Many of us live on Salt Spring in hopes of experiencing a bit of an oasis from the intensity of modern living. That can happen. And, pain and stressful challenges also happen-- in our private lives and throughout our community. In addition, we may carry a heavy awareness of the precarious condition of our planet. Our land, ocean, climate, politics, social issues, economics-- the whole jumble can leave us feeling subtly or severely hopeless about the present and the future. When we feel that way, we are not able to pro-actively do things that may contribute to positive change on any level: Hopelessness and action don't “wire and fire” together. So what can help us mobilize? We have to start somewhere. That somewhere begins with ourselves.
Julie Andrews was on to something when she sang: “I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad…” Julie is referring to personal resources: things that evoke a feeling of safety and promote a sense of well-being. I am going to tell you how you can consciously use your resources to cope with stress and access more happiness.
Personal resources can be inner qualities like curiosity, kindness, and courage, or awareness, aptitude, and appreciation. They can include outer things like pets, plants, friends, listening to music, beautiful stones, special places in nature, art, and favorite foods.
Resources can also be activities such as walking, swimming, singing, dancing, or playing music. Often, the most potent resources involve action.
Personal resources are different for everyone. The significant aspect of resources is not what they are, but how they make you feel. The more positive, alive or happy you feel, the more effective a resource is in helping you cope with difficulty and in connecting to what’s good about your life.
Resources can help regulate (calm or enliven) your nervous system and emotions when you are frustrated, fearful or discouraged. Resources benefit you not just while you are engaged with them. The nervous system does not know the difference between what is actually happening and what is imagination. In the same way that thinking of something stressful can cause agitation, remembering a resource and noticing how you feel can bring calm and balance to your nervous and endocrine system.
To start, identify and recall or engage in resources when you are not overly stressed. If it is truly a resource, you will feel somewhat more well and positive. Look for resources that do not have pain-triggering aspects attached to them. When you are already triggered, you will resonate with the stress/pain-inducing components. For example, although I love my aging father, I am sad about the health issues he faces. If I am already struggling, I will most likely be triggered to feel the sadness, rather than the gratitude and love that is normally there when I think of my father. However, I am always resourced when I think of my 11 year old Akita-Shepard playfully racing through the forest-- just like when she was a puppy. I am not just entertained: the memory creates a feeling of aliveness and joy in me.
We need to be resourced to make pro-active choice for positive change-- in any domain of life. Identify your personal resources and notice how you feel. Remember, your nervous system does not know the difference between imagined and real experience. Your resources help you feel better. Claim your resources—they are your greatest riches.
Teresa Waters, MA, RCC
Registered Clinical Counsellor and Massage Practitioner on Salt Spring.