So many industries have faced unexpected challenges over the last 18 months; staff shortages, uncertain covid regulations, price hikes in raw materials, and many more. This adds to the stress on our physical and emotional wellbeing. How can we more easily adapt to change without it detrimentally affecting our health?
In biopsychosocial and trauma recovery models, the concept of developing external and internal resources is key to supporting recovery, health and wellbeing. Resources build our resilience and help us become more adaptable to change. If we are resilient to external stressors we can have more internal regulation. Internal regulation in our nervous system means we have more choice of how to respond to any given situation. I like to think of it like being a flexible (regulated) green twig that can bend and rebound under pressure, rather than a brittle, brown branch fallen to the ground that breaks easily under weight.
Resources help us to adapt
Developing resources helps us to build resilience. Resources help us to adapt. It doesn’t mean that unprecedented prices hikes don’t affect our business; it does mean that we can stay calm and focused allowing us to find more creative solutions and to weather the storm.
So what are resources and what does it mean in practice to develop resources? Resources can be external or internal. External resources are those things outside of yourself that support you to feel better. Doing regular exercise, meditation, or yoga. Taking your dog for a walk in the evening after work. Enjoying a relaxing bath with essential oils, with the door locked so the kids can’t disturb you. Reading by an open fire. Swimming in the sea. Eating healthy food. Cuddling your favourite pet dog or cat.
Internal resources are inside the body. This can take a little more time to develop as it involves training yourself to be aware of your body sensations. Example of internal resources are noticing your strong legs, your feet rooted on the ground, or your heart expanding in response to seeing a grandchild. Your breath can be a great internal resource. If you notice that your stomach feels tight in knots, then breathing exercises can help release that tightness.
“A resource is anything that helps us feel safe”
Trauma expert Steve Haines (2016) says “a resource is anything that helps us feel safe. Adding in the [internal] sensations associated with resources is the bit that makes them such a powerful tool.” You certainly don’t need to be traumatised to benefit from developing resources, but the neurophysiological principles used in trauma recovery therapies are very helpful for supporting our everyday living.
Deb Dana, a Polyvagal theory therapist, says the best way to develop external resources to identify who, what, where and when. Write down three things that help you in each category. And build on this list. Whomight be your grandchildren, or a pet dog, or maybe a client. What could be reading a novel, wearing a piece of jewellery of special significance, or the smell of freshly cut grass. Where is a geographical place: on top of Slieve Donard, or on a wind swept White Park Bay, visiting an art gallery, or being at home in your garden. And when? Friday nights after work, summer evenings, 5am before everyone else is awake.
The key to working with resources is to identify what works for you and try to introduce them into more of your time. Try to make a regular practice that includes resourcing activities, and importantly notice how your body responds when you connect with that resource.
When the body is resourced it is in what is called a ventral vagal state, meaning that rather than feeling defensive and anxious, our body feels safe, making it ready to connect, to be creative and to be present. We can find more creative solutions for our problems.
Embodiment and awareness are “conjoined twins”
Ideally what we want to do is to stitch together the external resources with the internal. We want to be aware of how our body feels when doing something that resources us. Somatic Experiencing originator Peter Levine (2010) describes embodiment and awareness as “conjoined twins.” I might notice my muscles relax as a lie listening to music by an open fire. I might notice the excitement and sense of freedom in my body as I go open water swimming. I feel refreshed afterwards and ready to engage with life.
Developing resources to support resilience and wellbeing is like building a muscle. We need to practice regularly so this becomes our default state, rather than anxiety and stress being our default.
It is all too easy to think that work commitments are the most important thing in our day. However, taking care of ourselves is much more important. If this is a difficult concept to accept, know that taking care of your mind and body will make you more efficient when you work.
Haines, S. (2016) Trauma is really strange Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London UK
Levine P. (2010) In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books
**This article was first published in Ambition, the Northern Ireland Chamber magazine**