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August 21, 2020

A Daily Schedule for Building Resilience

A Daily Schedule for Building Resilience

Updated on August 21, 2020 at 4:00pm EDT.

We all want to have resilience, particularly in today’s high-stress times. It’s often thought of as the ability to bounce back from tough situations: You get knocked down, you recover, and the next thing you know, you're resilient. 

But there’s a more proactive form of resilience that may be more powerful, according to Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center and executive medical director of behavioral health at Sharecare. What if we can change our relationship to the challenges at hand so that resilience means maintaining our mental balance and not getting knocked down so hard in the first place? 

This sort of resilience—the ability to respond and adapt in healthy ways to the stressors that life presents—isn’t an off-the-rack set of armor you simply acquire and wear. Rather, it’s a skillset, a process, an ethic that requires development on a daily basis. Just as you need to lift weights if you want to build muscles, you have to put in the work to develop this form of resilience.

The good news is that anyone can develop resilience, no matter your starting point, no matter the constraints life presents you. The better news is that many of the activities that foster resilience are those we enjoy doing already.  

This daily regimen draws on insights from Dr. Brewer to highlight simple steps we can all take to bolster our capacity for resilience. Build these items into your daily routine, moving them around to fit your schedule and setting calendar alerts as necessary. The key is to make them as reliable—and non-negotiable—as brushing your teeth each day.

In the morning

Let the sunshine in
Start the day with a blast of sunlight and some physical activity, ideally a walk outside. The sun helps calibrate your internal clock, letting your body know it’s time for action, and the walk can give you a burst of energy.

You’ll be surprised how a stroll, rain or shine, can clear your mind and set you on a path for a resilient day. When you head out into your neighborhood, be sure to follow guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, which may include wearing a face covering and keeping appropriate distance from others. 

Fuel up
Eating a breakfast with a balance of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats will give you energy to sustain your brain and body through the morning. Try:

  • Avocado slices on whole grain toast
  • Oatmeal cooked with walnuts, frozen blueberries and low-fat milk
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt topped with granola and fresh berries

Sit in stillness
Before diving into your day, take a moment to sit and tune in to the flow of your breath at one point in your body, whether at your nose or your belly. Once you’ve found a little quiet, direct your attention to your thoughts. Is your mental energy calm or are you already tipping into fight or flight mode? Rather than personalizing how you feel (“I am so stressed!”) try observing the flow of mental energy in a non-judgmental way (“Hmm, there’s stress.”)

Starting the day with this mindset reminds you that stress is inevitable, it flows through all of us—but stress is not who you are. As we develop this mindful approach to our thoughts, we begin to learn how our minds work and how we respond to internal and external experiences, explains Brewer.

If you need a hand finding your breath or developing a meditation routine, try the free Breathe by Dr. Jud app (available for iOS and Android). For a more immersive evidence-based mindfulness experience, sign up for Dr. Brewer’s Unwinding Anxiety program.

In the afternoon

Lunchtime talk
Make it a point to have a meaningful conversation with someone—a coworker, an old friend, a family member or even a licensed therapist—as part of your break. If your work seems too busy, tell yourself (and your boss, if necessary) that stepping away will give you fresh energy to finish your day strong.

Talking about your worries can help you identify what’s bothering you. Active listening, meanwhile, strengthens your connection with others and can help put into perspective what you’re going through. If you don’t have people to call each day of the week, spend this time jotting down thoughts in a journal that you can refer to or share with a friend later.

This conversation can be a valuable opportunity to build on the mindfulness you practiced in the morning. “For example, if we hear some bad news or get into an argument with a family member or coworker, we might reactively get angry or frustrated,” says Brewer.

Instead, pause and think about how you are reacting to the conversation. Check in with yourself to see whether you’re reflexively resisting new ideas, pushing back or getting defensive.

“Can we notice what the reaction feels like?” Brewer asks. “Can we notice the thoughts and emotions that result from the interaction, and step back, giving ourselves some space to take a deep breath?”

Stretch break
Throughout your day, remember to get up periodically to move your body and stretch your legs. Spend a few minutes looking out the window or with your eyes closed and find that in-and-out flow of your breath. Notice with a little curiosity how your breath feels, whether it’s shallow or deep, quick or slow, Brewer suggests. You’ll come back to your workstation with renewed clarity. 

In the evening

Spread kindness
Whether you realize it or not, you probably help a number of people, whether coworkers or family members, throughout your day. But reaching out beyond your circle to perform deliberate acts of kindness is an important component of developing resilience. If you have the resources to donate, make a daily micro-payment to a favorite charity. If you have time to spare, take a half hour to pick up groceries for a friend or to run a parcel to the post office for an elderly neighbor.

Even if you don’t have something tangible to lend, you can plant the seeds of kindness in a brief day’s-end meditation. The Breathe by Dr. Jud app includes a guided loving-kindness meditation, which helps you open your heart to others with thoughts of generosity—even to people who might not be the easiest to deal with. Closing the book on a long day knowing that you reached out to others, even in a modest way, can help you shore up your own feelings of fulfilment.

Have a laugh
Before you shut down your devices for the night, you can choose: Check the latest COVID-19 numbers in your area, scroll your favorite commentator’s Twitter screed—or read or watch something that will lift your spirits.

Research suggests that laughter offers a number of health benefits, from reducing levels of stress hormones to boosting the immune system. If you find something really good, share it: Having a laugh with friends also triggers the production of endorphins—feel-good chemicals in the brain—which may help people bond and form relationships, suggests one 2017 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Clock out
In order to do it all over again tomorrow, you need a good night’s rest. Set a reminder on your phone to let you know when to start winding down, at least an hour before lights out. Jot down your key to-dos for the next day so they’re not rattling around in your brain when your head hits the pillow.

If you nailed your resilience-building points today, give yourself credit. If you missed the mark in a few places, know that there’s a new day tomorrow to keep making progress.

Medically reviewed in August 2020.

Sources:

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