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5 daily non-negotiables to stay resilient in uncertain times

Commit to these 5 action items every day for a happier life
By: Lindsey Craig
October 23, 2020
close-up of running shoes in motion on a path, with leaves falling around them

Whether it’s a walk, a jog, a bike ride, yoga or an exercise class at home, building physical activity into the day is one of five non-negotiables that can help us stay strong during difficult times, says Ryerson psychologist Diana Brecher. (iStock).

At a time when life is full of unknowns, there is one thing experts say we can have more control over: the day.

Ryerson psychologist and instructor Diana Brecher says what’s key to staying positive and resilient during trying times is to focus on the small pieces of our lives that we can control.

“If you know what you need in the course of a day to be well, you can orchestrate that to happen,” she said. “And one good day after another turns into a good life.”

Brecher says to achieve this, there are five non-negotiable items we should strive for each day.

“These non-negotiables honour the mind, heart, body and spirit. It’s important to honour these things at any time, but we might feel it even more so right now, because the usual distractions in our lives are gone,” she explained.

“It’s about living in the day you’re in, and making it the best it can be. If you do that everyday, you’re actually living a full life,” she continued.

Maintaining resilience is especially important right now, since “COVID fatigue” is setting in for many people.

“A lot of people are experiencing a sense of, ‘I just don’t want to do this anymore’. That’s when things get dangerous, because that’s when people say, ‘This moment is more important than the future,’ but we need to invest in our future by staying healthy today,” she said.

What’s problematic is when we begin focusing on life’s unknowns.

“Uncertainty is exhausting. So, what we have to say is, ‘I can’t control any of what’s going on outside of me, but I can make a commitment to myself today.”

Below, learn more about Brecher’s five daily non-negotiables to help stay positive and resilient:

1. Meet your social needs

Aim to connect with a friend or loved one at least once each day.

Making this social connection is crucial, and whether it’s in-person, by phone, video call, email or text message, what matters less is the medium, and more that you feel the benefit from that engagement.

“The go-to method of communication for one person might be different for someone else. What’s most important is that you come away from that conversation feeling like you’ve genuinely connected,” she said, noting that some people actually prefer talking on the phone over a video call, since video calls can be more draining.

She also says it’s important to talk about how you’re feeling with others, noting that sharing how we feel can alleviate feelings of isolation and further connect us to the people in our lives.

“We're all in this together and compassion can flow easily from that, as will self-compassion,” Brecher says.

2. Honour your body

The second non-negotiable is to honour what your body needs each day.

“Ask yourself, what do you need in the course of a day to feel well?” she asked.

Whether it's going for a walk, jog or bike ride, doing yoga or an exercise class at home, it’s important to move every day.

Not only does physical activity make us more equipped for life’s physical demands, there are countless mental and emotional benefits too – including helping us cope with stress, improving our focus and concentration, giving us more energy, helping us sleep better, boosting our mood and more.

3. Engage your mind

Engage your mind in something that stimulates you each day.

This could involve playing a musical instrument, painting, building a model ship or pursuing a creative hobby.

“Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Maybe this is the time,” she said. "Whatever it is, fill your mind and spirit with it.”

The psychologist also explained that at a time when we are faced with so many unknowns, thoughtfully planning activities in advance can help give us a sense of control.

“Relying on last-minute spontaneity could leave you empty handed, but if we can take control of something, it feels like a win. So whether it’s a plan to build or learn something, get that plan in motion,” she said.

To illustrate, Brecher said that since she couldn’t go away on her summer vacation this year, she pre-ordered material for an art course.

“Otherwise, I would have been wondering, ‘How am I going to fill the day?’ I think we need to be much more proactive with our activities rather than hoping that the time will fill itself in a way we may have wished.”

4. Nutrition

Eat with care and intention.

It’s important to choose foods that are good for our bodies and minds, Brecher says, noting that the food we eat has an impact on our overall energy, health and well-being.

We need to be intentional about what we eat, how much and how often.

“So often we turn to food for comfort and stimulation. A far more adaptive choice is to turn to food for nutrition and energy, and to our communities and our work for comfort and stimulation, respectively.”

5. Constructive rest and sleep 

Strive for constructive rest (from the work you are doing) and adequate sleep.

For the first part, Brecher says to focus on “not just flaking out on the couch” at the end of the day, but perhaps sitting in a yoga pose, doing some light stretching, or taking deliberate screen breaks to rest your eyes.

“This is where we really need to listen to what our bodies need,” she said.

Just as our bodies go through sleep cycles every 90 minutes, so too do our bodies go through 90-minute energy cycles during the day – and this too should be recognized.

“If you're feeling the urge to stand after sitting for a long period of time, give your body the chance to stretch. Don’t force yourself to sit through something when your body is saying, ‘I need to move around’.”

Given that many people have lost their daily commutes and meetings throughout the day, she says generally speaking, people are moving less – and that needs to change.

“Can you build reminders into your calendar, so that every hour or every hour and a half, you go outside, get some fresh air and walk around? This is what will sustain us long term,” she said.

Good sleep hygiene is also key. We need to be intentional about getting the sleep we need to feel rested, energized and productive, she says. That means, if you need seven hours of sleep a night to feel rested, make sure to get seven hours.

“Our bodies want routine, the same way children want routine. Try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. If you find yourself falling asleep at 9 p.m., don't fight it. If you wake up at 6 a.m. and feel well rested, don’t toss and turn, simply start the day,” she said.

Tools to fight back

As the pandemic continues and additional stresses like exams arise, Brecher says these five steps will be key to maintaining our overall health and wellness.

“I think they will become the way you fight back against the stress,” she said.

So instead of feeling like you’re caught in an undertow of life’s stresses, aim for the five non-negotiables each day for a stronger sense of command over your life.

“We don’t have a lot of control, but we have a little,” she said. “Control what you can.”

Resources:

ThriveRU

Thriving in Action Online

Mental health resources (Ryerson and external), external link

Resilience Drawing

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