‘All of us will inevitably fall into challenges, failures, and setbacks in life that may keep us stuck or unable to take action – but my work is about how we can change the narrative,’ says Dr Neeta Bhushan, bestselling author of That Sucked, Now What? How to Embrace the Joy in Chaos and Find Magic in the Mess.
After losing her mother, father and brother by the age of 19, Neeta went on train as a dentist and got married. But after fleeing her abusive husband, and leaving her successful dental practice, Neeta retrained to be a master coach. She is now an author, motivational speaker and podcast host who teaches people ‘how to be audaciously resilient’ in their lives.
‘We all have things that have happened to us. But I’m interested in exploring – how you will change your narrative? How will you change the meaning of your stories in your mind to begin directing the life you desire?’
Here Metro.co.uk talks to Neeta about how to become happier and more resilient.
What is resilience?
Resilience comes from the Latin word resilire, which means ‘to jump back,’ and in its most scientific sense, it refers to the capacity to recover from physical stress or strain – think of a rubber band that snaps back into place after stretching. Put another way, resilience is a measure of how much energy something can absorb without deforming and losing its fundamental shape.
Does everyone have the capacity to bounce back?
Each person’s resilience, like their identity, is multidimensional. An individual’s upbringing or their current environment, could affect how they reacted to a setback as much as their emotional capacity and their self-awareness. These four components are dynamic and interrelated, and give us a measurement of their ‘bounce factor’.
What is bounce factor?
The bounce factor is that measure of innate resilience in each of us. It influences how easily we rebound from a given circumstance. But it’s not just about learning how to bounce back, it’s also how we can achieve long-lasting positive change. What happens when you don’t just use the momentum of a challenge to return to your starting point, but rather use it to generate your own forward motion? How do you progress even further than you were before the setback?
So where do we start?
You start by acknowledging your pain. This isn’t always easy, but it is possible. Trust me; I know because I’ve been through it myself. Life can be hard, painful, messy, and chaotic. That’s what it is to be human. Pain is an integral part of our experience here. No one is exempt; no one is immune and what I’m inviting people to do is to embrace the hurt, embrace the pain.
How do you do that?
The first thing to do is place your hand over your heart. Because when we were four or five or six years old, when we had a bad day at school, when we would come home, we wanted the embrace of an adult, somebody that loved us. And we can be that person for ourselves now. When we put our hand over our heart it actually calms our nervous system. So before you start wailing or cursing or whatever your normal human reactions are, put your hand over your heart and say (out loud if necessary): ‘That sucked.’
Breathe into your pain. Because when we breathe, the pressure cooker feeling is released.
So you acknowledge honestly how you feel, then what?
It’s about learning how to self-regulate your emotions. First notice where you are breathing. Are you breathing shallowly? Are you breathing at all? Many of us don’t breathe when something bad happens. So inhale three times. Then start to notice where you are tense in your body – you might ball your fists, your jaw might begin to clench. Notice all of those sensations and welcome all of them, because that’s all valid and that’s your human response. But also breathe, breathe into the pain. Because when we breathe, the pressure cooker feeling is released.
And then just state how you feel. Say aloud: ‘I’m feeling really defeated/betrayed/angry/jealous’. Because of society standards and our upbringing, we often want to squash those feelings down, but I invite people to say how you’re feeling out loud. It makes us feel 10 times better, lighter.
Then try to move. Allow yourself to stomp, move, shake, dance. If you’re in a work setting, maybe you can go to the gym or even go to the bathroom and just shake out your hands. It’s an act of release. So you are acknowledging honestly how you feel, you are breathing, you are noticing where you feel tense and you are moving it through your body. This is how we emotionally regulate our feelings in the moment.
What do we do when we feel overwhelmed by emotion?
Start to notice your capacity to handle, or even just sit with uncomfortable feelings. How do you react when things don’t go your way or when your expectations are not met? How do you react when feeling betrayed or taken advantage of by others? How hard is it for you to stand up to someone who is treating you badly? Do you shut down or get aggressive? Do you feel like bursting into tears? Do you shy away from the world, fully avoid others, and try to hide yourself under a rock?
Get a rough sense of how you emotionally self-regulate and calm down. Jot down a recent major emotional event. Then jot down the next five to seven things you did immediately afterwards (texted a friend, took a nap, went to a meeting, drove home in traffic…).
What we don’t feel we don’t heal, we need to feel to heal. What we resist, persists.
Next to each one, write a (+) if that action made you feel calmer or cooler, and a (-) if it made you feel more stressed or upset (or had no effect). What do the calming actions have in common? Did they each get you alone time? Did you have a chance to vent to someone else? Work out how you incorporate these kinds of self-regulating strategies regularly and with intention.
Many of us spend years running away from our feelings. Any advice?
What we don’t feel we don’t heal, we need to feel to heal. What we resist, persists. Start with baby steps. Put on a timer for 30 seconds, create a playlist of sad songs and then just allow yourself to rant/cry/wail. Start there.
When bad stuff happens to us, how do we stop feeling like a victim?
The word victim can be a loaded one. As a survivor of multiple traumas myself, I want to be clear: resisting the victim mentality does not mean ignoring, minimizing, or denying any lived experience of victimisation. If you’ve been through any kind of trauma, violence, bullying, or emotional abuse, you deserve nothing but empathy and support. You do not need to rewrite or deflect the harm done to you in order to achieve resilience. You can be a victim, and you can still resist the victim mentality.
I know this first hand: my abusive marriage and the mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially draining battle to leave it certainly qualified me to identify as a victim. The key is in how we tell the story. The facts of my experience – the fact that I’ve suffered – are manifestly true, but I still didn’t have to take on a victim mentality.
I can acknowledge the real harm done to me without taking on a permanent identity defined by the abuse. I don’t have to let the story in which I was the victim be the one that rules in my mindset – I can recast it to see myself as a survivor, and later, even as someone who is thriving. Questions that are useful to ask when you’re facing adversity: What can I learn from this? What is this moment teaching me?
You can be a victim, and you can still resist the victim mentality.
How can we build our inner strength?
Train yourself by inviting ‘good stress’ into your life. Good stress encourages you to be better, whether at handling disappointment, embracing unmet expectations, building muscle, getting more creative, or becoming a better public speaker – all of it begins with taking courageous action.
How to bounce bac
Recall some of the setbacks and challenges in your life. Make a list of as many as you can recall. For example: A failure at work, something didn’t go to plan, flunking an important exam, a bad breakup, a small but painful betrayal, a period of addiction. Now choose one of the setbacks or challenges you listed and answer the following questions:
Start by thinking about places or times you can simply do something new or different during your day. How can you welcome those good challenges? For example, have a difficult conversation – namely the one you’ve been putting off or sign up for that public speaking class.
How can we build habits to make us more resilient?
Try a Personal Observation Check (or POC), one of my favourite and most powerful tools. A POC can be done on a weekly or daily basis (personally, I do a POC at the end of the day) when you have a chance to reflect. You ask yourself five key questions: What went well today? How am I feeling? What could I have done differently? How could I have shown up differently? What am I grateful for in that situation?
Not only do these questions set you up for success the very next day by showing you how to improve, but they also allow you to find the smallest things to be grateful for.
Even in my toughest times after I left my abusive husband, I could be grateful for a warm bed. I was grateful that I wasn’t in a shelter, that I was safe, and that I had the funds to lease an apartment and put a bed in it. That was enough. I could see how things could be worse, and how I had the strength to provide myself with what I needed, and feel grateful for that.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
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