Everyone thinks I’m a strong woman.
They see that a grain of sugar or a crumb of bread never touches my lips, I do strength training three times a week and what some call discipline, is just a way of life for me.
I know I’m strong but I’m not some type of super woman who is infallible and only satisfied with perfection. Challenges are not immune from my life and I’ve had my share of highs and lows but I have learnt to develop resilience. I wasn’t born with mental toughness or mental weakness but developing that strong core has come with knocks, lessons and shifts in outlook.
I’d like to share some of those lessons because, on reflection, I really think they have helped me cope with pandemic lockdowns and any other challenges that have come my way.
1. Looking after yourself – Being physically strong has a great impact on feeling emotionally strong as well. It gives you confidence in every area of your life, including your mental strength. Generally looking after yourself and, most importantly, making time for some self-care, is so important. Even if you have to overhaul your routine, it’s worth it so that you don’t become a victim of your stress levels, environment or mood.
2. Food sabotage – Don’t let food be your stress relief valve. It may seem easy to dive for the bucket of ice cream when you’re stressed believing it’s your secret weapon but it’s actually your greatest enemy. Whatever you tell your brain, that is what it will do. I like to listen to UK psychologist Marisa Peer sometimes and particularly like her messages about how we can train our brains into literally bringing about a shift in mindset. So, if you tell your brain that you really don’t want to attend tomorrow’s meeting, you’ll likely wake up the following day with the flu. You can talk yourself into, and out of, a range of situations and difficulties. That self-talk is so crucial to building resilience and coping skills.
3. Structure – Everyone feels safe with structure in their lives. Just as children like to test their parents to reveal the boundaries because they feel so much more safe and secure when boundaries are firm, we too respect boundaries in our lives. Most of us are raised with boundaries so we’re conditioned to their benefits. The workplace usually provides those external boundaries but without them, as many people have been this year, we’re being forced to call on our internal boundaries.
4. Routine – Once we’re left to our own devices at home, maybe working a few steps away from the fridge, that structure can start to weaken, if not entirely collapse. So I have my own spreadsheet to itemise my routine. I block out time for sleep, work, exercise and down time. It ensures I’m 100% present and dedicated to each of those tasks because I know I have time. It’s so stressful to be doing one thing while you’re thinking of something else or the next 10 tasks you have to complete. If you dedicate yourself to the task at hand, it lightens the load enormously and to see, on a spreadsheet, that you don’t have any time for yourself forces you to rearrange your schedule, make some cancellations and make sure you have at least some time that is commitment free. It gives me so much more perspective on how well I’m managing my time.
There’s a saying that if you want something done, ask a busy person and I know I’m productive. I also know that I love achievement. My motivation builds the more I can tick off my tasks and which each tick, I relieve some stress but I also know that if I receive a request to complete on someone else’s deadline which I can’t meet, I can provide an alternative, deadline. It gives the other person a realistic expectation and means that I won’t drown in a commitment I can’t possibly meet. Then, I’m not letting that person down and I’m not spinning in a whirlwind of stress.
Stress has a huge impact on our sense of mental strength and well-being because, when we start to feel like we’re losing control, it feels like we’re losing strength. Unfortunately, many women tend to take on too much, trying to please too many people by trying to complete too many tasks only to let everyone down, including themselves.
But the way we feel and react to stress and challenges are not entirely psychological.
As much as I have good systems in place to help support my resilience, I know that my healthy lifestyle is the foundation of that strength.
If I was on a blood sugar roller coaster, as most people are, and had a gut overrun with bad bacteria, I would automatically be at a disadvantage because I’d suffer more anxiety and agitation.
We know that the gut and the brain are in communication. If we’re distraught, we’re likely to suffer some type of stomach upset. Likewise, if our gut is filled with opportunistic bacteria that loves sugar and processed foods, it will dominate the gut environment and communicate to the brain, also causing those negative emotions of anxiety and depression. The healthier your gut, the better the communication channels between your brain and your gut and, so the better your mental health will be as well.
Our bodies are a network where emotions are not only created in the brain but have clear linkages to our gut so people wanting to develop more intestinal fortitude emotionally, really do have to clear up their intestines, get the gut bacteria balanced and it’s amazing how much more clarity you will enjoy mentally, how much less stress you’ll suffer and your overall mood lifts to another level. You may not be infallible in good health but you’re certainly well-prepared, have a good, strong armour to cope with whatever life throws your way and are all the more healthy for it.