Christmas resilience

3rd December 2019 0 By Ally Frazer

It’s a Saturday night close to Christmas. Festivities abound. I could be jiving away to some seasonal pop hit from yesteryear, glass of mulled wine in hand, but instead I am snuggled away in my bedroom hideaway, writing this post as I reflect on the last two weeks.

 In the last fortnight I have had a blowout on the M6, passed a course, caught a cold, got drunk for the first time in six months, made umpteen trips to a well-known opticians, juggled motherhood/ work and practised a new skill. The introvert in me thinks I deserve a bit of solitary respite (while not missing out on a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie). 

The intensity of this period made me question my resilience. The M6 blowout followed on from a relentless week of work, studying and travelling. Alone on the hard shoulder of the busy motorway, my little Mazda juddered as the lorries whizzed past. As my breathing started to hasten, I accessed some vulnerable part of myself that had recently lain dormant while I had gone about auto-managing my daily routine with post it notes and Iphone notifications. 

My mind immediately stepped into that vulnerability and I heard it’s quaking voice say that ‘I couldn’t cope’, that ‘it’s one thing after another’ and ‘this always happens!’. So before it had a chance to run the show, I let it be what it was and observed the feeling with curiosity. As I did so and focused on my breathing, I noticed a warm glow from my core; a radiance which was gently powerful and self-sustaining. It came with a knowing that I would be fine and that I had abundant reserves of strength to carry me through any challenge. I had been in this place before and felt that warm glow: it had gently guided me down the mountain on my snowboard when I was stuck in a whiteout; it had carried me through a presentation as my shame and social anxiety promised to consume me and it had led me forwards during times of seemingly insurmountable loss and darkness. 

The warm glow was my inner strength. Inner strength is the mother of resilience. It has the humility to sit behind the ego mind, which prefers to stand up front, telling you that you can’t cope, that you’ll fail or that you’re limited in some way. Your ego mind thinks it is protecting you when it’s actually just getting in the way of your greatness. (Bless it). Think of it as a well-intentioned but misguided parent. 

During my frenzied fortnight and in an effort to see how someone could do a much better job of successfully navigating Britain’s highways, I attended a film about a female Paralympian who had hand-cycled the length of the UK in under a week. This incredible woman had her inner strength on speed dial. There was a Q and A session after the film, which she attended. The M6 experience fresh in my mind, I asked her whether she had employed any techniques during her epic for coping with adversity. She said that there were two things that were crucial to her fulfilling her potential. The first was that she lived in the moment. The second was that she did not get excited following a good day nor deflated after a bad. This quality is known as equanimity and is one of the best attitudes to foster in order to hold onto your sanity and energy during challenging times. It neutralises rumination (the ‘washing machine’ mind) and anxiety.

Equanimity arises naturally out of a present state of mind because underlying it is an appreciation that things always change and pass. Nothing stays the same. It is a way of letting go of the past and seeing every moment as an opportunity to start again. It is the bedfellow of creativity. It is how you relate to the changing, unfolding nature of life. It is what helps you to keep a lid on your reserves of inner strength. There is an old Chinese proverb which says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I would qualify this and say that every step within that journey is the start of a new journey if you navigate it with equanimity. (Or if you’re talking in car metaphors, it’s every junction after junction 1 of the M6.) 

So when the festive season hits, you have too much to do and you’re feeling frazzled, avoid getting drawn into worries and seasonal perfectionism. Notice the stressy voices but acknowledge them with some compassionate self-humour. Grab a glass of mulled [wine/cider/vodka]. Then say this to yourself: ‘what if I had a reserve of super-fuel inner power right now. What would that feel like in this moment? What if I just allowed that to power me through this time of year?’ Close your eyes and just feel if you can detect any changes in your body. Then when you’re all charged up (by your inner power, not by your booze), you can happily get on with the interminable business of festive list-making. 

Wishing you all a stress-free Christmas x