Your resilience is your capacity to handle stress and how well you are able to bounce back from adversities and pressure. It varies from day to day, moment to moment, depending on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Physically resilience depends on how well you have been able to sleep and rejuvenate, drink water, eat properly and exercise. Being in pain for whatever reason can be very tiring both physically and mentally.
Mentally, resilience depends on how well you are able to address challenges, deal with information overload, handle feeling cornered and manage discomfort. If you feel that people appreciate you, that you contribute to your community, that what you do in life has meaning and that you can connect to people around you socially and emotionally, your mental resilience will flourish.
Your bucket of resilience represents your ability to handle stress.
There are two kinds of stress: 1) daily stress that gradually fills your bucket like rain in response to ongoing challenges, and 2) traumatic stress which comes unexpectedly like a shock.
Every day your levels of stress will rise in your bucket, and if you are able to sleep restfully and exercise your levels will decrease back to a baseline, never spilling over the top of the bucket. Basically, anything that raises your adrenaline and cortisol levels more than you are able to use them or calm them will gradually fill your bucket.
As your levels of stress rise towards the top of the bucket, your body prepares to go into a fight or flight-response. This response is designed to save your life in the case of danger. Most of the time, you don’t notice your stress levels because the system is self-regulating, just like the rest of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS- see page xxx). Some sure signs that you are reaching the top of your bucket, about to flip into panic, is that you easily get irritated, sad, lose your humour – things are just not enjoyable at this level. This is because when the level of stress is so high in your bucket your ANS “decides” that you need to shift your attention to focus on the perceived threat. That is how it is called Autonomic Nervous system – it runs things automatic in case of emergency.
During high or prolonged levels of stress, you experience physical signs, including sensations in your intestines; they are preparing to empty your bowels, as they are programmed to do if your life is threatened. Constipation, diarrhea and irritable bowels are common signs of this stress response as your body begins to tense your muscles, preparing for fight or flight. You might also notice that the shoulders and back will tense, often resulting in back or shoulder pains, disc problems, and even migraine headaches.
Since your bowels won’t be processing food properly when the body believes it is under threat, your immune system is also affected, since it depends upon nutrition. Also, since 95% of the hormone serotonin that helps you keep you cool and fun (no humour at high levels of stress, remember?) is manufactured in your bowels, you may start showing signs of irritability, reactive aggression and depression. Last but not least, your hippocampus, the part of your brain that is responsible for short-term memory, will start shrinking and you will find that you forget what you were looking for, where you put your keys, but can still remember clearly what happened four years ago; that’s because that earlier events have been securely stored in your long-term memory, which stays intact even in times of high stress.
Cognition and reflection will start shutting down because they are too slow for life-saving reactions. You will find it hard to let go of thought patterns. If somebody says something hurtful you may think about it for days, instead of letting go and moving on. This is because your brain is looking everywhere for dangers and possible enemies. All of these reactions will go back to normal as your stress levels decrease.
Freeze, flight, fight and panic
If your stress levels continue to rise your bucket may spill over, which means that your amygdala will hijack your whole system and be in charge until all is well again. If you go into a freeze response you may find yourself completely unable to take action, possibly even unable to get out of bed. This is a normal freeze reaction. Flight is a precursor to freeze; in this phase you will be looking for ways to escape, but if what you are escaping from is in your fantasy, you may find drugs or self-harm your only option. If you choose the fight response, your behaviour will be just that – engaging in some kind of physical fight! In either case your heartbeat will accelerate due to adrenaline; if this goes on for a while, your heart muscle, will become a bit tired. This can spread a sensation of “pressure over the chest,” which in turn can make your brain aware that “my heart is racing,” which interestingly makes it race even more. Now you will notice your muscles are tense and your breathing shallow. This imbalance in oxygenation and heart rate variability can easily evolve into panic.
Have you experienced this? Once you have had a panic attack, your life may change completely. It is a very strange experience with a profound sense of loss of control, which can create a new fear – a fear of fear. You become afraid of having another panic attack, because of how unpleasant it was. Even though panic attacks are not dangerous or life threatening, they can feel like you are about to die. Techniques like the Trauma Tapping Technique and Self-Havening techniques are very efficient ways to resolve these experiences.
Traumatic stress is when your resilience bucket is filled instantly in reaction to an experience where you feel there is no escape, and you believe that something very vital, life-and-death vital, is under threat (see page xx).
As individuals, we react very differently to trauma, because it is subjective. For one person, ‘loss of face’ can be a matter of life or death while another person may shrug their shoulders and simply move on. Some people fear death and pain; some accept it. When some people are calm, they can handle extremely challenging situations, and yet may be traumatized by something others consider trivial.
When you have a traumatic experience you will experience a high peak of brainwave activity, a Gamma-wave (see page xx) . Along with this your whole defence system will produce hormones and neurotransmitters that ‘encode’ (inprint) the traumatic memory and possible aspect of the experience, effectively developing a ‘trigger list’ to help you avoid it in the future. This memory will have a lot more details than everyday memories, and will be disconnected from ordinary life before and after the event, like a temporary “bubble” in time. When something on the list is triggered, it may put you back in that bubble, as if the traumatic event it is happening over and over again.
For example, if you are in a car accident, you will be able to remember what time of day it was, and remember very specific details, such as the sound of sirens, screaming tires, honking horns and maybe even the song that was playing on the radio just before it all happened. This is normal and a great feature of your security system. For the rest of your life, something as simple as hearing the song that was played on the radio can trigger a traumatic response, re-creating the exact sensations you got in your body and mind at the time of the accident. This kind of triggered response to an event in the past is called Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). You can resolve it if you can convince (send signals to) your amygdala that the danger is over, even if that song is being played; techniques like the Trauma Tapping Technique and self-Havening techniques are very efficient ways to resolve the past event.
Your personal resilience boils down to how low you can keep the levels of stress in your resilience bucket. You can achieve that by having good health routines, social support and connection, daily tapping/self-Havening, meditation, exercise, enough sleep, etc. It is also about having techniques and strategies for bouncing back when something extremely stressful happens, and knowing how to use techniques like the Trauma Tapping Technique and self-Havening.