When is the last time you had to mail something breakable?
If you’re like me, you probably wrapped it up in a crazy amount of bubble wrap and marked the box “FRAGILE” in several places with a big black Sharpie. Underlined. Three exclamation points each. Sure, you still knew the package would likely be drop-kicked more than once along its postal service journey, but you gave it the best possible chance to arrive in one piece.
Our journey in life has some interesting similarities. Like it or not, we’re all going to get drop-kicked from time to time. A stock-market crash. A terrifying health diagnosis. A global pandemic. A war. The death of a loved one. The question isn’t if, but when. And those painfully consistent jolts are taking a serious toll on our well-being. That’s a truth I know firsthand.
According to a December 2022 report by the American Psychiatric Association, 37% of those surveyed in the U.S. ranked their mental health as poor or fair—a shocking 31% increase from the previous year. And 26% of the respondents anticipated greater stress in 2023, which speaks volumes given what we’ve collectively been through in our recent history.
It’s not a huge leap to say that stress and burnout have reached epidemic proportions this year.
The good news is, we can take action to give ourselves the best chance to survive and, more importantly, thrive during these ongoing challenges. Perhaps surprisingly, the solution takes us back to the mailing analogy.
We can help preserve our mental well-being by proactively surrounding ourselves in layers of psychological bubble wrap. Sounds funny, I know. But stay with me here… I’m talking about adopting the powerful beliefs and behaviors that can protect us from life’s inevitable bumps and crashes. If we can create habits that consistently add layers of emotional cushion, we can achieve what I call shatterproof resilience.
To be clear, I’m not referring to a garden-variety brand of resilience that would have been adequate five years ago. I’m talking about mega-shock-absorbing, crisis-navigating resilience—the kind that genuinely transforms our capacity to handle the seemingly non-stop adversity we’re all experiencing in 2023.
So how can you achieve this elevated level of resilience?
There are a number of strategies you can use to bulk up your layers of psychological bubble wrap, and over the next several weeks, in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, I will be sharing powerful habits, beliefs, and behaviors that can buffer us from life’s inevitable bumps and crashes.
Together, we are going to P.O.P. our way toward greater resilience, strength, and well-being:
Protecting your mental health and your peace is your first priority.
Your brain’s primary job is to keep you safe. Regardless of whether that threat is real, like a global pandemic, or perceived, like the email from your boss that says, “we need to talk”, your brain has the same reaction.
When you are under stress, the part of your brain responsible for managing emotional regulation and attention shrinks, making you more likely to be irritable, dysregulated, and unfocused. You can signal safety to your brain and re-route your fight or flight response.
Fortunately, you can deliberately and proactively signal safety to your brain. For example, take 30 minutes to wake up without news, social media, or email. Being exposed to negative stimulus within the first 30 minutes of waking up jump starts your brain’s negativity bias, making you more likely to find what’s wrong, rather than what’s right.
There are only so many hours in a day, and we have a limited amount of physical, cognitive, and emotional energy. Learning to optimize these resources adds protective layers to your buffer zone.
This can take the form of setting clear boundaries, focusing on your most important priorities, getting enough rest and recovery, and managing your attention.
We have to make the most of the limited resources we have.
For example, identify the task you are dreading the most each day and do it first. We spend cognitive energy dreading the task. If you can get it done right off the bat, you feel a sense of accomplishment, which improves motivation, and regain cognitive energy you can use for other things.
Your protective buffer is built through habit stacking and practice. Just like one crunch doesn’t make a six pack, one practice doesn’t create a buffer. You want these practices to be so ingrained that they become standard operating procedure. This helps lessen the shock of the dings, dents, and bruises we all experience.
Pick one behavior, skill, or mindset shift and practice it every day for a month. Then pick another. Too much change too fast equals no change at all.
These practices are simple but powerful.
Don’t forget to put yourself on your priority list. While it may seem overwhelming, it’s about one decision at a time.
Anne Grady is a Speaker, Author, and #TruthBomb Dropper.
Anne shares practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. And she’ll make you laugh while she does it. Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. She is the best selling author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work and Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience and Triumph.