How to be ‘mentally tough’
How’s your balance these days? Are you someone who typically is able to balance life’s demands fairly well? Do you find yourself struggling more now during a pandemic, or due to illness, or accumulated stress? Are you good at caring for other people and forget to take care of yourself? Do you get discouraged or self-critical when you “fall down” and struggle to get back up again? Is fear paralyzing some aspect of your life?
In my practice at the Center for Health and Integrative Medicine at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, I see a lot of people struggling to strike the right balance.
Let’s normalize this statement: Balance is HARD. Balance is even harder when fear and uncertainty are overwhelming.
Resilience is defined by Oxford online dictionary as: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. Rather than physical strength, resilience has more to do with emotional and mental toughness. Self-awareness, mindfulness, gratitude and self-compassion are components of resilience that can help maintain a sense of balance.
Self-Awareness is simply what you know about yourself and recognizing how you perceive and act or react to the world around you. Try naming the hard emotion in the moment such as anxiety, anger, grief, confusion, fear, overwhelm, panic, frustration, etc. Naming it lessens the intensity and reminds you that you are in control of the emotion, not the other way around. It keeps you connected with your logical brain, and you are better able to think of new ways to handle situations that arise.
Mindfulness is the ability to purposefully bring one’s attention to experiences in the present moment without judgement. Try using your five senses to passively observe and “be here now”. Don’t let your brain turn the present into a past experience or fear. Similarly, don’t let your brain focus too much on what could happen in the future. Repeating the phrase “be here now” brings you back to the present moment, which is really all we have.
Gratitude is essential for optimal well-being. The brain is wired to get stuck in a negativity cycle, easily remembering the bad things that happen instead of the good. Positivity actually needs to be consciously acknowledged in order to balance the good with the not so good. Practice by writing down things that you are grateful for in a daily gratitude journal or try intentionally and positively reframing the situation, even in an undesirable experience.
Self-Compassion can be viewed as being a kind friend to yourself at all times. When you fall down, make a mistake, don’t show up as your best self or lose your cool, what is your first reaction? Do you criticize yourself, judge or instill shame to the situation or yourself? Try giving yourself a break and approach yourself with flexibility, gentleness and kindness. Treat yourself as you would a small child, puppy or best friend. The more we can recognize the suffering of others and extend kindness to them; the more connected we become and the less alone we feel. Maintaining balance is easier with the support of others who care and who want to help.
Incorporating these practices into your daily life will build resilience and help find the right balance for you, even when it’s challenging to do so.
Deborah Stamm is a nurse practitioner at the Center for Health and Integrative Medicine at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.