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Action of the month for May: Five tips to build your mental resilience during times of crisis

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Five tips to build your mental resilience during times of crisis

If you’ve been following Équiterre since the beginning of the current crisis, you’ve surely noticed that a certain word keeps coming up: resilience.

For Équiterre, resilience is the key to ensuring that our societies and our systems are strong enough to resist the crises that threaten us now and those that will follow...be they health, economic or environmental crises.

Resilience is our ability to anticipate, adapt and regenerate within a complex system.

At Équiterre, though we often use the term in a community, political or technical perspective, an individual’s mental resilience is every bit as important, especially in these times where anxiety and eco-anxiety can take its toll.

In order to be able to engage ourselves to support our community and our planet with confidence, openness and kindness, our personal mental resilient is essential.

So here are five simple and practical tips on how to become more mentally resilient!

Tip #1: Connect with nature

There is no shortage of studies touting the benefits of spending time in nature, including how it reduces cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress.

According to one such study[1], maximum benefits are derived from being in nature from 20 to 30 minutes, irrespective of the type of activity – it doesn’t matter if you’re walking or sitting. [2]

Research has also shown that your nervous system calms down in the first five to seven minutes of being in nature[3], and measurable effects continue to be felt even days later[4]!

Here are some ideas for your next “nature therapy” session*:

WHERE: Forest, woods, park or garden
LENGTH: 15-20 minutes

  • Take a leisurely stroll. Simply be in nature’s presence. Take everything in with all five senses;
  • If you’re walking with others, arrange with them not to talk until the end of your walk so that you can be more deeply immersed in the experience;
  • Leave behind your smartphone, camera or any other distracting item (a perfect opportunity to apply tip #2);
  • Set no goals or expectations. Walk aimlessly, allowing your body to take you where it wants;
  • Pause from time to time to have a look at a pretty flower or leaf, or to touch a stone or the bark on a tree. Note how the ground feels under your feet;
  • Find a peaceful spot where you can sit down or stretch out. Take in the landscape, listen to the sounds, breathe in the smells. Notice how the birds’ and animals’ behaviour changes as they get used to your presence. Observe any changes in your own body. Note any changes without judgment or agenda.

*From Méditer la Terre vue de l'intérieur - Coffre à outil pour incarner la paix, by Nadine Bachand, Éditions ADA Audio.

Tip #2: Take a digital detox

Smartphones, tablets, email… these and other technologies have become omnipresent in our lives. We are available and “connected” much of the day, which can make us feel more scattered. 

Is this a choice or has it become automatic?

Give yourself a half-hour break from multitasking. Don’t answer your phone, close your email. Take this time to focus better on whatever task you’re doing, or simply take a break.

Tip #3: Practice mindful walking

While you walk, synchronize your steps with your breathing.

For example, try inhaling for four or five strides and then exhaling for the same number of strides.

Instead of thinking about tasks you have to do later, bring your attention to other things:

  • Your breathing;
  • What your body is feeling, and how the ground feels beneath your feet;
  • The things around you.

Mindful walking can be done both inside and out, in the city and in the country. Take the time to appreciate the benefits by paying attention to what’s going on in your body, and by observing your internal climate.

Tip #4: Take mindful breathing breaks

We often experience stress in our daily life without even noticing. We live in our head, disconnected from our body. Breathing can be a powerful tool to reconnect.

Why is that? Because it immediately tells us whether we’re stressed out – and then helps us regulate that stress. Our diaphragm, the main muscle involved in breathing, is a very emotive muscle; it stores stress. A sensation of shallow or restricted breathing – a tense diaphragm – tells us that we’re experiencing stress.

The good news? Once we learn how to regulate it, our breathing allows us to calm our body and, in so doing, calm our mind and return to the present.

How do we regulate it? There are numerous techniques, but here’s a really simple one:

  • Sitting or lying down, close your eyes and place your hands on your stomach.
  • Concentrate on your breathing. Inhale deeply, pause for a few seconds with your lungs full, then exhale completely while contracting your abdominal muscles a bit. Then hold your breath for a few seconds while your lungs are empty.
  • Keep breathing like this for a few minutes. Then take note of the effects, of the sensation of calm that is gradually setting in.

This simple practice helps calm the nervous system and soothe your racing mind by bringing you back to the present.

Tip #5: Incorporate mindful meditation into your daily life

Training our body and mind to relax is much the same as going to the gym: it’s an important practice to transform our state of being to be able to face, with resilience and calm, the obstacles that crises present us with, be they health-related or environmental.

How?

Have a look at the meditation session we shared with our followers on April 22nd (in French). Équiterre’s Senior Soil Health Analyst, Nadine Bachand, also happens to be a meditation expert. Her calm voice will guide you through a mindful meditation session that you can learn to do on your own (the session begins at about the 7:30 minute mark of the video).

Short on time? Here’s a super-quick meditation (only 4 minutes long).

Otherwise, here are some steps to guide you:

  1. Take some time every day to sit down in a quiet space, preferably during the morning.
  2. For the first few minutes, do the breathing exercise described in tip #4 to relax your body.
  3. Observe your physical sensations, as though you’re a camera filming a scene.

    Without judgment, observe all the feelings your body is experiencing by scanning it from toe to head: take note of any areas of tension, discomfort, lightness or any other sensation. And if there are no sensations, simply observe this absence, without judgment, and remind yourself that there is no good or bad feeling. Become aware of your support points: your feet on the floor, your pelvis in contact with the floor or a chair.
  4. Next, pay attention to your breathing while being mindful of the sensations your body feels while breathing. Without thinking, spontaneously allow your attention to focus on the part of your body where you feel your breath most.
  5. Keep doing this for a few moments, while simply being present with your breathing. When your mind wanders (and wander it will!), simply bring your attention back to your breathing with kindness and patience. Avoid judging yourself, and try not to control anything. Putting aside, even for a moment or two, the reflex to want things to be different from what they are can feel so nice.
  6. Accept any discomfort, stress, tension, emotion or wandering thoughts. Just be and stay in the present.

The benefits? By taking regular meditation breaks, you will cultivate your ability to leave auto-pilot, a natural default mode, behind. You’ll become better able to live in the moment, instead of trying to fill the moment.

This practice will help you observe how you’re feeling, instead of reacting (or even overreacting) to an irritant or an obstacle. And that’s what it means to be resilient.

To see crisis as an opportunity

We hope these tips and practices will help you to build up your mental resilience so that we can get to work building up our collective resilience together.

Crises have a silver lining: they offer opportunities to reflect, come up with ideas and build a better society for us all. Here’s what our Executive Director, Colleen Thorpe, has to say about it.

In these challenging times, the expression “take care of yourself” has perhaps never been so poignant.

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722/full

[2] https://www.passeportsante.net/fr/Actualites/Nouvelles/Fiche.aspx?doc=na...)

[3] Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. 2017. “Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review.” International journal of environmental research and public health, 14, 8, 851.
https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14080851
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580555/

[4] Miyazaki, Y. 2018. Op. Cit.