Engage Aotearoa

Resilience Skills

Resilience Skills

Part of recovery is about learning to deal with the tough stuff and another part is about engaging with the routines and practices that build our resilience and connect us with the positive experiences of mental health and wellbeing. This means paying attention to the way we meet our physical, emotional, and social needs on a day to day basis. When these needs are met we tend to experience less distress and it is much easier to cope with and bounce back from it when we do.

Mental-health problems often get in the way of our attempts to do the kinds of things that build our resilience and this can get a really unhelpful cycle going. This means small changes like getting more exercise, eating regularly, looking after our sleep, and making sure we are involved in activities we value and enjoy every day can make a really big difference.

Meaningful Routines

What we do matters. Our routines shape our days and it is important that they include activities that make life meaningful for us. Often we want to wait until we feel better before we start reconnecting with the things that matter most to us. We want the thoughts and feelings to change first. But thoughts and feelings are responses to the input we are getting. The valued actions need to come first. That can be a tough task when we are struggling with our mental health. Luckily small changes can have a big effect. No matter where we are right now, we can always make a small step towards these things.

Five Ways to Wellbeing

The Mental Health Foundation has a great set of resources for the general public based on the positive psychology research about what helps people experience wellbeing called the Five Ways to Wellbeing: Keep Learning, Get Active, Give, Connect, and Take Notice.

The Thriving Lives Worksheet

ThrivingLivesWorksheet_ScreenShotThe Thriving Lives Worksheet breaks positive mental health experiences down into the practices that build them and gives you space to reflect on the strategies you are currently using and create a plan to start filling the gaps.

  • Meaning and purpose
  • Connection and belonging
  • Achievement and Mastery / Using and Developing Strengths
  • Self-Care and Coping
  • Expression and Support
  • Enjoyment and Pleasure / Creating Positive Emotions
  • Engagement and Interest

The Thriving Lives Worksheet emphasises seven practices instead of five because there are a couple of extra challenges to address when we are starting out from a place of distress. I add a category for ‘self-care and coping’ that focuses on our relationships with ourselves and our bodies, and a separate category for ‘expression and seeking support’ to acknowledge the special importance of being able to communicate our experiences and share our difficulties with each other.

Visit the Coping Tools page to save a copy to keep.

Eating wisely

Diet, nutrition and gut health have a vital role in mental health and wellbeing, with powerful affects on our moods and mental state. We need calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, vitamins A, B, C and D, omega fatty acids and the full range of essential vitamins and minerals to support the brain functions involved in our perception, cognition and emotion as well as the health of our bones, skin, eyes, hair and organs. Our central nervous system depends upon the nutrition we get from our food to do everything it needs to regulate our stress responses. It’s not enough to just take supplements, we need an adequate supply of protein and energy too.

Our minds are constantly scanning the world around us and our internal responses to decide upon two things: is there a threat here and can I cope with it? If our body is strong and alert then the coping side of that equation is going to look better and we’re going to feel more able to manage whatever it is that comes our way.

Some foods and eating habits can boost or help stabilise our moods and mental state, while others can do the opposite. For example, eating regularly keeps our blood sugars and energy levels stable throughout the day, and missing meals causes them to drop out on us all of a sudden. Feeling hungry can produce feelings of deprivation, lethargy or irritability, while feeling full can produce feelings of comfort and safety.

If your moods are getting in the way of your appetite and eating, consider soft food alternatives like smoothies, fruit, and salads, eating smaller amounts but more often, or doing something relaxing before meal-times. Sometimes emotions can make food start to feel like sawdust in your mouth, and some people find it helps to have a glass of water to sip while they eat. Set timers to remind yourself to eat at least the bare minimum no matter what.

Find out more…

Feeding Minds report from The Mental Health Foundation of NZ

How diet protects your health from The Mental Health Foundation of NZ

Mad in America interview with NZ food and mood expert Dr J Rucklidge

Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group at University of Canterbury

Mood and Food Information from MIND UK

Nutritional Psychiatry info from the Food and Mood Research Centre

Sleeping well

Sleep is a vital part of our health and wellbeing. This is the time when your body is free from external demands on your organs and can direct its energy towards repair, returning to baseline, and processing the information you have encountered during the day without the interference of our conscious minds. So many different things can disrupt our sleep and the routines we have around sleep.

Lack of sleep can be both a trigger for and an early symptom of many different mental-health problems, so it’s helpful to develop healthy sleep routines and ways of managing things like insomnia and early waking.

Self-help worksheets for sleep from CCI
The Centre for Clinical Interventions has gathered together a series of CBT-based self-help resources for dealing with sleep issues. Find out about ‘sleep hygiene’ practices and strategies for managing insomnia and night-waking.

CALM – Computer Assisted Learning for the Mind
CALM shares recorded mindfulness exercises for stress management, coping and relaxation.

See also the many guided mindfulness and relaxation recordings and apps in the Online Resources Pack.

Moving your body

Countless studies have shown us that exercise has benefits for both our physical health and our mental health. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day has been linked to improved sleep, concentration, moods, and performance at school and work. Exercise has been shown to help with pain, anxiety, low mood, fatigue, and insomnia. Moving our bodies gets oxygen flowing to keep us alert, promotes the production of dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters involved in our feel-good responses, strengthens and stretches our muscles for good mobility, and uses our energy so we can more easily rest later.

How walking can boost your mood

When anxiety is a barrier to exercise

Taking care of other health issues

Be sure to identify and manage other health issues that affect your mental health and resilience. Some health conditions can directly cause symptoms of mental health problems, and others indirectly cause or contribute to them by disrupting important areas of our lives. Dealing with physical health problems alongside mental-health problems can make the recovery process more difficult.

Talk to your GP doctor about making sure that your physical health checks are up to date and all possible physical causes for the symptoms you experience have been ruled out, including the possibility of reactions to other medications you may be taking. This is especially important if your mental health symptoms started suddenly, without any obvious psycho-social stressors. It is important to do this throughout your recovery journey as things can change.

Equally Well is an initiative from Te Pou that aims to improve the physical health of people who face mental health problems and addictions in New Zealand and you can find out more about the evidence in this area here.

Health conditions to be aware of:

  • Nutritional deficiencies like anemia can affect your body’s ability to regulate your emotions, energy levels and focus.
  • Heart and blood pressure problems are obviously really serious and we all know about their life-threatening effects. But they can also impact on our mental health. Heart and blood pressure problems affect the way oxygen is able to travel around our bodies and can cause anxiety, lethargy, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and loss of interest in things. Heart attacks and heart surgery are known to be scary events for people with long recovery periods and big lifestyle changes that need to be made afterwards which can have a big impact on a person’s wellbeing.
  • Chronic pain conditions often co-occur with mental-health problems and there are probably many reasons for this. Pain conditions can disrupt our mobility, concentration, enjoyment, motivation, and relationships, and become a frequent source of distress. Sometimes they precede the mental-health problems and sometimes they arise later. There is a well documented relationship between stress and pain levels. Finding ways to adequately manage and prevent pain makes a big difference.
  • Brain injuries and concussion can cause fatigue, concentration difficulties, emotion regulation problems and more. Often recovery requires a period of total brain rest followed by regular planned rest periods which would be quite the opposite of the forms of behavioural activation that tends to be the mainstay of most psycho-social approaches to treating depression.
  • Thyroid problems can cause low mood, lethargy, anxiety, restlessness, poor concentration, memory lapses and more. Your GP can rule out thyroid problems with a simple blood test and these are usually treatable problems, with associated mental health effects resolving as the condition stabilises.
  • Diabetes, hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia affect the way our body processes sugars and can cause big changes to our mood, awareness, concentration, energy levels, and behaviour. They also require big lifestyle changes to manage which in themselves pose extra challenges for our mental health.
  • Epilepsy is a neurological condition and some seizures can produce different kinds of sensory hallucinations, and changes in mood and awareness that at times can be confused for psychosis.
  • Migraines are a neurological condition that as well as being painful and disruptive can produce a range of different sensory and mood disturbances.

There are a range of different support networks across the country for people who experience different health conditions and you might find it helpful to search these out and connect in. Your GP will be able to point you in the right direction, but the internet is also your friend.