Thursday, 18 May 2017

Resilience

Mrs Morgan reflects on the first PGS Mental Health Week and presents some of the content of her talk: Resilience for Girls.

When Mr Williamson suggested to me that we run a mental health week I thought it was a great idea. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how successful and necessary an event it would become.
"Wonderful", "essential", "inspiring", "very moving" are just some of the adjectives used by pupils to describe the impact that the talks have had on them. Hundreds of pupils have heard from staff about a range of topics including depression, anxiety, mindfulness, resilience and supporting friends. We are hugely grateful to our courageous teachers for sharing their stories and helping us to create a school culture where mental health is openly discussed and a support network is firmly established. We finished the week with a talk from Katy Sexton, former swimming World Champion, who spoke very movingly about her experience of living with depression, how difficult it was for her to accept and how she moved through it.



Resilience for Girls

‘Imagine a sisterhood – across all creeds and cultures – an unspoken agreement that we, as women, will support and encourage each other. That we won’t seek to take advantage of another’s weakness or sit in judgement of each other’s shortcomings. That we will remember we don’t know what struggles each of us may be facing elsewhere in our lives and so we’ll assume that each of us is doing our best. That we will do the work to heal ourselves so that together we can create a more compassionate world.’


The quote above is from the book We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere. This book formed the basis of much of my talk for PGS Mental Health Week.

Mental health is often discussed in terms of conditions like anxiety disorder, depression and so on. However, whilst the majority of us will not experience diagnosable conditions, many of us will have our mental health knocked by everyday problems involving friendship, family or relationship issues, comparing ourselves to others, academic pressure and much more.
As a girl, I experienced many of these and as a woman, my struggle for resilience continues. What’s changed as I’ve got older is that I now have a history of resilience to look back on. I have the confidence that I can get through difficult times. As girls you have less of your own history to draw upon but try to have faith and trust in yourself that in future, the time will come when you will be in awe of your own strength.

So what is resilience?

Being a strong, resilient girl / woman is not about being perfect. You do not have to be invincible to be resilient.



For me, resilience involves courage but also vulnerability. It requires self-love but also the support and love of others around you. Resilience is about being successful but it also requires the ability to fail well.




Failure

Girls, in particular can really struggle with failure.

As a girl myself, I was relatively high achieving. I was driven by competitiveness and the desire to come first in everything. I thought that this made me strong, able and successful. The truth was, however, that my mind-set was holding me back. Because I wanted to be the best I avoided risking failure. I told myself that I was naturally bad at maths so rather than risk failure I stopped trying. The same mentality held me back in karate. I had my black belt and had won multiple fighting championships but the day I lost my first fight I never went back again.

What I’ve realised since is that failure is part of the road to success. If we are unable to fail we will not challenge ourselves. If we give up as soon as we experience failure we will not progress.
Therefore, we must reframe and embrace failure. We must see at as a positive part of the road to success. To do this we should challenge ourselves to do things even when we have no chance of succeeding.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.” J.K. Rowling.

Gratitude

One of the things which can help us to develop a clearer sense of our resilience is by practising gratitude. Try the following exercise and reflect on the impact that it has on your mood and perspective.

Exercise: Daily Miracles

‘When we focus on gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.’ Kristin Armstrong.

Put the practice of gratitude into your everyday life. Make yourself comfortable and breathe in and out slowly five times with a longer out breath each time. In a journal, write down ten things you are grateful for in your life right now – big or small e.g. having a friend who understands you, having enough to eat, etc. Say ‘thank you’ before reading each one out loud.

Action
Affirmation
Today I will notice all the nice things that happen.
‘I am lucky and I am blessed. My life is full of wonder.’

Exercise: Self-Love

‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ Mary Oliver

We need to replace self-criticism with self-love. Think of one of the negative messages you tell yourself. Write it down so you can see it for what it is: mean, negative, unhelpful. The problem is your brain doesn’t usually see it that way. You’re going to have to retrain your brain. Underneath the sentence you have written, write this: ‘My name is…. I am a good and kind person. I do not need to please everyone. I do enough. I am enough. Now cross out your original sentence and then say out loud the new message you have given to yourself. Every time you notice a negative thought coming into your head, repeat your new message until the negative thought has gone. Each morning and evening for the next 14 days, when you brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say the positive message out loud, three times. Try writing the message on a post-it note and sticking it to the bathroom mirror.

Action
Affirmation
Today I will be kind to myself.
This is who I am and I feel glad to be me.

Exercise: Befriend yourself

Take 5 breaths in and out to centre yourself. Now imagine that a close female friend – someone you really love is going through a hard time. Make a list of about 10 things you would do to help her. Go to the park and chat / watch her favourite movie together / create a playlist of her favourite songs, etc. Imagine how happy and cared for all of this would make her feel. Now circle the three things you think would be most fun and uplifting for her to do. Now do those three things for yourself.

Action
Affirmation
I will notice my needs and attend to them.

I love and care for myself.

The Nine Principles

We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere suggests nine principles for women (and girls) to live their lives by. Each of these can help us to be more successful in our ongoing struggle for resilience.

1. Honesty

‘To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and utterly unique an experience that it’s hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody.’ Simone de Beauvoir.

Genuine resilience requires honesty – with oneself and with others. Discard images of so called ‘perfection’ on Instagram, in magazines and so on – be honest with yourself about their reality. Be honest with yourself about the way that other people treat you. Be honest about the way you treat yourself. Avoid people pleasing at the expense of your own authenticity. Find comfort in your own truth. Embrace inconvenient truths.

Action
Affirmation
Today I will have the courage to be me, irrespective of what others think.
I am true to myself.

2. Acceptance

‘How wild it was, to let it be.’ Cheryl Strayed.

Life hurts. Sometimes unbearably but much of our suffering is not inevitable. Avoid avoidance. Enjoy, change or accept.



Action
Affirmation
Today I will embrace life as it is and feel whatever emotions need to be felt.
My feelings guide me home.

3. Courage

‘We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.’ Barbara de Angelis.

Rage can feel great. It’s something we want to embrace and for many of us it will be our default position. However, holding on to rage gets in the way of genuine courage because it prevents acceptance and control of a situation. We all have a rage bucket and we need to stop it from overflowing by releasing our anger in healthy ways e.g. through art, sport, talking. Release resentment so you can find your strength.

Action
Affirmation
Today I will take responsibility for feeling and releasing my anger safely.
Today I will let go of being right so that I can be happy.

4. Trust

‘The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is just tenacity.’ Amelia Earheart.
Trust offers us freedom from fear. Without it we live in fear and anxiety. We doubt ourselves, we doubt others, we worry.

Fear protects us but it can become distorted and magnified. Fear robs us of our sleep, our perspective and our self-belief.

Exercise 1: In your journals write out a time from your past when you feared something terrible would happen but it actually turned out to be fine. Add as many unexpectedly good outcomes as you can remember. It’s your proof – when you need it, that things don’t always turn out as you feared.

Exercise 2: Write the word fear in the middle of a page. Mind map off this your fears and around them the feelings they evoke. Now create a new map with the word ‘trust’ in the middle and add key words about how each situation would be transformed if you weren’t afraid. Visualise what your life would look life if you weren’t afraid and make this the new map for your life. Look at this every morning. Faking brave behaviour can actually help you to learn to trust yourself and others whilst the neurological pathways are forming.

Action
Affirmation
When I feel fear I will ask myself what I would do if I wasn’t afraid and then do it.
Today I am safe and I am happy.

5. Humility
‘The thing that is really hard and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.’ Anna Quindlen.

Replace Comparing, Criticising, Complaining, Controlling, Competing with Compassion, Co-operation and Connection.

Develop awareness of your ego-driven, negative responses. Reflect on them and transform them. e.g. Turn jealousy into gratitude. Arrogance into humility. Self-pity into courage. Rage into acceptance.

6. Peace

‘Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.’ Oprah Winfrey.

Meditation is worth considering as a way of helping our minds to work for rather than against us. At the very least, every day, take the time to take five slow breaths in and out to centre yourself and calm your mind. Spend some time consciously doing nothing so that solitude is something to be enjoyed rather than feared.

Action
Affirmation
Today if I feel overwhelmed I will pause and remind myself that underneath the surface, my true self resides.
Whatever else is happening, deep down, I know that I am absolutely okay.

7. Love

‘The cure for all ills and wrongs, the cares, the sorrows and the crimes of humanity, all lie in the one word “love”. It is the divine vitality that everywhere produces and restores life.’ Linda M Child.
Love transforms us. The giving and receiving of love is, for many people the meaning of life. Open your hearts to it.

Action
Affirmation
Today I will meet the gaze of all those I encounter with love.
I am love.

8. Joy

‘It’s a helluva start, being able to recognise what makes you happy.’ Lucille Ball.

One of the greatest regrets dying people have is that they wish they’d allowed themselves to be happy. It is within our power. Brainstorm what makes you happy and make time for those things.

Action
Affirmation
Today I will seek out joy and let it fill my heart.
I am resilient and filled with joy.

9. Kindness

‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’ Anne Frank

All of us have the capacity for kindness. It is something we can will ourselves to spread. Doing so will benefit others and ourselves.

Use your journals to plan small or grand acts of kindness that you can implement.

Action
Affirmation
Today I will choose to act kindly.

When I take action the world is a better place.


‘Like life, peace begins with women. We are the first to forge new lines of alliance and collaboration across conflict divides.’ Zainab Salbi.




Resilience is a becoming. We are girls. We bleed, we feel, we cry but we are strong. We are capable and we will pick ourselves back up to face another day. 

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