The Secrets of Resilience

In the past I wrote about vulnerability. I said vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. I asked not to mask or deny your vulnerability because its our greatest asset. Be vulnerable, I said: quake and shake in your boots with it because the new goodness that comes to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable. Now, this of course is on the assumption that life wounding does not leave you with grievous wound from which you cannot recover.  One may wonder if there is a healthy balance between vulnerability and resilience so that a person can recover from their wounds.  All the wounded people I have come across have recovered either completely or partially. Those that are resilient recover completely and those who are not may have difficulty.

A wise man once said, “The best way to come to terms with a terrible past is to get a really good future out of it.” Again the wise man is assuming the person has enough resilience to overcome the terrible past.

So the question is how does one get resilient. I have suggested in my previous posts that the individual who had a happy loving childhood and who’s parents provided the right kind of environment are more “psychologically balances” and this would contribute to them being resilient. But all is not lost if you had a terrible childhood. One can learn to be more resilient. The past doesn’t have to ruin or limit our future. We don’t want to have thought that say “ I can never be happy because this happened in my past.”

What can we do to become resilient? Some very exciting research has emerged from the study of mindfulness meditation.  It seems with meditation practice there is an electrical change in brain function which cultivates an “ approach state” in which people move toward, rather than away from a challenging external situation or internal mental function such as a thought, feeling, or memory. Naturally, such an approach state can be seen as the neural basis for resilience.

Studies have also shown that patients with meditation practice feel an internal sense of stability and clarity. This is important because resilient people are very good at dealing with novelty. When they feel stuck or come across a new difficulty in their path they don’t run away from it.but face it head on, the sense of the stability and clarity they cultivate through meditation becomes very handy  in those situations. If someone is unable to deal with a new situations and keeps finding good excuses not to tackle it, then they will get stuck in the pattern of ineffectuality i.e. they keep repeating the same behaviour and hoping for a different result. They maybe too fearful to try something new; they maybe putting their fear ahead of solving the problem they are faced with. Not solving the problem keeps one in the comfortable zone of what we already know and this keeps one stuck because what we know has been ineffectual and therefore continues to keep one  stuck. One needs to try something new.

Meditation has also been shown to boost the immune system. So there is defence and resilience at the cellular level too, against infections and damage done to the body by the stress hormones. Having a healthy body also will provide sense of resilience.


Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.
Bern Williams


The Mindfulness Revolution: edited by Barry Boyce – chapter by Daniel Siegel,  the proven benefits of mindfulness.

Learning How to Fail.

Our society is so obsessed with succeeding and being on the top; and it is in general contemptuous of those who are not interested in this game. We are never taught  in school the most important lesson of life  – how to fail. The psychological studies show that to enhance success we must not focus on the end result but rather focus on the effort one make towards achieving that end. Yet our society is so focus on the results. In sports we only remember who came in first but rarely do we remember who came in second or third. We forget that even if we do well today we may not do so well tomorrow; that success is only temporary.  The moment we are no longer frightened to fail, but take failure as an opportunity to learn from, then we are free to succeed.

How often people don’t try things because they are afraid of failing ? Learning how to fail is not a resignation to become a failure but it is being open to the possibility of failure and learning from it and being appreciative of the effort that was invested towards a given goal. When we focus on the result we invite people to cheat, commonly out of fear. Take government statistic for example, very few people believe them because they don’t tell the whole truth.

Those who are employed get regular personal performance review; under the pretence of being helpful to the employee. But is it really helpful? or is it more to check on the employees that they are meeting their targets; and if the targets are met then they will be increased for the next year. There is always a perpetual change in big corporation; employees feel uneasy with this constant change; but that is exactly the managements thinking that if you let things settle down then people become comfortable and inefficient. But this is wrong kind of thinking. Not only does it create stress and anxiety  for everyone involved but it is poor for the morale and the ability to develop cooperative working relationship with each other. Resulting in huge costs which are born in term of people getting sick and  having to taking stress leaves; but the inefficiency in these organization never improve with this kind of thinking.

Some have said that an inspired , dedicated , cooperative ‘ all for one and one for all’ team of lesser talented  is likely to beat one made up of those who are gifted but are treated as marketable objects and don’t cooperate.

We have to recognize that our psychologies are rooted in our working and social lives. It is easy not to be mindful of how the negative effects of the working conditions can have adverse effect on our minds and our relationships. We can end up being insensitive to many facets of our lives and just being focused  on winning. We look for the competitive edge at the expense of support, cooperation and integration.


The compassionate mind  by Paul Gilbert.

Time To Give Up And Time To Care

“ Don’t worry about things you have no control over.” This is a common advise given by the popular self-help literature, the psychologist and the parents. It is a good advise; why worry about something you have no control over. It’s no point in worrying if sun is going to come up tomorrow for example. Save that energy for something useful.

In real life though, it is more common to find situations where we only have partial control over the outcome. What should one do here? Should we worry only half as much or should we not worry at all or do we worry wholeheartedly? What will give us better outcome and at the same time preserve our inner peace and contentment?

I can have some control, for example, over getting 100% in an examination, but there are factors that I have no control over that may not allow me to get 100%; I may not be feeling well from catching the flu the day before, or the examination questions maybe on something we did not study in school. I may also want to win a marathon, but again I have no control over all the variables that will prevent me from achieving this goal. I may want a pay raise but my boss may not give it to me. I want my partner to love me but it’s possible that someone else may make her happier and she cannot love me back as I love her. Should I not care? So I can preserve my own tranquility and avoid becoming upset if I don’t get the desired outcomes?

It seems foolish not to care, just because we only have partial control.  Not to care or to give up means I don’t ask my boss for the pay raise, that I continue to let someone else make my partner happier, and to accepted I will not win the marathon and I will not get 100% in the examination even before I tried or made any effort; this may save me from getting upset from not realizing the results I was hoping for. But it will also leave me feeling of a defeat, a low self-esteem and eventual withdrawal from life itself.

It seem the only control we have is over ourselves. So what if we reset our goal internally toward the same outcome? Instead of setting the goal to win the marathon or get 100% in the examination the goal could change; that I am going to try my very to win the marathon and get 100%. This way you will be less anxious about not achieving the goal and this freed up energy can contribute toward being your best. It is possible to do the same for the other two situations. I can reset my goal to be the best employee and then I am more likely to get a pay raise. I can also reset my goal with regards to my partner. I can try to be mindful of my partner’s happiness by being loving and caring person. This is more likely to be helpful than anything else; because that’s the only thing we have control over.

Yes, I may not get the desired outcome but I tried. The things outside my control won out, but I can still be proud of myself even if the outcome was not what I had hoped for because I did not give up on the factor I had control over.


A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

How to cope with anxiety without drugs- part 6 – face your fear, get regular exercise, eat right to stay calm, nourish yourself,simplify your life, turn off worry & cope on the spot.

It is easy to say “face your fears” but difficulty to do. One of my patient was fearful of flying and his family lived in the eastern Canada. He could not get himself  on an aeroplane to go and see them even  for special occasions like Xmas, his mothers birthday, christening of his nephew etc. He would feel sad, beat himself  over  his inability and call himself a coward. He never shared his fear with anyone until one day he come to see me for vague symptoms. It was during my conversation with him he shared his secret with me. Happily after his brave effort of facing his fear he was able to fly over and see his family. He now sees them regularly.

With the help of his psychologist the above patient  used Systematic (or Imagery) Desensitization method to mentally face his fear of flying. This is commonly used method to overcome phobias when real life exposure is not practical. Exposure Therapy is a real life desensitization to a phobia.

Regular exercise is another great way to reduce anxiety  and enhance sense of well-being. It has so many other benefits and yet this mode of healing is severely under utilized. It is easier to take a vitamin pill or baby aspirin then to do exercise. However the benefits of the exercise is way more than taking supplements or pills. I know it can be difficulty to find time in our busy live to do it on regular basis. I can find so many excuses not do it myself and sometimes these excuses have won out  and I ended up not doing the regular exercise; but the consequences are always the same, my feeling of well-being disappears, I get less done, my concentration is not as good, I don,t sleep well, and I feel sense of tension in my body; so I have to be careful and watch out  that my efforts to do exercise doesn’t get undermined by my excuses.

There are many types of exercises, I like the ones where you don’t need or need very little special equipment or facilities. That’s why I like running, walking , cycling or swimming. I like walking the best because you can do this all year round , in any weather, doesn’t require any special equipment, it cost nothing and doesn’t cause any injuries. The walk has to be brisk , steady for at least thirty minutes, and the heart rate should go up depending on your fitness level, age and medical conditions. Of course what ever form of exercise you choose it should be fun and brings you joy otherwise you are unlikely to continue it for any length of time. You may want to do different exercises on different days; you may want to rotate cycling , walking, running and swimming on different days of the week. What ever works for you is the best. That way you are likely to do it on regular basis and will bring you happiness, joy , sense of well being and reduced anxiety.

Eating right to stay calm is also important. Common offender for making anxiety worse is caffeine; I love the smell of good coffee and it is so easily available very where that I tend to drink it without even thinking about it until I start to get palpitations. Luckily it doesn’t affect my sleep even if I have it just before going to bed. There are a lot of people who are very sensitive and even one cup a day can induce anxiety or a panic attack. It increases neurotransmitters norepinephrine in the brain which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system in the same way as stress does by releasing adrenaline, which leaves one feeling alert and awake. However , too much caffeine can leave you chronically tense and aroused with a tendency to be anxiety and palpitation prone. It also robs you of Vitamin B1 which is supposed to be good for coping with stress.How much is too much caffeine depends on how each person metabolizes it, some can only tolerate very little others can consume more. Overall it better to reduce the caffeine intake as much as possible.

Low Blood Sugar  or hypoglycemia can precipitate anxiety. It is more likely to occurs when the diet has high proportion of simple carbohydrates; they raise the blood sugar soon after eating ; the body respond by secreting insulin from the panaceas; the insulin plummet the sugar down again causing hypoglycemia, usually about three hours after eating meal with high simple carbohydrate. hypoglycemia may cause symptoms similar to anxiety – light headedness, nervousness, trembling , feeling of unsteadiness or weakness, irritability and palpitation. If one is prone to anxiety the hypoglycemia will just make it worse. hypoglycemia can also occur with acute or chronic stress. The dietary hypoglycemia can be eliminated by increasing the proportion of protein in the diet, eliminate simple carbohydrate , replace them with complex carbohydrate.

Herbs are commonly used to treat anxiety, but they should be regarded as less potent medication. They can interact with other medication, so always check with your doctor before taking them. Commonly used herbs for anxiety are:- Kava ( in some people can cause liver damage), Valerian, passion-flower  and Gotu Kola.

It is important to self nourish ourselves. It should be regarded as a necessity and not as a luxury. In order to function well in the day we must have enough sleep, recreation and rest time. Taking the time to self nourish give you sense of well-being, energy , stamina, presence of mind and calmer, more serene outlook which is important to reduce anxiety. It is especially important with increasing use of  technology in our lives, where we have to respond to phone calls , emails,  faxes and catch up with paper work. On top of all that you have to talk to your clients in calm , professional manner and when you get home your relationship with your loved ones fall short of expectation. It seems one is always racing in the day time to catch up, which for some can be very anxiety provoking. So take downtime for rest, recreation and relationship; get past the workaholism; be willing to do less, exercise;  get good night sleep regularly; pace yourself and take mini breaks; nurture yourself on a daily basis. I made some of these changes in my life few months ago and find I am more productive and happier. However , obligations have a tendency to encroach on the nurturing time ; but we have to remind ourselves we can’t help others without looking after ourselves.

Reduce stress and anxiety by simplifying your life. Down size your living situation, let go of the things you don’t need , do what you want for living, reduce your commute , reduce exposure to TV, live close to nature, tame the telephone, delegate menial chores and learn to say no.

Reduce anxiety by turning of the worry by exercise; by talking to someone; by doing twenty minutes of deep relaxation; listen to evocative music; experience something immediately pleasurable; use visual distraction; express your creativity; find alternative positive obsession; repeat a positive affirmation in a quite place etc

Have plan to cope with anxiety on the spot before it happens, by distractions, affirmations, abdominal breathing , by accepting your anxiety and knowing that  you will get through this episode as well etc.

If you suffer from anxiety and decided to make even some of the changes suggested in these series of posts; and  practice them on daily basis then I am sure you will be able to cope with anxiety much more effectively and maybe even reduce the amount of medication currently required to control your anxiety.


Coping with Anxiety

Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano

 Related articles:-

How to cope with anxiety without drugs- part 4 -Relaxing the Mind.

Relaxing the mind:

Our mind is constantly active from the time we wake up to when we fall asleep. If we are anxious the thoughts in the mind may accelerate to the point where our mind is racing. Unsettled mind can conjure up all sorts of anxiety provoking scenes resulting in more anxiety. Here we are going to look at the strategies that will calm the mind; these include visualization, meditation and calming music or nature sounds. Like the relaxation techniques for the body, to get most benefit one must do them regularly everyday.There are many techniques of meditations and the best way to learn them is from a teacher. However, just to whet your appetite I have posted some videos below which will show you the basic technique so that you can get started.



Music can have a profound effect on the mood , it seems to touch something deep within us. It has the potential to move you to a place beyond anxiety and worries. It can uplift your mood; so collect music that transport you to these different levels of being. I hesitate to provide a list here because everyone has their own favourites.


Coping with Anxiety

Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano

How to cope with anxiety without drugs- part 3 Relaxing the Body

Finally we come to what everyone has been waiting for, the strategies for coping with anxiety. The non medication strategies include ; relaxing the body, relaxing the mind, thinking realistically,facing your fears,getting regular exercise, eating right to be calm, nourishing yourself, simplifying you life, turning off your worry and learning how to cope on the spot. There is a role for medication but only in severe cases of anxiety where it is causing severe disruption in the functioning of  persons daily activity. The mild to moderate anxiety can be controlled without drugs.

Please note these strategies has to be practiced regularly to get the full benefit, doing them occasionally will not be sufficient; you have to make these practices part of your life. I know because I have been meditating since I was 13 years old and every time I neglected to do it regularly my life become disorderly, resulting in absolute chaos, and several times in dire consequences. I have finally learned not to neglect this precious gift that my father introduced to me so long ago. Regard these practices as precious gifts and practice them daily. It is more important to be consistent daily rather than to spend longer time but doing them only occasionally. There is more benefit to be had doing it daily for shorter time, of course if you can spend longer then so much the better.

Today we will look at how to relax the body. Anxiety causes physical sensation in our body such as shortness of breath, muscle tension, hyperventilation and palpitations. When we have these sensations in our body it tends to reinforce anxiety producing thought, setting up a vicious cycle. We want to break this cycle by relaxing the body. In a relaxed body there is no room for anxious mind.

Some of the techniques for relaxing the body include progressive muscle relaxation,passive muscle relaxation, abdominal breathing and yoga. I have posted low some videos demonstrating these techniques. I am afraid you will have to sign up for a class to learn yoga.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Passive Muscle Relaxation

Abdominal Breathing Relaxation

Next time we will look at how to relax the mind.  Have a great weekend and my you be happy and at peace.


Coping with Anxiety

Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano

How to cope with anxiety without drugs- part 2 Causes of anxiety

In part one we looked at the different type of anxiety disorders. In this post lets look at the causes of anxiety. The causes will not necessarily help us cure the anxiety ; the cures are independent of whether we know how the anxiety disorder developed. So we can still heal without knowing what caused our anxiety disorder. Usually there are multiple causes operating at different levels that give rise to the anxiety condition; that is why it is rarely possible to cure someone by  eliminating just one causal factor. Some of the causes that causes anxiety maybe hereditary, biological, family background and upbringing, conditioning, recent life changes, our self talk, our personal belief system, our ability to express feeling, our current environmental stressors etc. But in addition the duration or the length of time the anxiety causing factor was present also contribute to final outcome of the anxiety disorder.

Long term predisposing factors are conditions that sets one up from birth or childhood to develop anxiety difficulties later on; such as heredity, dysfunctional parenting, or early trauma or abuse ; for example parental neglect, rejection, over criticism, over punishment, over cautiousness, alcoholism, or physical and/or sexual abuse.

Recent circumstantial causes include situations where there is a heightened level of stress over the past few months such as significant loss, significant life change e.g. major move, starting a new job, illness or recreational drug use – especially cocaine, amphetamines, or marijuana.

Maintaining causes are those factors that are currently in ones behaviour, attitude and lifestyle that keeps anxiety going once it has developed. These include muscle tension, fearful self talk-“what if” thinking, mistaken beliefs about self, others, or life; continued avoidance of fear or fearful situation; lack of movement and exercise; caffeine, sugar, and junk food consumption; lack of self nurturing skills; excessively complicated lifestyle and environment; indulging in habit of worry; and low self-confidence and self worth,  feeling one is a “victim” rather than empowered to ” take charge” of anxiety.

Lastly there are neurobiological causes which include deficiencies and imbalances of neurotransmitters;excessive reactivity of certain brain structures such as amygdala and locus ceruleus; insufficient inhibition of excessive reactivity by the higher brain centres such as the frontal or temporal cortex.

Treating anxiety without drugs is most helpful by modifying the ” maintaining causes” above, they are those factors that keeps the anxiety going once it has been established. The  anxiety  from other causes are indirectly helped once the maintaining causes are eliminated. It is hard to do anything for hereditary factors but one can learn to change ones behaviour to anxiety. The childhood trauma and abuse needs treatment usually from a qualified therapist.

In the next post we will look at some specific techniques for coping with the anxiety and the role for medication.


Coping with Anxiety

By Edmund Bourne  &  Lorna Garano

How to cope with anxiety without drugs:- part 1 Different types of Anxiety Disorders.

Someone recently asked to write about over coming anxiety without drugs. It is a large topic so I will deal with it by posting series of posting, for those who are not interested in anxiety I will try add something interesting on “pages”; so you can get to these posting by pressing the page button on the side bar.

Anxiety can be devastatingly disabling condition.It consumes so much energy, thus keeping us from cultivating qualities that would make us genuinely happy. It affect our family and our work. It is huge cost to the person, family and work. It is very common, up-to 25% of general population in the USA have serious anxiety disorder sometime in their life, I suspect the figures are similar in Canada.

We need to know little bit about different types of anxiety disorder before can talk about specifics about the treatment. Different anxiety type will require different approach to the treatment. There are seven major anxiety disorder, I have posted the video below which explains different types but only mention five of them, they omit agoraphobia and specific phobia; but do explain panic disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Agoraphobia is a fear of having a panic attack in situations that are perceived to be far from safety  or from which escape might be difficult, such driving on a freeway or waiting in a grocery line.

Specific phobia is a strong fear and avoidance of one particular object or situation ; such as spiders, thunderstorms, elevators  or flying.

Here is the video that explains the rest:


Coping with Anxiety by Edmund Bourne & Lorna Garano

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