Stressed out? Toughen up! (by easing up)

Wouldn’t it be liberating to discover we can toughen up in our lives and at work by easing up on ourselves? This idea may be completely at odds with our current interpretations of resilience.  We’ve heard resilience is about toughing it out, flexing our muscles, ginning and bearing it, faking it till we make it, getting down and dirty, no pain no gain, going one more round….and the clichés go on!

But think for a moment what you experience when you try these approaches. Are you more emotionally volatile, less able to think clearly and find it impossible to wind down? Do you get impatient with the kids? Or try to sleep but end up tossing and turning? Getting less done, not more? In truth, toughing it out leads us to stress, overwhelm and burnout. Possibly feeling like you are on the hamster-wheel of life and not enjoying it!

Here’s the issue with this approach. We never recover. Overwork and exhaustion are the opposite of resilience. It’s the lack of recovery which holds back our resilience.

Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure

The good news is that resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. The key to resilience is trying hard, then stopping, recovering, then trying again. We recover by taking short physical and mental breaks. By “oscillating” our energy between work and recovery, we restore our equilibrium – and our brain’s ability to function efficiently, and sustain our wellbeing.

Rest and recovery are not the same thing. Stopping does not equal recovering. What we need is periods of low cognitive (thinking) activity. When our brains are not full of information or pre-occupied with to do lists. When we are not on Facebook, Instagram, or reading articles on our phones.

How to recharge in short-sharp bursts

So, what’s the best way to recover then? For us busy mums, we need to find ways to restore ourselves as part of our normal routine – rather than making it one more thing to find time for. Here are some ideas. We challenge you to choose at least one of these to incorporate into your day!

  • Every 20 minutes, take a 2-minute break. Stand up, stretch, or a quick walk around the office (and will improve, not slow your productivity). Use an app like Mindfulness Bell, which plays a gentle bell regularly to remind you
  • Switch tasks or projects at work at least every 90 minutes – varying activities uses different parts of your brain. Take at least a 5-minute break between activities. Work from home? -Hang out the washing or collect the mail. At the office? -Head to the water cooler for a leg stretch and chat
  • 5 minutes outside will boost your mood. Even better take a walk with someone around the block. By “taking your brain for a walk” you also increase your ability to retain information and think creatively
  • Take a mid-day break of at least 30 minutes every day. Do not have lunch at your desk. Have it with a friend or colleague, or go outside and look at some greenery while you eat
  • Find your Zen – this doesn’t need to be a long and involved process! Apps like Breethe have 10-minute guided meditations. The 7 Second Meditation app helps you take just moments of mindfulness and breath (surely, we can find 7 seconds?!)
  • Take a break by calling a family member or friend
  • Take the stairs at work instead of the lift (and don’t look at your phone!)
  • Schedule time daily unplugged from your smartphone! Apps like Unplugged can help you automate this if your willpower is low!

restore for resilience

Resilience is like a muscle that we can strengthen

The truth is, we can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but we take short breaks from it and build our resilience to cope with it. Resilience is like a muscle that we can strengthen. But like any muscle, to grow it must be used, then given time off to heal. By taking short but regular mental breaks during the day we recover, ready for our next tasks. We’re more efficient, enjoy our work more, and have more energy for our lives at home too. Remember, life is not a marathon, but a series of sprints!

With love

Flourishing Mothers

Flourishing Mothers were inspired by the work of Sean Achor, Tom Rath and Jim Loehr