Need a Little Resilience? 3 Tips to Feel In Control of Your Eating and Your Emotions

|Updated Mar 27, 2020
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Feeling a little anxious? Out of control? Eating your way through the stress? (We know this because that describes us right about now.) That's why we picked up the phone and had a helpful talk with Rick Hanson, PhD, Psychologist, Senior Fellow at UC Berkeley's Center for Greater Good Science which is cool unto itself. Just hearing his voice will make you feel calmer, clearer, and stronger. First, if you want to skip this helpful, tip-filled article and go straight to hearing Rick's voice for yourself, click on this video, about resilience. 

But words matter, reading is therapeutic, and we are convinced that when you read his books (ResilientHardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture) or this article, we guarantee you will feel better. Hanson has written a new book, Neurodharma, which he describes as the "coolest combination of brain science and dharma, which means truth."

Q. Stress is the other disease we are all feeling right now. What can we do to feel better right now? Other than reaching for the chips?

A. I have three headlines for you: 1. Find Your Footing. 2: Calm and Center. And 3: Tend and Befriend

Okay, what does that all mean?

For me, this is like a storm. Back in January, we were warned the storm is coming. And now it's here. So what do you do? If you're hanging out on the beach on a nice day, you don't have to be careful about your footing, but if a storm is coming you have to figure out where to go and how to weather it. That's finding your footing.

TIp 1. Find Your Footing

Look for experts you trust, and make a plan. Remember that you have the right to do what makes sense to you—even if other people are trying to intimidate you into doing something else, like showing up to work or going to dinner with friends, when you'd rather stay home. Some people are saying the risks aren't great, but if you're in my age group or have any chronic immune issues, the risks are real. You may have a boss who says can't you come in, just this once? So that means to find your footing, stay safe.

Don't Marinate in the Ruminations

We have a brain that has a bad experience bias. It's like Velcro for bad experiences and Teflon for good ones. We tend to worry a lot about things we have no control over. That may have been useful when we were cavemen. But now, it means we have stress overload. The wear and tear of stress on our bodies is unhealthy. We are not equipped to sustain ongoing stress. Most stress ends quickly one way or another ... so pay attention to negativity bias and try to acquire a "positivity bias."

If you're stuck in a negative thinking loop, try this: Think the same thought again and again but ten is enough. Meaning makes yourself stop at ten if it's not productive. if you're not actually solving for the problem, or figuring it out then, but just going over the same worry and criticism in your brain, tell yourself this: You have to live with a certain amount of uncertainty. All we can do each day is our best. And then don't add unnecessary risks.

So don't marinate in the negative. it's bad for your brain, it's bad for your body, and it will drive other people crazy.

Q. But how do you stop? People can't help negative thoughts.

A. Technically the default mode is where the ruminator lives.

So it's totally normal. But how you stop it is this: Come into your body. Tune into your body.

Come into your body means being aware of the internal sensation. Start with the feeling of one breath. It calls you into the part of the brain called the insula. The insula is very involved with introspection, and by breathing in and out in deliberate, intentional breaths, even just three breaths, it short circuits the verbal centers and the ruminator and calms you down.

Try this: Take three long inhales and exhales. This works on the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. The rest and digest part of your brain. It's the opposite of the fight or flight. Parasympathetic activity strengthens that calming muscle. Take three long inhalations and exhalations as you read this. You will feel better right away.

The body remarkably is constantly telling the brain how it's doing, and usually, it's doing okay. It's like the calls of a night watchman, "All is well! No fires tonight." By tuning into the signals of your body, you're basically telling your brain, we are all right right now. Whatever the future hold, this positive signal helps you get through this time. Your body tells the brain: "You are still breathing, the heart is beating, no shark is chewing on your leg." Meaning you're okay.

Tune in to the body by breathing. It's reassuring. We need to tune into our comfort signals.

Tip 2. Calm and Center

Tell yourself: What's true right now is I am fine. Come into the present. When you're in the present that reduces what I call so-called time traveling, which is worrying about the past or the future. If you are in the present, it brings you down from a ten out of ten for stress, to a five or a four or a two. "Right now I'm washing my hands." Or tell yourself, "Right now I am going to focus on something healthy." When you go out and do a sport or activity that requires focus, like rock climbing or hitting a golf ball or biking, that chases those bad thoughts away.

We are all being tested at this time. We are all in it together. For a lot of people, they're realizing they have been able to prop up their lives by the next thing. For stress relief, they could go to the bar or plan a trip or look forward to a weekend with friends. But now a lot of people are realizing they are running on empty. They didn't make deposits in their inner bank account. We need to build up the resources inside, and key relationships for the next storm.

Q. We are all pretty strong people, but this is testing us in new ways. How do you cope?

A. Tune into the side yourself that is strong, gritty, and determined.

Tell yourself: I can get through this. Remember a time when you had to be strong or gritty.  That's really important. The body memory of endurance, whether it was a sports event like running a marathon or something else difficult in your past. For me, as a rock climber, I pulled myself up over an overhang, which is a feat in rock climbing.

If someone in relationships is coming at me in a way I don't like, I feel what it feels like when I was climbing. I get less aggressive and get back in tune with my Ninja Yoda side. A lot of people don't realize how strong they are. Women especially. Women are super strong. Mothers especially. The point is whatever that strength is for you, think about it now.

The sense in the body that you want to communicate to yourself is: You are a determined, gritty survivor and you will get through this. Anxiety is based on a mismatch between threats and resources. The idea that the threat is bigger than the resources to meet it. We need to grow our inner resources. one way to do that is tap into the feeling in your body that you're gritty and determined and you're going to get through this.

Tip 3. Tend and Befriend.

This is based on research from Shelly Taylor. Women often use tending and befriending rather than fighting and fleeing. Not just for women, but many people. It's about tending and befriending others to feel stronger yourself. Because we are the most social species on the planet, and we work as pack animals. We are vulnerable to an epidemic. It's only through relationship and cooperation and compassion for each other that we are going to get through it. No one can do this alone. There is comfort in the group. To survive, we need to disperse the herd for at least a few weeks because we didn't for months. So it's important to focus on tending and befriending

There is a lot of research on how this calms stress. Taking care of others forms a relationship with others. It's true for families of course, but not just for taking care of your children but others in general. You create your pack. This can extend to people you don't even know: I try to recognize that a lot of people are barely keeping their heads above water, living paycheck to paycheck. And this affects children too right now. Since while their families could get through any given day, but now with the public schools closed, what are they going to do about lunch? I hold them in my heart. It makes me want to give back. It's good for them, but also it's calming and grounding for me.

There is a Japanese poem: Under a cherry tree, there are no strangers. It means that we are all in this together. Because we are all vulnerable and subject to mortality. So I get comfort by just holding others in my heart.

Don't get into petty arguments

Now more than ever, don't get caught up in silly quarrels. When you're jogging along the beach you could put a ten-pound brick in your backpack. But when you're climbing, at 20,000 feet and helping others uphill, if you don't need to say it, just don't say it. If you don't need to say something unpleasant, just don't. Stay out of reactivity. Don't get trapped in these loops with other people.

Be extra generous.

It's not about money. It's being generous of spirit. Be extra generous. Sharting and saying things that put others at ease. Generosity helps us feel better, plus we need that. Be extra careful not to interrupt people when they're talking.

When was the last time you felt you were with someone who listened to you for several minutes in a row? Really listened. Put down their phones and paid attention to what you had to say? With our families, we often interrupt and don't listen. But to feel the weight of another person's full attention is really a gift. That gift is free.

Q. I am going to practice that! Tell me about the book title, Neurodharma?

Neurodharma is the most powerful brain science and the truth of things.

Exploring the upper reaches of human potential, which is more important than ever during hard times, means looking at science and truth.

It's inspiring to know that there is more to your life than this current storm. This storm will pass. All storms pass and then we will look back at what we did both out in the world and inside our own minds during this time. I hope we will be glad about what we all did. Look at your actions today and hope that you will look back at them and feel good about them.

I Want to Give You the Sense of Control over Your Life.

The book is really about the coolest science and the deepest wisdom applied in the most endlessly cheerful ways. This is a time when it's important to hold onto every way we can feel like the hammer instead of the nail. I look for tiny things like "I am going to put more or less salt on my vegetables." That's a choice, as is the decision to eat vegetables and be healthy.
Focus on where you have influence (exercising, eating healthy). Often that's inside your own mind. Including how you relate to your experience at this very moment. I teach people to wake up to who you want to be. That starts with being who you want to be, right now.