability to choose how to think and react. So yes, we’re mostly confined to our homes at the moment but it is up to us to define how we think about and respond to that. A more resilience-enhancing thought to ‘being stuck at home’ is ‘this is a great opportunity to spend more time with my family’ or ‘I can get outside to enjoy the sunshine at some point during my working day.’
Become aware of these resilience-undermining thoughts. Ask yourself:
- ‘What’s the evidence?’
- ‘How helpful is that?’
- ‘What are the alternatives?’
Accept that these thoughts will come and go. Separate the thoughts from you; acknowledge that they may be the voice of your security officer who has tunnel vision focusing on the problem. Becoming solution focused in your mindset builds your resilience.
- What you do and don’t have control over in terms of the practical stuff but also your thoughts and feelings.
- What is going well and what you’re grateful for.
- What you’re going to focus on to bring about a positive outlook and outcomes.
Wouldn’t your day feel differently if we focused on:
- This is happening; what can I do to make it as OK as possible?
- It feels bad but it could be worse.
- These aspects of life aren’t’ great right now but these other areas are better!
- It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is right now. Blame just makes me feel worse.
- I can handle this. I don’t need to do it alone*. Many people are in the same position.
- If I look after myself, I can get through this.
- This is going to be an interesting time to develop new skills, try new things.
* TALK! I’m happy to help. If, like most, you’re grappling with how to keep yourself and your team well in these uncertain times, get in touch. I’m here to listen and share my expertise in being psychologically well. This is not a time to be ‘heroic’ and go it alone.
Adams, M. (2019) Coaching for Resilience. Adams Psychology Services
Palmer, S. (2013) Resilience-enhancing imagery: A cognitive-behavioural technique which includes Resilience-Undermining Thinking and Resilience-Enhancing Thinking. The Coaching Psychologist, 9 (1), pp.48-50.