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Just choose 1 or 2 to start thriving again
With our routines having been thrown into chaos, many of us are losing our grasp on our best selves. The cumulative stress of the unknown is slowly pumping up our cortisone level, and we are burning out
Our resilience is drooping. It's time to take a step back, to regroup, and to rebuild our resilience, starting with one of two new habits - and committing to their practice.
Having a good store of resilience helps us cope with life, as it happens - not as we wish it would happen. With enough resilience, instead of feeling as if you are drowning, you will start to enjoy the swim - even if the water is choppy.
Here are four habits which will help you get back in touch with your best self. Just choose 1 or 2 that you are not currently practising - keep things simple.
Habit #1 Maintain Your Connections
Right at this time, it is often social connection that we miss most. At the moment that we register our feelings of loneliness, our body reacts - silently. This moment of recognition triggers physiological signals such as increased cortisol levels (stress), heightened sensitivity to pain, and general tension in the cardiovascular system.
You will notice heightened awareness of you having "symptoms" of COVID-19, more anxiety, and even depression. These feelings limit creativity and impair other aspects of executive function, such as reasoning and decision making, thereby impacting your work performance.
The solution - a potential new habit, if you have not been doing it - is to make sure that you call your best friends and have conversations, at least daily.
This is not doing a zoom call, but taking the time to interact with one other human being. Listen to their story; it's probably remarkably similar to yours. This will create a connection that will help you relax.
If you are able to move about outside of your house, meet one friend at the take-away coffee shop for a 5-minute chat.
In Australia at the moment, strictly speaking, we are not supposed to stop and chat. We can go out for a take-away, but not to meet and chat. But of course at the shop it takes 10 minutes for the order to come. That's plenty of time to maintain a sense of connection.
Habit #2 - Take your sleep as seriously as your diet and exercise
Sleep occurs in two phases during the night, and each phase has a different purpose. The first phase consists of rapid eye movement sleep (REM) cycles, and the second phase(s) non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) cycles. The cycles last about 90 minutes from beginning to end, but vary from person to person. For me, they are 70 minutes long (I've studied my sleep cycles for decades).
What is essential to know is that we need to give both phases time to work thoroughly every night, as they play different roles in refreshing and rebuilding our system. In fact, the brain is sometimes more active when a person is asleep than when he or she is awake, according to Harvard Medical School.
Non-REM sleep is often referred to as "slow wave," "delta" or "deep" sleep. ("Delta" waves are a type of slow brain wave typically seen during this stage on EEG in a sleep lab.) It is a period of deep sleep that is needed for us to feel refreshed for the next day.
If you are only sleeping for 6 or 7 hours, then you may be denying your body the benefits of enough NREM sleep.
Deprivation of NREM sleep exhibits itself in many ways and is cumulative, for example, inability to focus, more impulsive behaviour, and negative emotional reactivity. None of those behaviours is useful in the current circumstances of the pandemic.
Your choice here is to make a personal commitment to sleep 7 to 9 hours each night.
There are a few changes that you can make to support this change - namely eating dinner earlier, not drinking alcohol right before bed, not eating anything substantial after 8 pm, and going to bed and getting up at the same time.
Habit #3 - Exercise
Enough has been said here and elsewhere about the need for exercise and the benefits during #StayAtHome. Aerobic exercise not only relieves stress but also improves your concentration, reasoning and planning, with the effects lasting up to 24 hours.
If you are permitted to leave your residence, then do so. In Australia, we are permitted to leave the house for exercise.
If you don't like running or jogging, then start walking. Walk a little and then extend the distance day by day. When you can walk for 5 minutes, build up to 10, and then 20. Twenty minutes each day will do you a world of good.
If you have to stay indoors, then try these exercises below.
Habit #4 - Self-Compassion
Developing the habit of self-compassion is the habit of giving yourself a break.
By recognising that "you are only human", as you would say to a friend in a similar predicament, you relieve a pressure valve that you have been tightening inside your head. That pressure valve is holding behind it the build-up of chronic stress - and an elevating threat level.
When you open the valve, the stress flows out, and your self-threat level drops. This allows you to start putting things back into perspective.
You can practice self-compassion with these three steps:
Starting with one or two, the development of these habits will help you cope with the current circumstances and help you thrive by getting back in touch with yourself.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter