A image of a flower growing through cracked pavement is used to illustrate the concept of resilience.

Our health and well-being are essential assets to the success and sustainability of our business, enabling us to navigate all the changes and stressors that come with our work. The last three-plus years have highlighted how vital it is to build resilience.

Not only are we ourselves dealing with additional demands, we are seeing clients who are dealing with higher levels of stress and often more complex physical health issues.

A definition for resilience from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Kate Truitt, PhD, author of “Healing in Your Hands,” says that resilience “involves being able to recover and bounce back from difficult experiences” and that it requires “being in a relationship with your mind, body and sense of self in such a way that you are able to navigate those hard things and find opportunities for self-growth.” 

After nearly 20 years of running my sole proprietor business, I have successfully dealt with such regular challenges as building up a sustainable client base, moving offices and maternity leave. These were all things I chose and planned for. 

Tolerable Stress

Then on March 16, 2020, my business encountered the unexpected: All the residents within Alameda and surrounding counties were told to shelter in place from noon onward. My children had no school to attend. My husband was told to work from home. My business abruptly closed. I had no idea for how long.

There was so little information available about how COVID-19 was transmitted that it was hard to know how to respond. My concern was for the safety for all my clients and how they would be supported with their ongoing health issues. The stress of not knowing how to proceed was a major challenge for me—and a major test of my resiliency.

A working paper from Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child states, “Resilience transforms potential toxic stress into tolerable stress.” The paper explores how supportive relationships and active skill-building strengthen the foundations of resilience.

During that initial shelter-in-place period, I remember feeling overwhelmed with racing thoughts and a sense of helplessness. When I woke up in the morning I did not feel rested. Aware that if I continued that way it would lead to physical and emotional problems, I found myself using several strategies to create more tolerable stress.

The practices I, my family and colleagues put in place serve to show how focusing on well-being and the good to be had can build resilience, even during times of extreme challenge.

My husband and I woke early to walk downtown to the local coffee shop that had quickly adapted to serving coffee on a table at its entrance. It felt good to support a local business and see familiar faces each morning. We walked back along the arroyo, soaking in the daily benefits of spending time in nature.

The worldwide impact was another unique aspect of this situation. When I spoke to my friends and colleagues, we shared common concerns. Should I continue to rent my space? What other possibilities are there to bring in income? As a self-employed person, am I eligible for unemployment benefits? How can I find out more information about COVID?

Noticing how much these conversations helped me feel more settled and less isolated, I decided to offer weekly and then monthly Zoom calls for us to come together for connection and to share resources. For almost a year, we exchanged practical knowledge and emotional support with one another, creating a bond across countries.

I also missed my connection with my community and clients. Knowing they were dealing with the same issues as myself, with increased anxiety and craving safe social connection, I created a similar format as I had with my colleagues. Three years later I continue to hold a free monthly Zoom call.

At the beginning of this year, I created a topic for each month. In January we discussed resilience and each person shared a word that expressed what this word meant to them. Some examples were: determination, change, safety, fortify, strength, resourceful, spaciousness and trust. This expanded our awareness of what resilience meant to each of us.

Strategies You Can Use to Build Resilience

As a community of bodyworkers, we continue to be impacted by the pandemic. Some stressors include an increased number of last-minute cancellations from our clients, and dealing with increased stressors ourselves.

“In the aftermath of the pandemic, I’ve noticed clients experiencing more confusion about their purpose and the fatigue of living a life that is unsustainable,” said massage therapist Michelle Walker, who has trained many people in energy and breathwork practices. “They express a deep desire to be more for themselves with a drive to connect to something bigger, often speaking about the longing for dreams that have gone by the wayside.”

We may find ourselves stressed due to Long COVID, time spent communicating to our clients when we or our clients have been exposed to COVID-19, and investment of time and resources to stay up-to-date with current policies and research on COVID-19, such as clients who might present with Long COVID.

“In the past, I’ve experienced physical injuries and personal traumatic experiences, but never at such a large scale or for such a long time,” said massage therapist Meghan McGrath, who specializes in craniosacral therapy. “I know how unhealthy it is to surf the edge of burnout. This awareness has helped ensure that I lean into my health and wellness tools more consistently than ever.”

To build resilience, we want to turn toward strategies that help us stay in the tolerable stress category and out of toxic stress. Tolerable stress can be defined as “involves serious, temporary stress response, but differs from toxic stress in that you have a healthy support system and coping tools you know how to use.”

Receiving regular bodywork is necessary, of course. We should be good role models and walk our talk by receiving massage and bodywork.

Take care of the basics by getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising. You may have found that some of your helpful routines that took care of you were disrupted in the early phase of the pandemic and you are still not back on track. This could be a good time to prioritize these basic requirements and solidify nurturing routines.

Knowing when to reach out for support and help is vital. Many of us are sole proprietors. We support our clients and are responsible for running all the business details. We have many roles, such as CEO, CFO, admin support and housekeeper.

For me, having a monthly meeting with two local colleagues has been invaluable. We each listen to one another’s successes, challenges and innovations with our work. After each share we reflect back to one another, celebrating successes and acknowledging challenges. Fortunately, our small group was in place before COVID, providing a lifeline of support to us through the initial phase by switching to Zoom.

Maintaining our routine over the following years has been vital to my healthy support system and resiliency. Perhaps you can think of two or three colleagues in your community whom you could regularly meet with.

Mindfulness practices help us monitor our thoughts and emotions. The ability to regulate our emotions builds our resiliency. When we notice repetitive negative thought patterns, we can find ways to reframe them. There are many different ways to do that: using a mantra, Post-it notes, a reminder on your phone.

A breath-awareness practice can be a helpful way to settle the mind and calm the nervous system. Bringing attention to the body and breath allows you to check in on how you are feeling. A regular practice of body-and-breath awareness means you can quickly steady yourself during unsure moments.

Regular journaling is another helpful tool in processing all types of emotions, difficult situations where there are no easy answers and also what is going well. Jotting down or thinking of a few experiences in your day that you are grateful for before going to sleep at night can be a game changer!

A good dose of self-acceptance and self-compassion is always a good idea. Are you able to recognize your suffering, express compassion toward yourself and then take action to help? When life is hard, resilient people not only bounce back; they also treat themselves with kindness and are open to new discoveries about themselves. 

Grow & Thrive

Massage and bodywork are more essential than ever, which is becoming more evident as the many consequences of the pandemic—Long COVID, social isolation, touch deprivation and delayed health care treatment—are revealed. It is vital that we take care of ourselves by harnessing all the tools that help us stay within the bounds of tolerable stress, so that we become resilient—and able to grow and thrive.

Kate Mackinnon

About the Author

An author, speaker and alternative healing arts practitioner specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, Kate Mackinnon has been using touch to support her clients in restoring their well-being and in accessing their physical potential for the last 30 years. She is also a licensed physical therapist in California and the UK. She offers intention-setting workshops for small groups, as well as coaching for therapeutic business owners. Mackinnon co-wrote, with Robyn Scherr, the book “Elements of a Successful Therapeutic Business.” Read her article, “4 Steps You Can Take Now to Live with Intention.”