When I am doing workshops on resilience, I often use a rubber band as a prop. Resilience is all about being stretched with challenges, then returning to our original state. Just like rubber bands. I hold up really thin and really thick rubber bands. I ask, “Which rubber band will last longer?” We all agree, it’s the thicker rubber bands that will make it the longest. Resilience is the same thing as the degree of thickness of the rubber band. The more we work on improving and “thickening up” our resilience, the more assured we will be of successfully navigating life.
That ability to bounce back, to learn, to recover quickly from difficulties is so important for us. We will all face adversity. We will all be stretched thin with stressful events, unhealthy people, and our own poor choices at times. The real question is: will you bounce back, learn the lesson, and be even stronger afterwards?
Last month, I wrote about Protective Factors. These are the factors in your childhood that may have helped balance out any trauma you experienced (which we discussed the previous month with the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire). Protective Factors help us become more resilient. We can also build our own resiliency, and that is what I want to talk to you about today.
As we have all heard, it is not WHAT happens to you in life, it is how you handle it that will make or break you. I’m sure you know two people who have had very similar things happen to them. One seemed to shut down and never recover, while the other kept going on with life. Now, that doesn’t mean that the second person didn’t experience similar feelings as the first. It just means the second person was more resilient: able to take in what was happening while going on with daily tasks and eventually being optimistic about life in general again.
So, how do we do this resiliency thing? Here are some things to consider:
Build up your resistance. Make sure you are healthy physically, mentally and spiritually. These are the three areas of life we know are most important. How do you treat this one body you’ve been given? How are you doing at gathering tools for your Mental Health Toolbox? And we know a belief in a higher power is helpful as well.
Additionally, you need to stay connected with healthy friends instead of isolating as we have a tendency to do when we are stressed. I’m talking friends who cry with you, laugh with you, and hold you accountable. Another very important area is having hobbies you enjoy. You need to have something to look forward to doing every day. It helps you get through the not so enjoyable parts of your day. All these things make you stronger and more ready to deal with adversity when it comes your way.
Rebound quickly. You must understand that change is a part of life and that we will all experience things like tragedy, death, stress, and other hardships. Not one of us is immune. The question is not “Why me?” but “Why not me?” When bad things happen, if you don’t understand the above few sentences, you will be completely blindsided. Learning what helps you bounce back from an unexpected event is imperative. Do you need to exercise to blow off some steam? Do you need to meditate? How do you calm yourself down? Breathing exercises? An app for relaxation like the Calm app? Understanding yourself and what helps you in times of stress will help you start the road to recovery much more quickly.
Recovery and healing. Of course, it will take time to heal from what has happened to you. Time to be in disbelief. Time to grieve and process. And, you will also need that time to learn from the experience. What caught you off guard? What could you have done that would have helped you feel more calm or in control?
This is also the time to begin finding things to be grateful for. I play the “it could have been worse” game a lot in this phase. Let’s face it, it could always have been worse. (And I am thinking of some horrific situations as I write this.) Finding this perspective is very helpful.
Another perspective exercise is the 10-year question. Imagine yourself 10 years from now. Whatever is so terrible right now will not be as terrible as it is right now. Oh, it might still be terrible, but it won’t be AS terrible. We heal, we learn to live with the pain, we learn it’s okay to laugh and move forward again. Sometimes just believing things will eventually get better helps us get through right now.
I hope you will take an honest look at yourself as you read this. How resilient are you? Increasing your resiliency can be challenging, but so rewarding. When you feel more resilient, the future is not so overwhelming or scary. You know you will be able to handle whatever comes your way – maybe it won’t be graceful and pretty, but you WILL be able to handle it.