• Julie Rowin MD

6 Strategies for Building Resilience During Times of Change



While some people may have a difficult time accepting and adjusting to abrupt changes, others can not only adapt but, in fact, thrive. Resilient people are able to see what are perceived as “adverse” events as an opportunity to grow and branch out in new directions. How do you respond to change? If you are interested in embracing change and growth, then consider these strategies for helping you to build resilience.


1. Practice Gratitude and Optimism

Our brains naturally want to seek out problems. When all you see is negative, broaden your perspective by asking yourself, “What good has come about as a result of this adversity?” Practicing positive thinking does not mean ignoring the problem. It means understanding that setbacks are temporary and that you have the skills and abilities to combat the challenges you face. What you are dealing with may be difficult, but it's important to remain hopeful and positive about a brighter future, so that you can move forward toward healing and ultimately growth. Need some help? Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be beneficial for coping and anxiety. Working with a therapist on relaxation techniques and to understand how negative thought patterns influence feelings and behaviors has been shown to be an effective way to build resilience. Many therapists are utilizing telehealth.


2. Cultivate Relationships

Remember that social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. Social support is one of the greatest alleviators of stress. Get creative about ways to stay connected with friends and family during difficult times. Connectedness is fundamental to well-being. We are supposed to exist in community. The need for social connection is biologically hard-wired and it is necessary for health, both mental and physical. Keep connected with those who value you, with whom you can share information and have fun. It is important to surround yourself with people who support your ideas and give you a sense of peace, well-being, and resilience.


3. Practice Mindfulness in a Way That Speaks to You

During times of stress, it helps to pause and bring our attention to the present. In doing so, we often find that things are not as bad as they seem. Below are two activities that will help to practice mindfulness.

  • Connect with nature. For many individuals connecting with nature can almost replace missed social connections. Get outside, walk in the park, start a garden. When you cannot get outdoors, bring nature indoors by making a small indoor green space. Even a plant or flowers can help! Taking more time to connect with nature will boost your mood and reduce stress.

  • Deep breathing exercises and yoga poses are particularly helpful during stressful times. By practicing the slow forms of yoga such as yoga nidra, yin yoga or restorative yoga 2-3 times per week, you will notice improved anxiety levels and better resilience. You can find on-line yoga classes to do in your home, for example, The Yoga/Down Dog app is great and has free beginning, chair, nidra and restorative classes. Yoga Studio: Mind & Body has an extensive library of yoga poses, meditation and classes. In addition, many local yoga studios are doing on-line live classes and would love to have your business.


4. Exercise

Regular physical exercise protects against the emotional consequences of stress. Set a timer for 15 minutes a few times a day and move. Washing your windows counts, as does walking the dog or dancing to music! Utilize the resources offered online. The internet is filled with live stream workouts right now. Or try a work-out app like Johnson and Johnson 7-minute workout - you just need a wall and a chair! 


5. Optimize Your Nutrition

Higher resilience has been linked to diet. To improve your mood, lower your anxiety, feel energized and motivated, eat more fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, seeds and legumes. Don’t skimp on good fats but avoid sugar and simple carbs. Don’t skip breakfast and cook rather than take-out. [1]


Nutritional supplements to counteract stress include:

  • L-theanine
 A natural amino acid, L-theanine is found in green tea. Consider taking 100-200 mg at bedtime or twice daily to balance the brain chemical messengers involved in anxiety and other stress related symptoms. It has been shown to be safe and to improve mood, sleep and cognitive function in those with stress-related ailments in a small controlled study. [2]

  • Magnesium
 Many Americans do not consume enough magnesium. In my experience, supplementing with magnesium can be calming to the nervous system. Foods containing higher levels of magnesium are nuts and seeds, legumes, spinach, cacao and pseudo grains like quinoa and buckwheat. Consider supplementing with 300-600mg of magnesium glycinate. If you have trouble falling asleep, consider trying an Epsom salt bath (magnesium sulfate) 30–60 minutes before bedtime. Topical magnesium gel is also available, if oral magnesium causes you to have loose stools (a common side-effect). Caution: As a general rule, oral or topical magnesium is avoided in myasthenia gravis as it may worsen symptoms. IV magnesium is contraindicated in myasthenia gravis.

  • B Vitamins Evidence links B vitamin supplementation to improved perceived stress levels in healthy individuals.[3] It is better to take the “activated” forms of the B-vitamins so that they are more readily available to be utilized by the body. Ask your practitioner to suggest a high-quality multi-vitamin or B-complex containing the activated forms, which may cost a little more than the standard brands.



6. Consider the Benefits of Herbs

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb for chronic stress management. Adaptogenic herbs help build the body’s resistance to stress, anxiety and fatigue. Ashwagandha is known to balance the bodies stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and may be particularly helpful to those with a history of anxiety associated with trauma. Ashwagandha extract (standardized to 2.5% withanolides) 500mg should be taken daily for at least 4-6 weeks to notice the shift in mood and energy levels, and improved resilience against stress. It can help with sleep and can be taken in the evenings.[4] Caution: Ashwagandha has the theoretical potential to interact with some medications.

  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a safe calming herb. Chamomile flowers contain apigenin, a plant chemical that has the ability to calm the brain by influencing the brain messenger GABA. Because chamomile is also calming to digestion, it is a good choice for those with gastric upset associated with anxiety. Chamomile can be taken as an extract, but herbal tea is the most traditional form. Buy loose chamomile tea and use 2-3 heaping teaspoons steeped for 5-10 minutes. Drink throughout the day as needed for anxiety relief. Simply the act of holding a warm cup of tea is calming.

  • Lavender Oil Consider inhalation aromatherapy with lavender essential oil. Place a few drops on a cotton ball and place it near to you for 30 minutes 3 times a day or mix it in a carrier oil such a jojoba or almond oil and place directly on the wrists or neck.

General Tips for Buying Herbal Remedies

  • Avoid buying herbs on-line. Rather, ask your practitioner for recommendations for manufacturers with solid reputations, and buy directly from a trusted source.

  • Herbs and supplements have the potential to interact with pharmaceuticals and other supplements, so do your homework and speak personally with your doctor before starting any new supplements.

References

  1. Whatnall MC, Patterson AJ, Siew YY, Kay-Lambkin F, Hutchesson MJ. Are Psychological Distress and Resilience Associated with Dietary Intake Among Australian University Students? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(21).

  2. Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10).

  3. Young LM, Pipingas A, White DJ, Gauci S, Scholey A. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and 'At-Risk' Individuals. Nutrients. 2019;11(9).

  4. Mandlik Ingawale DS, Namdeo AG. Pharmacological evaluation of Ashwagandha highlighting its healthcare claims, safety, and toxicity aspects. J Diet Suppl. 2020:1-44.