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How to Build Mental Resilience During Difficult Times

Season 13, Episode 13  | April 13, 2020

Resilience is our capacity to overcome and recover from difficult times — and we’re definitely in one of those right now. In this week’s episode, Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, director and co-creator of Life Time Mind, shares ways to protect your mind and body, as well as some simple mental exercises you can do if you feel overwhelmed with stress or worry.

Woman Breathing Looking Peaceful.

02:00

In this episode, we’re joined again by Jen Elmquist. Elmquist was our guest on our episode on “The Power of Mindset in Your Health and Life.” She’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-creator of Life Time Mind, Life Time’s internal performance-coaching program.

02:45

We’re facing an unprecedented time of concern. Not just for the world globally, but for each of us personally, too. Our mental health is a foundational component of being able to handle the changes we’re experiencing.

03:29

Coping with the challenges we’re facing requires mental resiliency. Elmquist explains what resiliency is, and whether or not it’s something we all have or can cultivate.

05:38

Elmquist offers three ways we can build and reinforce resiliency in ourselves.

06:42

Our mindset can significantly affect the course of our days. Our brain is Velcro for the negative, and Teflon for the positive — the negative naturally sticks more. Elmquist details how we can control the drama dialogue around us and shift our outlook.

09:16

The ability to look at what we’re grateful for versus what’s troubling us is not only important for adults, but for kids, too.

11:47

David Freeman discusses the three C’s each of us are frequently doing: consuming, creating, and cultivating.

13:16

This situation has shown the adaptability of people. We’re all facing this hard time together and are altering our lives for the health and benefit of one another.

14:49

Elmquist walks us through both a grounding and a thought-shifting exercise that we can easily do in any moment to improve our resiliency and help mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety.

17:26

Elmquist shares what she’s doing right now to support her health and well-being.

Transcript: How to Build Mental Resilience During Difficult Times

Season 13, Episode 13  | April 13, 2020

Jamie Martin

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor-in-chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman, the signature program lead for Life Time’s Alpha program. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we are working towards, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin

In each episode we’ll cover the foundational elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, health issues like sleep and stress management, and mindfulness and community.

David Freeman

And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

Jamie Martin

Hey everyone, David and I are so glad to be back with you, even though it’s a little sooner than we were planning. In early March, we were just starting to finalize details of Season 2 for Life Time Talks, and then all of our lives were turned upside down by coronavirus.

David Freeman

So, we decided to extend Season 1 and bring you some additional episodes on coping with this new normal. With all the worries, the changes, the challenges, and the opportunities.

Jamie Martin

Like many of you, we’re in our respective homes. I’m in Minnesota . . .

David Freeman

And I’m in Texas . . .

Jamie Martin

And we’re recording in the quietest rooms we could find. I’m in my home office and there’s a good chance my daughters will come knocking sooner than later.

David Freeman

And I’m in my man cave. My kids are probably thinking I’m playing hide and seek, and they’re “it.”

Jamie Martin

We know that a lot of people are concerned and worried about coronavirus and its effects on our family and friends, our communities, our world. We are too. It’s impacting every aspect of our lives.

David Freeman

And while we’ll be leaving it to the local and state officials, along with public health experts and the CDC, to revive the latest information about the illness, we’re here with the intent of offering some ideas, information, and inspiration that we hope helps you navigate the days ahead.

Jamie Martin

We’re so happy to have Jen Elmquist with us again. Jen was with us in the very first episode of Life Time Talks talking about mindset, and we’re thrilled to have her back to talk about being resilient in times of stress and anxiety. Just as a reminder, Jen is a licensed marriage and family therapist, as well as the co-creator of Life Time Mind, which is Life Time’s internal performance coaching program. Jen, welcome back to the podcast.

Jen Elmquist

Thanks so much, David, Jamie.

David Freeman

Definitely awesome to have you back, and under these certain circumstances it only seems right to talk about having a strong mindset in the days to come. I want us to understand why it’s so important right now to make sure that we have this strong mindset for our mental health going into the days to come.

Jen Elmquist

That is such an important question, David. And we are definitely facing just an unprecedented time of concern. Not just for our world globally, but it’s touching each of us personally. And our mental health, it’s going to be a foundational piece through this whole process. Not just now as we accept some of the changes in our life that are coming around health and health concerns, and then stability around employment and schooling and our finances. But even long-term as we look out of how this is going to change how we interact and how we proceed in our world. So, our mental health is going to be the key to our resiliency through this whole process.

Jamie Martin

Well, you bring up resiliency, Jen. Can you just tell us, really, what is resilience and why is it so important? You know, it’s always important, but now especially as we’re facing, like you said, these unprecedented challenges. Can you speak to that a little bit more?

Jen Elmquist

Yeah, you know, when you look at resiliency – that’s our capacity to recover quickly from going through difficult times, which obviously this is an extremely difficult time. For us to be able to recover means we’re actually able to continue to show up and be productive in our life and in our relationships. So, that resiliency is key.

Jamie Martin

Is it something that we all have? Because, you know, I’ve read different pieces and I think we’ve covered this in Experience Life, where some people seem to be more resilient than others. So, do we all have kind of a starting baseline for resilience?

Jen Elmquist

You know, Jamie, for some of us, resiliency tends to come more naturally. And for some of us, it’s more . . . it takes more effort for us to work at. So, if you think if you’re a cup-half-full versus a cup-half-empty person, we think of optimism versus pessimism and some of our baselines, we just tend to be more optimistic and that helps us with resiliency. But we can all learn how to become more resilient. There are skills that we can learn along the way that allow us to look at life from a more optimistic perspective. And that’s something — a muscle actually — that we can build in our brain.

David Freeman

I actually like that a lot. I think it does start with a lot from the foundation of how individuals might, were brought up. When you think about it, I go back to my earlier years in life and my mother and father always instilled a sense of gratitude. Like, instead of thinking what you do not have, think of all the things you do have. And during this time, you start to see a lot more individuals connect to the things that they might have been neglecting, whether it was, or whether it is, reaching out to past friends or just connecting more and more with family members, FaceTiming and just connecting. So, I think when you think of resilience as a whole, there are different ways to go about it. But when we think of how you can build it and reinforce it, what are some ways that we can go about that?

Jen Elmquist

I love what you’re saying, David, that idea that right now we’re disconnecting and connecting at the same time, right. The space is actually giving us an opportunity to slow down and connect with the people we love the most in our family systems and at the same time, we are learning how to connect with our friends and our colleagues in a completely different way. The question I think around our individual resiliency is how are we taking care of our body, mind, spirit? And what are the things that we’re doing to instill in us during a time of high concern, high stress, that resiliency within ourselves? And, you know, there’s three ways I look at this. And one is, it’s grounding your mind and your body. Two, it’s controlling how you’re thinking, making sure that you’re able to shift from negative to positive. And three is that physical health element. How are you moving your body so that it is getting out the bad energy and getting in the good feelings?

David Freeman

That’s awesome and it’s crazy you say it and you phrase it in that way. I’m reading a book called The Twelve Week Year, and within that book it’s an acronym that I actually picked up that says TAR — T.A.R. And, exactly: The way you think dictates your actions, which yield your results. And when you think about that over and over again . . . OK, the way I’m going to go into today, I can look at it as maybe it’s not having a job or maybe I have to take on these assignments with my kids, or whatever it may be. But if you go into it with a positive mindset and how you can actually change the perspective of how you’re going to go about your day, the way you think goes to how you’re going to act, and therefore it’s going to yield some type of result, whether that be negative or positive. You start with the foundation of how you’re thinking to yield that result which is pretty powerful.

Jen Elmquist

Yeah, it’s so true. You know, our brain is Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. So, when something like this happens — a crisis like this that we’re going through — it’s easy to take in. And we’re flooded right now by the media. And I have been recommending to people, really control the intake of the drama dialogue, of what’s coming specifically through the media right now. Because that negativity, it will flood and overwhelm you. And your brain is going to stick to that and it’s going to bring into your thought process not just the negativity of what’s going on, say, with this virus, but all of the other negative things you focus on.

So, if you can control that drama dialogue, control that media intake, control the negativity, and then the next step is to start to shift your own thinking. And you know, you mentioned gratitude, David — that’s a great exercise to shift thinking. This isn’t about being Pollyanna, trying to make something positive out of something that really is difficult. This is about finding the silver lining in the challenge that’s in front of us. And being able to look at, say, your day and, say, you could focus on, gosh, I don’t have my job, I’m really worried about my finances, I’m not too sure about my health, my family’s health. And that becomes a roll. We stick with that negativity. If instead we look at it and say, you know what, my family is all healthy today, I’m grateful for that. You know, I have resources to take me through this time of unemployment. And a lot of other people are in the same boat that I am and we can do this together. That’s a way of shifting to the positive in the present moment.

Jamie Martin

I love that so, so much. And it’s interesting, you know, we’re thinking about that as adults, too, but, you know, a lot of us are at home with our kids and we’re trying to figure out how to talk to our children about these circumstances. And I had an experience the other day, I was out walking with my youngest daughter and she was having kind of a hard day — she’s adjusting, she’s 6-years-old — and, you know, I asked her, “Why are you feeling sad about this?” And then we talked about that: This is hard, it’s hard to be away from our friends and family. But then I said, “OK, but what is good about this?” Even working with our kids on shifting our mindset. And it was so sweet, she said to me, she goes, “Mommy, I’m just so grateful that everyone we know is healthy so far.” You know, and for her to have that awareness, for us to be able to talk about here’s why we’re sad, but here’s what we’re going to look at that can be good in this moment and moving forward was really helpful. So, I think we can apply these same things, you know, that we’re talking about here as adults to help us through these challenging times, but also with our kids.

Jen Elmquist

Absolutely, Jamie. I’m thinking so much about children right now, and parents, and the struggle that it is to have to help your child learn and do their studies simultaneously while you’re trying to work remotely or take care of your family.

And it’s such a challenging time, but one of the beautiful things about children is that in their memory, they remember more how things feel than what actually happened. And as adults, we can actually control the emotional climate of our home, and we can control for our children how they perceive and how they feel about what’s going on. And I think that’s a resiliency we can teach our kids.

Just like in the conversation with your daughter, what you were able to do is shift the emotion for her so that she’s going to be able to look back and say that was, I know that was hard, but what I remember was the connection I had with my mom, I remember that conversation we had. Or, David, you talk about the creativity that you’re able to participate in with your kids right now, and they’re going to remember the time that life slowed down enough that dad was able to draw with chalk on the driveway and they were able to think positively and write affirmations and, you know. That is going to be something that’s going to stick with your kids. I think there’s an encouragement to all parents that you can build an emotional resiliency in your children by creating this positive emotional climate for your kids in the home.

David Freeman

Yeah, Jen, you’re 100 percent and on point because we’ll learn more from our kids than we’ll ever teach them. Going off of that, I know we connected a little bit earlier prior to jumping on the actual podcast, but I spoke about a great mentor of mine saying we’re always doing one of three types of C’s. And those C’s are you’re either consuming, creating, or cultivating. And the majority of the world is consuming. And you kind of hit on this already, when we’re looking at social media or we’re looking at TV 24/7, we’re consuming a lot of material which therefore it’s playing a big role in our mindset. So, if we go to what we have also spoke about today, the gratitude piece, you start going to this creativity of, wow, look at all the things I do have around me, all the things I could be grateful for, and then take it to the next step. Now that I have all this gratitude and I’m thankful for all of these things, how can I take this and make it even better than what it currently is, and that’s when you go into that state of cultivating. So, consuming — which the majority of the world is doing — but when we get past that and we get into that creative mindset, then we understand what gratitude really is about and then from there, take it to the next step, which is cultivating.

Jen Elmquist

I think that’s beautifully said, David, and what that ultimately allows us to do is be adaptable. And, Jamie, we were talking about this earlier today before we started, just the power of adaptability and how we’re actually seeing, right in front of us, real time, all of the ways people are being creatively adaptable in this circumstance to a positive way. I’m seeing, you know, both Life Time do it, our members, our team members, and our business. I’m seeing it done globally as we’re all having to adapt and accommodate for the health of one another and the benefit of one another. It’s this beautiful way that we’re all working together in connectivity. And I think that’s what I’d add, even a fourth C maybe, David, just that connectivity of us being able to care for one another and in an adaptable way. That’s a beautiful thing actually that’s coming out of this time.

Jamie Martin

Well, it’s really, to your point, Jen, it’s our commonality. Really, we’re more alike than different. Right now, we’re all facing a similar threat and worry and how do we come together around that, you know, to hopefully find solutions, but just to be there to support each other through this really hard time.

You mentioned a little bit ago when we were talking about these exercises that we can do and you mentioned the grounding, the thought-shifting. Can you walk us through, you know, one or two of those exercises to give people a really practical thing that they can come back to throughout their days in those moments of, oh, my mind is, I have a monkey mind right now, and I’m focusing on all the things that are really tough. Can you walk us through, whether it’s a grounding or thought-shifting exercise, maybe two of them.

Jen Elmquist

Yeah, I’d love to. So, when we’re in a stress response, one of the best things we can do is connect with our breath. And that helps us calm ourselves, it brings our nervous system down. And one of the simplest ways to do that is to sit and close your eyes, calmly breathe, and I like to introduce what I call a “two-word mantra.” One of my favorites is “I’m OK.” And as you breathe in, think “I’m,” and as you breathe out, think “OK.” I’m OK. And that helps us calm our whole system down and start to get more clarity of mind. So, very simple exercise there to ground the body.

And then the second exercise around thought-shifting — and this is something as coaches we’ve been working on with people over the last couple of weeks, is this idea of planning to be present. So, right now, there’s so many worries going on in our minds. What you can find is you’re going to spend the whole day kind of ping-ponging against the things you’re worried about. So, one of the best things you can do is sit down — and often this works out really well to do with a partner or a good friend, someone that you really are, someone that knows you intimately. And say, you know, what is it that I need to plan for right now? What are those three scenarios? And I tell people, plan your best-case scenario, plan your plan B, and then, as silly as it sounds, talk through your worst-case scenario. What you’re going to find is when you talk through those worries you are more capable and equipped than you realize to actually handle, potentially, what’s coming your way. So, once you can plan those three scenarios you can shelf those worries. And if you shelf your worries, you can then be present. You can be present in your day to take care of yourself, to take care of those you love, and focus on the important work you can do in the moment. It’s one of the best things you can do.

David Freeman

Beautifully put.

Jamie Martin

I love it. I love all of those and I know I’ll be using them regularly, thank you.

David Freeman

I literally was doing the “I am OK” while you were saying it. I was like, let me try this out while she’s talking. And that actually felt good to just take a deep breath and release it. So, powerful and well put.

We’re coming into our power minute, which I know everybody gets excited about here on the podcast. So, when we come into our power minute, we want to kind of leave our listeners with something powerful, impactful, and obviously get them on with their day in a positive mindset. So, Jen, if you can share with us the one thing that you’re doing right now to support your health and well-being.

Jen Elmquist

You know, I’m staying focused on body, mind, spirit every day. I’m getting my workouts in, trying to eat well, I’m doing my meditation, keeping my mindset strong, and I’m also making sure that I’m doing my planning to be present also.

Jamie Martin

Aw, man, those are all such really useful and simple things we can all do, again, to bring us back to this present and, you know, not project too much into the future, which I know can be something that I do personally and need to take those deep breaths and come back to center. So, Jen, thank you for joining us on Life Time Talks, we’re so thrilled to have you and we hope you’ll come back again soon.

Jen Elmquist

Thank you so much, anytime. So happy to talk to you. Be well.

David Freeman

Jen, before you go, Jamie, let’s say to the world, “We’re OK” on three.

Jamie Martin

Got it, OK. You count us down, David. Ready?

David Freeman

Alright. One, two, three.

David Freeman

We’re OK.

Jamie Martin

We’re OK.

Jen Elmquist

We’re OK.

Jamie Martin

We were a little out of sync, but we said it. We got it. I love it. Thanks David. Thanks, Jen.

David Freeman

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life, what works for you, where do you run into challenges, where do you need help.

Jamie Martin

And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life or reach out to us on Instagram @lifetime.life, @jamiemartinel, or @freezy30 and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at experiencelife.com/podcast.

David Freeman

And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. Feel free to write a review and also let others know about it, too. Take a screenshot of this episode and share it on social or share it with your friends, family, work buddies, life coach, you get the gist.

Jamie Martin

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Schelper with audio engineering by Peter Perkins and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank you to the team who pulls together each episode and everyone who provided feedback.

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Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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