Resources for Recovering Resilience: Little Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On

I couldn’t resist checking out Little Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On, a relatively new book by Mark Reinecke on Twenty Lessons for Managing Worry, Anxiety, and Fear.

“Keep calm and carry on” was a motto of the British government during World War II and the title of Part Four of Bouncing Back. Mark offers a concise explanation of the role anxiety plays in our survival, based on his years of distinguished clinical and academic experience and research in affective neuroscience, and a cognitive-behavioral approach to reducing anxiety and stress. Though I offered a more body-based approach to restoring our natural equilibrium in Bouncing Back, I found Mark’s clearly written and easy to follow lessons in Little Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On quite helpful. May you find them helpful, too. Three examples:

Lesson #2: The Big “A”

Key Points

  • Anxiety is part of a biologically based system. Because physiological, cognitive, and behavioral changes are also in play, anxiety is more than just a feeling.
  • To successfully manage anxiety, you need to address all three parts of the system.
  • Some anxiety is good, but continual anxiety can wear down the body, both physically and mentally, potentially leading to indecisiveness, depression, and serious illness.

What You May Be Thinking

This makes sense, but if it’s biological, doesn’t than mean I need medication? These thoughts and worries I’ve been having almost have a life of their own. I wonder if I’m just wired to worry. Some days, I feel paralyzed by all of this. I’m not sure anything will work.

Now Ask Yourself…

  1. How many times a day does the big “A” surface?
  2. What are your physical symptoms when you feel anxious or worried?
  3. How do these feelings affect your behavior? Do your anxious thoughts interfere with your ability to accomplish things in the moment?

What You Need to Do

Be aware of how you respond to the big “A.” Begin to monitor it. What are the most common triggers? What physical symptoms do you experience? How does it affect your behavior?

Lesson #4 The Future is Uncertain
Key Points

  • The future is unknowable; there are no guarantees.
  • Feeling secure (and less anxious) requires us to accept ambiguity and our inability to predict the future.
  • True security comes from within, not from without; it comes from perceiving ourselves as having personal “efficacy” or a sense of confidence in our ability to manage important events in our lives.
  • When you feel anxious or worried, it’s essential to recognize that you can control how you steer your thoughts and perceptions; you are always the one in the driver’s seat of your life.

What You May Thinking

I really don’t like this part. This is what keeps me awake at night. Just because you tell me to feel secure won’t make me feel that way. Yes, I want to control or, at least to feel that I have control. Your just told me I have to accept the unknown, so how can I feel in control when I don’t know what’s going to happen?

Now Ask Yourself…

  • We can’t predict or control the future. How do you feel about this statement?
  • Who is the most secure person you know? Why do you think that person feels secure?
  • What’s the downside of accepting that you can’t predict or control events? What are the benefits of adopting this perspective?

What You Need to Do

  1. This is indeed, the hardest lesson of all. Realize that everyone even the most secure person, has to accept the unknown. We can’t control or predict the future.
  2. The alternative is to maintain a sense of optimism and to influence events to the best of our ability. Expending a lot of energy anticipating negative outcomes only eats away at our sense of control and hope. Accepting the unpredictability of life and letting go of the need for control is actually a healthy, sensible way to approach the unknown.
  3. How can we let go in this way? Adopting a mindful stance – focusing on our experience in the present moment rather than on the future or past – can help.
  4. Alternatively, you can adopt a rational stance: logically, we see that we have limited control over future events. Although we can’t control the future we can control how we respond to it. With this in mind, consciously model your behavior after someone who approaches adversity with confidence faith, compassion, and a sense of humor.
  5. Finally, reflect on situations in your past when an unexpected event challenged you. How would you characterize your response to situations you handled well? How about situations where you felt overwhelmed? In comparing your reactions to these events, what do you see? Flexibility, composure, and optimism are often more adaptive – that is, they allow us to handle challenges better – than the need for control and a guarantee that things will work out.

Lesson #10: Dwelling on Problems Impairs Your Ability to Cope

Key Points

  • Dwelling on problems not only magnifies anxiety but also undermines problem solving
  • When you begin to ruminate or dwell on your problems, take action – do something.
  • Refuel your brain by engaging in activities that provide you with feelings of mastery or accomplishment.
  • Don’t withdraw or isolate yourself from others. Keep in contact with friends and family. Turn to others for support and for fresh ideas and perspectives.

What You May Be Thinking

Isn’t that just escaping? You’re telling me to take a break form worrying? Isn’t that irresponsible?

Now Ask Yourself…

  • Do you allow yourself a break from your fears and anxieties? If so, how do you feel during these breaks? If not, is worrying 24/7 working for you?
  • What are the things that give you a true sense of accomplishment when you do them? What are the things that, when you’re engrossed in them, put you “in the zone” and provide true satisfaction, that give you a sense of “flow”?
  • Whom might you turn to for supportive advice? Whom can you turn to for a fresh perspective or a different point of view on your problems?
  • Keep in mind that you’ll be better able to assess situations realistically and cope effectively when you give your brain a rest. Regularly do things that give you a sense of relief from the pressure; this is a healthy approach when you’re solving problems.
  • We all need to engage in activities that provide us with a sense of accomplishment. Make a “mastery list” of things you do well and enjoy, and do one or two of the activities on your list each day. Note how doing these things makes you feel.
  • When troubled, we all need friends and colleagues who can provide a sense of support and give us new ways of looking at our problems. Talk with at least one person who is supportive and understanding and can offer thoughtful, reflective insights each day.

What You Need to Do

These activities do more than distract us from rumination; they empower, sustain, and strengthen us. They allow us to develop a clearer and deeper understanding of our lives and possible ways to address our problems.

(Etc. Well worth checking out.)

*****

I’ll be offering a workshop on “Shift Happens” at Insight LA in Los Angeles, CA on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Tools to put the brakes on anxiety and shift gears to more resilient coping. Please join me if you can; spread the word if you can; celebrate your own resilient shifting gears whenever you can.