Photo by Paola Aguilar on Unsplash

How to Steady Your Nerves and Draw on Personal Strength in the Face of Adversity

When we’re in the midst of chaos drowning in uncertainty, we need practical methods to employ. Here are three.

The Donkey Story

The donkey didn’t have many more days ahead of him.

Cultivating Resilience

The donkey provides a simple example of resilience. We often gravitate to such stories that highlight the bounce-back after hardship. We marvel at the tales of those who shoulder adversity with such bravado and strength. However, resilience is a virtue we admire after the fact.

Tame the Mind With the Breath

When faced with adversity, our brains react quickly signaling the release of a flood of hormones in an attempt to protect us. This causes our breathing to shorten and quicken. By doing so, we lower our ability to think clearly and accurately — which happen to be the two things we need during times of duress. Amy Arnsten, a professor at Yale discovered that when our brains are exposed to threat it significantly reduces the activity in the prefrontal cortex — the region of the brain responsible for reasoning, self-control and forward thinking.

When you practice intentional breathing, you increase your mental acuity while lowering performance anxiety.

I like to use the 4–7–8 breathing technique created by Dr. Weil. It’s a practical way to heighten vagal tone when staring adversity in the face. Here’s the simple framework.

  • To start, exhale completely through your mouth. Really empty yourself of breath.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a seven count.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth audibly to a mental count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Visit Your Crucibles

We all have our own trial stories. Those times when the world caved in on us and somehow, someway, we survived.

  • When have I handled a difficult time in the past with courage, strength and fortitude?
  • What virtues, lessons or strategies helped me overcome the trial?
  • Who can confirm (friend, colleague, spouse, etc.) that I have what it takes to overcome difficult times?

Identify Your Tiny Ikigai

When the storm hits, we are thrown into a whirlwind of uncertainty. Often times many of the factors of the situation are beyond our agency.

  • Right now, my Ikigai is to be strong for my son just for a few hours.
  • Right now, my Ikigai is to get to the gym because I know I feel better when I’m done.
  • Right now, my Ikigai is to complete the presentation so my direct report can shine at the board meeting.
  • Right now, my Ikigai is to sit for 10 minutes without any input.
  • Right now, my Ikigai is to brush up my resume, contact five leads and follow up on one past client.
  • Right now my Ikigai is to get my house in order — wash the dishes, sweep the floors, run a load of laundry.
  • Right now, my Ikigai is to volunteer my time at a soup kitchen for two hours.

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