Tag Archives: Resilience

Meditation, a way to deal with stress

On a Tuesday morning in December, I sat on my couch. I put my feet firmly on the ground, straightened my back, and opened the Insight Timer app on my phone. It greeted me with an insightful quote and asked me: how are you doing today? I answered ‘good’, the second-best in the range from ‘awful’ to ‘fantastic’. Among the adjectives to add detail on my mood, I picked ‘satisfied’ and ‘grateful’. Then, I started ten minutes of unguided meditation, as my teacher had asked me to do every day during the five week programme on resilience and stress management.

The exercise I did was an ‘SBR’ meditation. In this exercise, the S stands for ‘Sit’, the B for ‘Breath’ and the ‘R’ for ‘relax’ or ‘return to breath’. The point of this meditation is not to have no thoughts at all. That is impossible. Instead, you pay attention to your breath. Once thoughts emerge, you observe them, relax, and return focus to your breath.

The brain is a muscle that you can train; this concept is called ‘neuroplasticity’. Because of the ‘monkey’ in your brain that constantly distracts you, your thoughts go in all directions. You observe your thoughts going in all directions. Then you steer them back to your breath to teach your brain focus. That skill, my trainer said, is helping you to focus during your workday. In turn, that will help you to be resilient in face of stress.

There’s a ‘monkey’ in your brain, that distracts you from what you want to use your brain power for and sends you on a path of random associations.
Image is not mine and found on AB Tasty.

As I did the exercise, I found my thoughts were more restless: thinking about ‘to do’s’ during the workday, chores at home, smaller and bigger worries, and so on. I felt that those thoughts represented some tension in my head. At the end of the exercise, the app again asked me how I felt. I went for ‘okay’ now, one step below ‘good’ and two above ‘awful’. For the adjectives, I added ‘stressed’ to the ‘satisfied’ one I picked before.

This unexpected effect was one of the benefits I experienced in my five weeks of daily meditation. Some days, I thought I felt good. But when introspecting more deeply, I became aware of stressors I hadn’t noticed before. I got off auto-pilot. Realising how I felt, I could pay attention to what I needed – take a break, go for a walk – and then re-focus on what I wanted to do. This helped me to manage stress and strengthen resilience.

The benefits of meditation

Meditation is listed high as a method people can use to work on their happiness. Why is that? I think because it helps people realise how they are really doing and take care of themselves, instead of going about mindlessly. Meditation can help to train the restless brain to focus.

It can be a part of your emotional hygiene, a psychological counterpart to the two times a day that you brush your teeth. Take ten minutes to check in and experience how you feel, identify your need, and go on with your day. Especially when you feel tense, it can help you. In face of stress, it has a similar effect as counting to ten before erupting in anger. Meditation is not easy, but it can be useful. Try it for a few weeks for ten minutes per day. And if unguided meditation is tough, go for a guided one, like the one below.

We have to talk about suicide

800,000 people. That’s the number of people who die through suicide each year. And 25 times more, 20,000,000 people, make an attempt to end their life. To put the number in perspective: it is as if all of Amsterdam disappeared, or as if all of Mexico City made an attempt in a year.

Contrary to the belief of some, suicide is not only a problem in developed Western countries. It is a global problem: World Health Organization data for 2016 shows that four fifths of suicides occurred in low or middle income countries. We have to talk about suicide, and 10 September – world suicide prevention day – is a good moment to start.

Happiness thus affects many people, and is the second cause of death for 15-29 year olds. But what can we do to prevent suicide?

I am not a psychologist, and to anybody who truly does not see a purpose to be alive I would above all recommend to seek immediate professional help (and to be clear, this blog does not offer professional help). In many countries, there are suicide prevention hotlines you can call when in crisis. Wikipedia lists them here.

What to do when you have thoughts about suicide

For less acute cases, there are a few things that can be done (partially based on the tips of the Dutch suicide prevention hotline 113:

  • Seek professional help. Get help from a professional therapist to tackle the problems you are facing.
  • Talk to friends or family, or write down your worries. If you express some of the thoughts that are bothering you, their weight is already smaller.
  • Get a daily routine. Make sure you sleep enough and eat in right amounts. Go outside for a walk, or exercise: fresh air and movement already give a boost to the hormones regulating how you feel.
  • See life in perspective. Moments of happiness pass by, but the same is true for moments of unhappiness. The dark side is a part of life.
  • Show gratitude for the good things. Pay attention to and appreciate the small and beautiful things that happen: rays of sunlight on your skin, a nice coffee, a smiling person on the street. You can even consider the ‘three good things‘ practice and start writing down positive events during your day for at least a few weeks.

Image found on Up North Parent: https://www.upnorthparent.com/the-hope-squad-suicide-prevention-awareness-month-resources/

Image found on Up North Parent: https://www.upnorthparent.com/the-hope-squad-suicide-prevention-awareness-month-resources/

What to do to help someone who is down

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are a social issue. What can we do – as individuals – to reduce this source of suffering around us?

  • Speak up and offer help. When you suspect that someone feels lonely and a burden to people, and is not afraid to die, reach out. Talk about the problems they are facing. And not only in autmn, winter or Christmas time: summer can also be a time of darkness.
  • Talk about suicide. According to the Dutch suicide prevention hotline, there is no need to shun the subject. In their experience, talking about suicide does not result in a suicide attempt. Youth could be an exception though: if they talk about suicide openly, this could influence behaviour.
  • Encourage the person to get professional help. Support them in reaching out to professionals.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t make yourself responsible for all the suffering you see. Use your own support network to express your own feelings.

Equip people to face the ups and downs in life 

As a society, there is still a lot what we can do to improve suicide prevention: continue breaking the taboo, train doctors and other health care professionals in recognising and treating suicidal thoughts and depression, and reduce access to tools used for suicide.

There is more that can be done to strengthen mental health and build resilience. Depression and schizophrenia are said to account for 60% of all suicides. Schizophrenia is a complex disorder, and there is no easy cure for depression. Many cases are inappropriately treated or not treated at all.

As societies grow richer and people live longer, more investment needs to be made to better understand how depression can be prevented and treated. It can start with changes in education: increase emphasis on life skills and happiness at schools, to help people face the ups and downs in life. Happiness education may be a factor that helps to prevent suicide.


Do you have suicidal thoughts? Please, please, please, reach to a suicide crisis line. Find an overview here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines