Let’s face it, sometimes life is just hard. Plain and simple. There is frustration, anger, sadness, loss, tragedy, grief … and despite our best efforts that black dot in the middle of the page (see my first article) grows to occupy the whole page. It spills off the page onto the table, trickling down to the floor; black, sticky, slimy; a never-ending oil slick, destroying everything in its path. At times like this, when all we can see is darkness, putting one foot in front of the other is as much as you can do.
Helen Keller said, “The marvellous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” But it can be difficult to feel and imagine the light when we are in those dark valleys.
Resilience is our ability to bounce back, to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and go again. Think about a boat in a river. The rocks on the riverbed are always there but when the water level is low the boat is more likely to crash into them and sink, whereas when the water is high the boat bobs up and down, unaffected by those same rocks. When our resilience is low our ability to deal with the problems in our lives is lower.
Building up our resilience allows us to cope better with the problems that life throws at us. The greater our resilience, the greater our ability to move away from autonomic, reflexive reaction; the reptilian brain fight-flight-freeze response. We can instead deal with things rationally, calmly, to respond rather than react to issues, to think creatively and problem solve. We can move from SURVIVE mode to THRIVE mode.
I’m not suggesting that if you lose your job, get seriously ill, suffer a bereavement or survive a pandemic that you should simply think yourself happy, but your ability to take a breath, deal with difficulty and come out the other side stronger, better, more, will be enhanced if you have developed these practises during the ‘good times’.
Across a plethora of studies on the topic, regardless of the type of trauma suffered, cultural background, ethnicity, age, gender there are broadly seven core things that have been identified as key to building resilience:
- Having a strong connection to others – The support of close friends and family is the most important component of resilience
- Having connections to animals – cuddling and playing with pets is known to be therapeutic (care dogs, equine therapy)
- Having a connection to nature – walking in nature, lying on the grass looking up at the clouds, listening to the ocean, swimming in a cold lake feeling the icy water invigorate your body, bringing you into your body, connecting you back to your body
- Having a connection to beauty/art – getting out of yourself and your own head, appreciating great works of art, your child’s painting, a sunset, connecting to our heritage and our history through galleries, blogs, radio, singing, dancing
- Having a connection to a higher being / purpose – a god, synchronicity, destiny, the stars
- Having a strong sense of self-worth – being kind and gentle to yourself, belief in your abilities, self-care, and self-love
- Finding greater meaning in things – seeking to understand a deeper meaning
To build our resilience we should recognise, acknowledge and practise our own STRENGTHS, such as; courage in the face of adversity, sense of humour, patience, kindness, good judgement, optimism, gratitude, long term focus, generosity etc.
We need to develop useful INSIGHTS to draw on, ideas and perspectives and sayings that we find useful such as; developing a growth mindset, learning from the past, practising gratitude, seeing this as temporary, understanding the personal growth we will gain from the experience, practising radical acceptance, practicing kindness and showing empathy and understanding to ourselves and others around us, thinking of the bigger picture, ‘and this too shall pass’.
Consider and use all the RESOURCES we have for guidance, support, nourishment, and inspiration, such as beautiful parks, walkways, river, seaside views, galleries, museums, family, friends, pets, places we feel safe, people we trust, helpful websites, books, blogs, podcasts etc.
And we must implement STRATEGIES, things we can do, actions we can take such as taking care of our own wellbeing with exercise, food and self-talk, going for walks, runs, practising yoga, meditation, taking up a new or re-visiting an old hobby, caring for others, writing in a journal, practising mindfulness, taking up a new sport.
As we head into the winter, feeling like we never really had a summer, like we lost a year. Perhaps we should focus more on what we HAVE rather than what we have NOT, a shift of focus.
Ask yourself these questions:
What have I found stressful in the past and how has that affected me, my mood, my behaviour with others? What helped me then? Who helped me then? How did I grow from that experience? How am I different today than I was last year? How have I grown as a person?
What have I learnt about myself from past difficult times? What do I do to support myself? What do I need to do more of? Less of? Start doing? Stop doing? How can I help myself? How can I help others?
What would make me feel more hopeful for the future? What I am going to do today to make that happen?
Who do I choose to be today, now, in this moment?
“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” Frida Kahlo
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