Breathe in, breathe out: how to regain your resilience by Chris Grieve, Executive Director, Edge Certified Foundation

As coaches, facilitators and leaders we are enablers of others’ genius – it is our job to help others access and manifest their potential, their inner genius. In my experience in all three roles, I have discovered that providing people with the tools to do their best thinking, their best work, bring their best selves to the job mostly involves me getting out of the other person’s way!

Helping people bring their best selves to the job involves me getting out of the way

But what happens when you find you can’t get out of the way because you are not being your own best self, not bringing your A-game? What happens when our agency – our capacity to act independently and make free choices – is compromised from the inside? And what can we do about it to bring give our inner genius as agents of change and helpers of others’ processes of transformation a fighting chance?

The job is exciting and challenging and at times a bit scary

In recent months, I chose to take up a leadership role in a new venture that is making the transition from pilot phase to scaling-up phase, while also keeping my independent consultancy active. The job is exciting and challenging and at times a bit scary. I find myself doing ‘new’ things almost every day – little and big – from the mundane task of figuring out how to organise a three-person video conference call on a new system, to helping get 40 potential major donors into a room and inspired enough to support our work.

All my senses are saying “Flee! Flee!”

The metallic taste in my mouth intensifies as another squirt of adrenaline floods my system. My heart seems to be pounding in my ears, muffling the sounds around me. The vice in my chest squeezes harder. I can’t catch my breath. I can’t hold a thought. All my senses are saying “Flee! Flee!”.

I got ill. I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess

These are the bodily responses from extreme stress. Recovering and bouncing back from one or two of these events is relatively straightforward. But when the stress hormone cortisol takes up residence in one’s system and one is in a constant state of fight or flight, then all one’s resilience and resourcefulness can disappear. This is what happened to me. Cortisol had flooded my system, I broke out in hives, I got ill, I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess.

Two of the simplest things enabled me to regain my resourcefulness and rebuild my resilience

They are so simple that I almost don’t believe they worked – but perhaps they will come as no surprise to many.

1. Talking to someone and having the person really listen.
2. Practicing a simple mindfulness technique.

I talked to my best friend

I didn’t seek out my own coach (although she would have been great) – I talked to my best friend. I simply voiced all the crazy stuff that was going on in my head. He listened without judgement, did not offer to fix anything and asked me the occasional question. Within ten minutes the physical symptoms had lifted completely – a dramatic and noticeable shift had happened in my body and mind. I could breathe again. I could think straight. I could make decisions that would help me not get into that state again.

I just notice my breath in, breath out

Then, and periodically since, I have simply closed my eyes and focused on my breath for a few short minutes. Every time I notice I am not focusing on my breath, I simply return my focus to my breath. I don’t try to visualise anything, or breath in a certain way, just notice my breath in, breath out. This helps to quiet my mind and slow my heart rate. And the effects seem to be cumulative: the more I do it, the easier it is to quiet my mind and slow my heart.

Best friends and breathing are great tools for resilience and resourcefulness

I am more resourceful and resilient than two weeks ago and I can again access my agency and do good work to help others. The lessons have been profound and brutal, but the rewards are a nice reminder: the simplest things are often the best solutions; looking after ourselves shouldn’t have to wait until we’re in a crisis; best friends and breathing are great tools for resilience and resourcefulness!

Chris Grieve makes shift happen, and she is Executive Director of Meridian Prime

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