Tomorrow, as Chair of the Board of the Sjogren’s Foundation, I am hosting a program on Building Resilience with Meditation and Mindset. This phone-in program is for members of the Sjogren’s Foundation who have registered (the registration is filled to capacity). As I prepare for the sessions, I thought I’d also write this post to share the information for those who can’t make the call.

You may ask why I am choosing the term “resilience” instead of inner calm, or positive mindset. The definition of resilience is, “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”.  And to be resilient, one has already started the practice of creating a positive mindset and creating inner-calm. In fact, that is a huge part of being a resilient person. So during this Covid-19 Pandemic time, why not use tools to help us through this very stressful time now, and also set us up for future resilience! That is my hope for sharing this information with you.  By practicing some meditation and positive mindset exercises, you can help your stress now, as well as build your resilience for future stressors and challenging events!

Building resilience is a huge theme in my life and it is something I have studied over the years. There is not one person on the planet that gets through life without hardship, challenges, heartbreak, and loss. Like most people, I’ve had plenty of challenges and even events that I wasn’t sure I could “come back from”, but I was determined to learn how. I have tried many approaches to handle big challenges; from being in denial to pushing through to waiting for time to pass. It wasn’t until my life and livelihood were altered by Sjogren’s that I had to really look hard and study how to become truly resilient.

It was Sjogren’s that taught me that although time can heal a lot, it can’t heal everything. So if time could not make Sjogren’s go away, how was I going to build my resilience so I did not feel threatened? (Threatened about my future health and my ability to pay for my life with an autoimmune disease). I went on a journey to find some answers. The journey has included therapy, yoga, meditation and mindfulness, and coach training. I have also studied neuroscience that supports why each of these disciplines is so effective in helping people change their brains toward resilience. Because of my practice, I am the most resilient I have ever been. I do not feel threatened or have doubts. And when doubts do arise, I reframe them to present a new perspective or opportunity.

Allow me to share some things I’ve learned in the hopes that you will find a tip that helps you.

Common Traits of Resilient People

This pandemic is not only a personal threat but an economic and world health threat. Humans are hardwired to react to threats by either fighting or fleeing (and sometimes freezing). We are all practicing the precautions that we’ve learned, especially social distancing, but you may want to consider how you are emotionally reacting. Are you lashing out at a loved one or friends on the phone? Are you falling into an emotional retreat? These could be a natural reaction to your fight/flight mechanism. Becoming more resilient takes a conscious effort to recognize your own patterns under stress and choosing to make better choices for yourself.

Common traits of very resilient people include:

  1. Resilient people understand that shit happens. They welcome it as part of life and know that challenges will visit them throughout their own life. They recognize that this is true for every person, so when something happens to them, they don’t feel that they have been personally selected for greater hardship than others. Instead of asking “Why Me”, they ask “Why Not Me”? They do not wish that life is easier, they choose to make themselves stronger.
  2. They select where they put their attention. In challenging times or situations, they focus on the things they have control to change for the better. They accept the things they cannot change.
  3. Resilient people are self-aware and conscious about the facts in their life (not the stories they tell themselves). They have an ability for self-compassion and for choosing actions and thoughts that are helpful and not harmful.
  4. Setting clear boundaries is a common practice of resilient people. They know where their limits are and protect their boundaries so they can continue offering themselves with positive energy. (However, our medical providers are not able to do this for themselves during  this pandemic, so they are in need of our extra support and compassion).

There are other common traits of resilient people, but these do top the list.

Building a Resilient Mindset 

As humans, we are hardwired to focus on the negative as a safety precaution. We are always looking for the tiger that might attack us — and when that tiger is gone, we are looking for it to return. In today’s world where we are bombarded with stressors at every turn (even without a pandemic), our mind tends to lean to the negative. This is normal and natural! If you want to change that reactive negative leaning, it takes a conscious effort to think positively.

I’ve created an exercise that you can download for daily practice here. (Right-click on the document to download). Try this for the next month and see if you believe you have shifted your energy to a more positive mindset. I believe you will!

Resilient Mindset Journal Exercises

  1. Every morning write down three things for which you are grateful.
  2. Write down a  strength or value about yourself that you love. And throughout the day, see how you apply that strength or value.
  3. Reach out to someone and let them know what you appreciate or admire about them. What did you notice in that exchange?
  4. In the evening, write down your big wins of the day. What are you proud of, happy about, what did you accomplish?
  5. At the close of the day, write down personal insights. What wonderful things did you learn about your self today? How might you apply that learning in the future?

Also, throughout the day catch yourself when you view something as “negative” and practice reframing your thoughts in a more positive direction.  If the thought involves another person, you might try a thought like,  “I’m sending compassion to that person who is acting out under this stress”.

Meditation for Resilience

Meditation helps calm the inner “chatter” that can have our minds ruminating on negative self-talk, or just ruminating on everything. There are several kinds of meditation that might be helpful to you at this time.  Like anything else in life, seeing remarkable changes takes practice and a certain kind of discipline over time. I can say that I feel a big difference when I’m not practicing silent meditation at least five days a week; my mind is quicker to react instead of having the calm ability to respond to stressors. My  favorite meditations are:

  1. Silent meditation following the breath. This is when you practice clearing your mind of any thought. Following the breath gives you something to focus on so you can help keep your mind a clean slate. I’d like to stress that this is a  Practice! Just like training your body for an athletic event, you are training your mind for calm and resilience.
  2. Body scan meditation. This is a great tool, especially for patients, to become mindful and aware of each part of your body. This technique can be very helpful to reduce the physical manifestations of stress as well as pain management. It is also a great aid for falling asleep.
  3. Guided meditations. This is where some of the apps listed below are helpful. There are all kinds of guided meditations and I happen to love the ones on loving-kindness and compassion. But there are many on pain, grief, and other topics. Check out the resources in the next section.

I have an exercise for you to try at home as a self-guided meditation on compassion. It not only helps you with self-compassion but helps you send compassionate energy out to others. You can download it here.

Meditation with the Masters

There are many great teachers in the mediation space. Two of the most respected in the field are Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. They are individually wonderful, and together powerful. They are doing special programs online to help people through this difficult time. I encourage you to look at Jack’s website here and see their offerings.

I also love the website called Sounds True. This is a trusted source for a library chock-full of meditations, teachings, online courses, and even programs with CE credits. Right now, they have a free program called Resilience in Challenging Times. You will see that Jack and Tara are front and center. Go ahead and get their 40-day Mindfulness Daily program. Many other programs are at a deep discount right now to support people. Once you purchase something, it is sent to your Digital Library where you can access it. Sounds True also has an app so you can access your digital library from your phone.

If you read my last article you also know that I like an app called Insight Timer or in your app store. There are many free guided meditations and then other options for the paid program. It can be  really powerful to know that you a

Hope and Wonder

As I stay at home with my 82-year-old Mom, I am watching the world with great compassion and great wonder. My overwhelming feeling is that for the first time in world history, every person on the planet is connected because we all have a common “enemy”. One could argue that we all had a common enemy with the Spanish flu in 1918, but the world was not as accessible (by media, by internet, by air travel, etc.) as we are now. This makes this pandemic event quite remarkable. I am wondering what positive things will come from this experience? I like to think that humans are in hibernation and that spring is coming. Soon, we will bloom and the world will be colorful and bright with new possibilities and ideas to better the world.

So I have a few questions for you to ask yourself:

  1. How do I want to remember myself and my actions when the pandemic crisis has passed? Create a vision and write it down so you can practice making it true every day.  Your Resilient Mindset Journal will help you with this.
  2. How can I make this time easier for other people? Think of how you can share love and compassion during this time.
  3. When this is over, what kind of celebration do I (or we) want to have to rejoice? Planning this will keep you looking forward. Imagine your feelings and try bringing them into your heart now.

I wish you and your family health and happiness!

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