How You Can Build Resilience in Challenging Times: Insights from a Resilience Coach

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What we’ll cover:

  • Day-to-day worries can take a toll on our emotional health over time. Learning to cope with stress in a positive way could help build our resilience in challenging times
  • Positive coping strategies include being kind to yourself, making an effort to connect with others and practicing gratitude
  • Practicing mindfulness could also help you to better manage stress, improve your focus and strengthen your relationships

Chances are one of the first things you do when you wake up in the morning is check the news. If you walk away feeling stressed and anxious, you’re probably not alone.

There is no doubt that this is an incredibly difficult and painful time for our country, as we’re confronted with both old and new challenges alike.  

Day-to-day worries about our health, family, community and finances can take a serious toll on our emotional well-being. Been struggling to sleep at night, maintain motivation or control anxiety? 

These are just some common symptoms of stress that we may all be feeling as we try to navigate this challenging environment we’re living in. If left unaddressed, they could have a lasting impact on our overall well-being, affecting other areas of our life, including our relationships, performance at work and engagement with the world at large. 

We at Marcus by Goldman Sachs often talk about ways you could maintain your financial well-being during uncertain times. But what about when it comes to your emotional health?

We sought the help of an expert and sat down with resilience coach L. Barbour with Optum at Goldman Sachs to discuss ways you could develop positive coping strategies to manage stress and build resilience in challenging times. Here are some of the insights we’ve picked up from her. 

Understanding stress

Symptoms of stress can show up in different ways for different people. 

To build resilience (generally speaking, our ability to cope with and “bounce back” from stress), it’s important for us to recognize the symptoms that hinder us when we’re stressed and understand how we tend to respond to them.   

Barbour helped us break down the three common ways we react to stress, which are often referred to as “fight-flight-freeze.” 

  • Fight: You react with self-criticism or blame.
  • Flight: You react by withdrawing or isolating yourself.
  • Freeze: You react with rumination – in which you dwell on distressing thoughts (e.g., things that has gone wrong or will go wrong).

So what can we do to counter these reflexive tendencies in order to better cope with stress and foster resilience? 

Be kind to yourself

Stress is a normal part of life. That said, these are some pretty extraordinary times, and it can be easy for us to become overly critical of ourselves. 

To counter this “fight” response, Barbour says that it’s important to remember that most people are going through hard times in one way or another. You’re not alone. Some days and hours will be easier than others. 

Just as you wouldn’t criticize a friend who is going through a hard time, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself either. One way to counter self-criticism is to offer kind words to yourself. 

“Consider speaking to yourself as if you were speaking to a close friend in a thoughtful manner: This is temporary. You’re doing the very best that you can under the circumstances. You’ll get through this,” Barbour said.

Connect with others

If you tend to withdraw when you’re stressed, Barbour suggests trying to set a goal to connect with at least one person a day. Sharing your thoughts could lighten the stress that’s weighing on your mind. Talking with others could help us get out of our own heads and collectively provide an opportunity to support one another. 

If you’re having a difficult time and need help, ask. 

“Requesting and receiving support from others is a sign of strength,” Barbour explained. “It reflects self-awareness and trust in yourself and others.”

Go outside

But let’s say you really want some time alone for quiet reflection. Barbour suggests going outside. Some fresh air and exercise can help alleviate physical and mental tensions – being outside can help take your mind off of things that may be bothering you.

It also gives you a chance to put down your phone and avoid mindlessly scrolling through and frowning at the latest headlines.

“Try something new every day – just one action. Leverage your strengths and harness a growth mindset. Ask yourself: What’s another way to look at this?”

Practice gratitude and develop a growth mindset

Sometimes when we’re stressed, we can get caught up in rumination or a spiraling of thoughts. When we have too many worries on our mind, we may find ourselves constantly thinking about how things have gone or will go wrong. 

When this happens, Barbour says one approach is redirecting our focus towards gratitude. Taking a moment to acknowledge the good things in our lives could have a positive effect on our mood, ability to respond to stress, relationships with others and our overall mental health.

In short, practicing gratitude can help increase our sense of happiness.

There are different ways to practice gratitude. Barbour offers two ideas:

  • Journaling. Take five minutes and write down three things you’re grateful for. 
  • Create a “gratitude jar.” Write down your appreciations on a piece of paper and drop them into a jar. Select a piece anytime you need a pick-me-up or reminder of what’s good in your life.

She notes that through the practice of gratitude, we’re training our brain to develop the capacity to notice and appreciate all the different aspects of a given experience. 

Another way you could develop a positive mindset (an important component of resilience) is to adopt, what Barbour calls, “an attitude of experimentation,” which encourages us to grow through our challenges.

In other words, instead of looking at our challenges as simply problems waiting to be solved, we could view them as opportunities for personal growth. 

“Try something new every day – just one action. Leverage your strengths and harness a growth mindset. Ask yourself: 'What’s another way to look at this?'” said Barbour. She believes that no effort is ever wasted: There’s always an opportunity to learn something new about yourself.

And discovering what doesn’t work for you can be just as valuable as figuring out what does work.

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Harness the power of mindfulness

Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular practice in recent years (even though its roots can be traced back thousands of years). But what does “mindfulness” mean exactly?

The American Psychological Association says mindfulness is the “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” 

Barbour helped us to better understand the concept in this way: Think of it as a state of mind where you’re completely focused on the present moment, taking note of your thoughts or emotions without judgment.

In other words, thoughts are just thoughts – you can acknowledge them without labeling them as “good” or “bad” or feeling as if you have to react to them in the present moment. 

Practicing mindfulness can have a number of benefits according to Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor at Harvard University who spent decades researching mindfulness. It can help to:

  • Reduce stress and emotional reactivity (e.g., not taking things personally)
  • Improve focus, working memory and cognitive flexibility
  • Increase relationship satisfaction

Practicing mindfulness

Yoga and meditation are just two ways to practice mindfulness. Both of which use mindful breathing to promote relaxation and manage stress.

But you don’t have to wait for a class to try mindfulness. Here are a couple of breathing exercises that Barbour suggests:

  • Abdominal breathing. Place one hand below collarbones (i.e., right hand); one hand below the navel (i.e., left hand). As you inhale, send the breath into the lower hand and feel it move away from your torso. Move the breath up into your upper hand (i.e., below the collarbone). As you exhale, move the breath out from the right hand down to the left hand.
  • Coherent breathing. Inhale to a count of four; exhale to a count of four (or less as long as the count is the same on the inhalation and exhalation).

“I often say you can breathe your way through anything,” Barbour said. “Take a few deep breaths to remind your mind: In this moment, you are OK. You can handle this.”

She also suggests carving out mindful moments throughout the day to recharge, reset and focus attention in the present moment. Consider directing your full attention to one of the following activities each day:

  • Mindful eating. Engage all your senses and dine without screens.
  • Mindful walking or running. Feel each foot striking the ground. 
  • Mindful communication. Engage in active listening, which means you’re paying attention throughout the conversation, asking questions and avoiding interruptions.

If you’re new to practicing mindfulness, you may find yourself getting easily distracted during these exercises. Barbour reassures us that that’s OK: When your mind starts to wander off, kindly redirect your focus back to the object of attention (e.g., walking, breathing, etc.).

Try not to feel frustrated or discouraged. Remember, be kind to yourself and just . . . breathe.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.