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Resilience: First Things First.

It feels like the world is breathing a collective sigh of relief – it’s 2021.  Vaccines are slowly rolling out and we can start to see just a glimmer of light at the end of this dark COVID-19 tunnel we’ve been moving through.  And even as we breathe a collective sigh of relief, the news and our social media feeds are still teeming with news of COVID-19’s continued spread and our lives continue to be a place where bad news and stressful events regularly happen. Vaccines won’t change all of that – as we engage in our lives stressful events will inevitably happen.  So how do we deal with them?

In December I talked about resilience – the process of bouncing back (or forward!) from adversity – and I promised future blog posts about how we can adapt our behaviors and our thoughts to practice bouncing back and become more resilient.  If there is one thing 2021 is going to require of us, it is resiliency! So as promised – here we go!

When we practice our resiliency we need to start at the beginning.  First things first – take care of your physical self.

I can almost hear you groaning! When I talk with groups about resiliency I know they want to hear about the “mind tricks” – the re-framing, fostering greater Zen, etc. and I can feel their disappointment when I talk about taking care of their physical bodies. If you are groaning go back and read my December blog and remember that our minds only work well when our bodies are working well (Tabinia & Rodecki, 2018).

Taking care of your physical self includes three elements: sleep, exercise and nutrition. I think of each of these elements as a leg for a three-legged stool. With only three legs, it’s important that each is strong and stable – when even just one leg is a little off your stool is wobbly! The same thing happens with our ability to practice resilience. If we aren’t getting enough sleep, if we aren’t consuming a healthy diet and if we aren’t exercising enough our emotions and our ability to be resilient and fully engaged in our lives is wobbly. So let’s talk about each leg.

Sleep. I love sleep! Adults need 7-9 hours of a sleep each night (Hirschkowitz et al., 2015). Yet there are so many reasons why we don’t get enough sleep. We have kids, pets, neighbors, looming deadlines and lumpy pillows – so many things that keep us from the sleep we need. But sleep is foundational to our physical health and our ability to be resilient. So make it a priority. Schedule in your sleep just like you schedule in the important meetings and people in your life and hold to that schedule. When we view our sleeping hours as time that we can dip into to catch up on work or meet a deadline, we are borrowing against ourselves and bankrupting ourselves from our ability to be resilient. So schedule in 8 hours of sleep and practice good sleep hygiene (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2017). Turn off the beeps and whistles, dim the light in your room and do something relaxing – write in a gratitude journal, write about what you accomplished in the day, read a relaxing book, etc.

Exercise. I think of exercise as a Zamboni (can you tell I live in Minnesota, the land of hockey?!). Exercise helps clear out the stress hormones that get released every day when we experience stress and it helps us handle stress more effectively (Forcier et al., 2006).  Adults need about 25-minutes of exercise a day (American Heart Association, 2018). We don’t need those 25 minutes to be intense and we don’t need those minutes to all be at one time. So how can you work more moderate exercise into your life? Go for a brisk, 10-minute walk three times a day. If you are working at home right now, use a morning walk as your “commute” to work. Take another walk after lunch and then a third walk for your “commute” home in the evening. Exercise does not have to be a major undertaking with gear, a gym membershipp, etc. It can be as simple as a brisk walk while listening to a podcast you love.

Nutrition. This is something we all know we need to be mindful of and it’s something I think we all cheat on.  Again, we have to remind ourselves that when we are feeding our bodies what we need, nutritionally, our bodies are able to be more resilient and handle stress (and illness) better (Lutz et al., 2017). So what does this mean? Watching our sugar, caffeine and alcohol consumption; eating as many vegetables and fruits as we can, and seeking out lean sources of protein (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020).

There you have it, the first steps to becoming more resilient! Taking care of ourselves is not particularly sexy to talk about, but we can’t move on to more exciting cognitive strategies, like re-framing and developing mindfulness, until our bodies are sound. We’ll dive into some of those cognitive strategies next time!

As always, if you want to know more about how to support your team and employees to practice these strategies and be more resilient, please reach out – I am happy to be your resilience trainer!


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2017, February 9). Healthy sleep habits. http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits

American Heart Association. (2018, April 18). American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults

Forcier, K., Stroud, L. R., Papandonato, G. D., Hitsman, B., Reiches, M., Krishnamoorthy, J., & Niaura, R. (2006). Links between physical fitness and cardiovascular reactivity and recovery to psychological stressor: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 25(6), 723-739. https://doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.25.6.723

Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L, Hazen, N., Herman, J., Katz, E. S., Kheirandish-Gozal, L., Neubauer, D. N., O’Donnell, A. E., Ohayon, M., Peever, J., Rawding, R., Sachdeva, R.C., Setters, B., Vitiello, M.V., Catesby Ware, J., & Adams Hillard, P. J. (2015) The National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: Methodology and results summary. Sleep Health. 1(1):40–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010

Lutz, L. J., Gaffney-Stromberg, E., Williams, K. W., McGraw, S. Niro, P. J., Karl, P., Cable, S. J., Cropper, T. L., & McClung, J. P. (2017). Adherence to the dietary guidelines for Americans is associated with psychological resilience in young adults: A cross-sectional study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(3), 396-403. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.018

Tabibnia, G., & Radecki, D. (2018). Resilience training that can change the brain. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 59-88. doi: cpb0000110

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, December 29). USDA and HHS Just Released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. https://health.gov/news/202012/usda-and-hhs-just-released-dietary-guidelines-americans-2020