People who are drawn to Transition care deeply about the world around them, their children, their communities and about the future of life on this planet, but all too often give more of their time, energy and skills than is sustainable.
When engaged with Transition, what is the best way to stay balanced in what we give and receive, protect space and time for rest, and find sources of nourishment that restore our reserves? Alongside social and community resilience, the more personally resilient we are, the more we are able to face, and respond to, the challenges of our times...
Each of us is responsible for our own well-being. Ensure a balance of activity and rest, be aware of the early symptoms of burnout and don’t shy away from seeking support sooner rather than later.
My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – It gives a lovely light!
Edna St Vincent Millay
When engaged with Transition, what is the best way to stay balanced in what we give and receive, protect space and time for rest, and find sources of nourishment that restore our reserves? Alongside social and community resilience, the more personally resilient we are, the more we are able to face, and respond to, the challenges of our times. If resilience refers to ‘bouncebackability’, then someone with a resilient body, heart and mind will be able to feel whatever feelings arise in response to challenges and stressful situations, and ‘bounce back’, returning to a normal state of well-being.
The less personally resilient we are, the more challenges overwhelms us and we find ourselves struggling with physical exhaustion, losing sleep, isolation or inability to cope with relationships, mental stress or loss of meaning, to name but a few. As our resilience diminishes, the pathway back to healthy functioning takes longer, and in extreme cases of burnout it can take months or even years for a person to fully recharge.
Some simple factors that are known to increase levels of resilience include:
- having basic needs met; being financially resourced
- eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise; spending time in nature
- feeling seen and appreciated for what we offer
- feeling connected – to a partner, family, friends, colleagues and the community, and knowing that people will treat us with respect and care
- feeling able to effect change and make a difference.
The Transition process itself helps with many of these – working together to achieve positive and practical outcomes; making friends and building a sense of local community – these all support the personal resilience of those involved. And yet, many people involved will have felt, or known someone who felt, overstretched, stressed or exhausted partly by their involvement.
Two key features of any resilient system, as described in The Transition Handbook, are feedback loops and tight coupling, i.e. that ‘the system’ is open to feedback and is conscious of and listens to the feedback sooner rather than later. Applying this to ourselves, there are always signs that we are going beyond our natural coping capacity. These will be different for different people, but common ones include:
- feeling tired
- losing sleep
- being unable to switch off
- feeling overwhelmed by new requests for responses to challenges
- being irritable or snappy with people we are close to
- feeling depressed, hopeless or overwhelmed by sadness in ways that seem disproportionate to what’s happening
- feeling isolated or cutting off from friends or colleagues
- feeling guilty or resentful, that we are doing too much or not enough.
It’s common in our culture to override these warning signs, and we can often be praised as being heroic in keeping going in spite of them. In this we repeat the pattern of our wider culture: ignoring the warning signs of climate change, environmental degradation and exhaustion of resources and speeding up in response, rather than slowing and changing what we do.
Training for personal resilience
Jo Hardy, a facilitator who works with Transition groups, argues that the basic principles for personal resilience are that we learn best by a combination of receiving information that helps us understand more deeply challenges and solutions, self and group reflection, listening to and hearing each other’s experience and sharing our own stories and experiences. She suggests that workshops designed to build personal resilience might include some or all of the following.
- A group brainstorm around what personal resilience feels like when we have a good degree of it and what it feels like as it diminishes.
- A talk around the idea of resources and a sharing and exploration of the ‘resources’ we personally have and can employ.
- An exploration of what works and what doesn’t work so well in our working relationships, i.e. where we struggle around issues such as unclear boundaries and learning to name areas of difficulty before they escalate too far.
- An understanding of the physiology of stress and what happens to us when stress overwhelms our capacity to resource ourselves.
The basic techniques of mindfulness-based stress reduction* and how these can significantly contribute to increased personal resilience if we are struggling.
We learn by repetition, so to be more effective such workshops need to be followed up by ongoing practice and sharing groups, and/or individuals engaging the support they need to further develop resources.
The things that best restore, nourish and replenish your energy will be specific to you. Spending time discovering what really works for you is time well invested. The list might include fun activities, or doing things or being with people that are nothing to do with Transition! Time spent in nature, listening to music or being creative, or turning off the constant flow of emails and switching off from ‘mental’ activities, give the rational left brain a rest and nourish feelings of connection and flow. Physical exercise helps the brain as well as the rest of the body. For some, it’s time alone that is most refreshing and restorative.
It is really important that people who are most active in Transition visibly attend to their own well-being, putting boundaries around work and taking time to look after themselves. Talking about avoiding burnout is meaningless if you are working flat out without resting yourself, and those most active in a project have the most influence on setting the culture of what’s valued.
* Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is finding increasingly wide application in organizations including the National Health Service, schools and businesses as a way of reducing stress, increasing health and well being and even managing chronic pain.
Developed by John Kabat Zinn, the idea is to increase awareness of what is happening in your own mind, body and heart so you naturally have more of a sense of what is going on.
As we give more attention to the feedback from our bodies, hearts and minds we more easily respond by attending to what is needed – rest, exercise, food, company, having a change of scene or pace, whatever is called for. The repeated act of noticing our behaviour in stressful situations also increases our ability to choose our response and not get caught in habitual stressful reactions, some of which may be old patterns learned long ago and no longer useful or relevant. http://www.mbsr.co.uk