Author: Lynne Wiseman BA Psych, M.Ed, Counselling (Candidate)
There is no shortage of opportunities to practice resilience in our day-to-day lives. We are constantly confronted with trials, setbacks, and roadblocks that challenge us to access our inner strength and capacity to face these difficulties directly.
When I say resilience, I mean our ability to move through our days knowing that we have the power, strength, and control to make choices that support us to not only cope, not only recover and rebound but potentially restore equilibrium and thrive, even in the face of trauma. It is embracing the reality that we have the inherent ability and choice to face what comes our way with flexibility and openness, even when it feels hard.
This brings me to the space between.
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor offered this quote:
So, what do we do with this space between a stimulus and a response to nurture our growth and freedom? What strategies can we use to utilize this space effectively? This is where self-regulation comes in.
Self-regulation is an essential coping skill that is vital for optimal daily functioning. It involves our ability to respond in a calm and controlled manner to internal and external events. This first involves awareness of what is going on in and around us, then understanding and accepting what we are thinking and feeling, and then managing our emotions and impulses. The easiest way to understand self-regulation is thinking of it as the pause between a feeling and an action.
Awareness involves not only being mindful of what you value (what is most important to you and guides you), but also acting in accordance with our values and intentionally being present in the moment. In this presence, our awareness of sensory stimuli is heightened, and we are better able to assess and respond. This involves practice with mindfulness and it is an important aspect of self-regulation that can be practiced at any time.
When confronted with trauma, emotional regulation is often negatively affected, leading to difficulty accepting, understanding, and managing emotions (Scoglio et al., 2018). As such, handling stress and anxiety can be more challenging and lead to unhealthy regulation strategies, such as numbing or avoidance.
To facilitate trauma recovery and promote mental health and well-being, building healthy emotional regulation strategies is vital. This might involve learning how to reinterpret situations or change unhealthy thought patterns, such as rumination. It may also look like practicing self-compassion or developing a new or greater awareness of physiological cues. It may also be something more tangible like utilizing breathing techniques or relaxation exercises.
As you explore strategies and techniques, it is important to keep in mind that self-regulation is both a proactive and reactive process. It is something that we can prepare for ahead of time, perhaps utilizing relaxation exercise, and after a triggering event, such as resting or seeking support. Having strategies in the moment is also beneficial and this might include breathing exercises that help you to expand the space between.
What is key is that you explore strategies and integrate the ones that work for you and reflect what is most important to you. As you practice integrating these new strategies into your life, they will gradually become more habitual and a way of life for you. You will not only build resilience and gain confidence in facing difficult circumstances, but you will have a greater capacity to build a more intentional and fulfilling presence with others. Being creative and getting curious during this process will facilitate more meaningful and personalized strategies towards an optimal and balanced level of functioning in your life.