I value resilience. Let’s be honest; shit happens. That’s actually one of my meditation mantras, because it reminds me that adversity is part of life. Life is messy and complicated, and sometimes it just plain sucks. But it never stays that way. So far I’ve been pretty bad at realizing this and getting through the tough times knowing that eventually they’ll end. Truthfully, I’ve given up, albeit unsuccessfully, a few times already. (Note to readers: do not treat a temporary problem with a permanent solution. Truly, all problems are temporary.) But, I’m working really hard to learn to experience feelings without letting them overwhelm me. I’m learning to accept that shit happens, but it doesn’t last forever.
I wrote the paragraph above in my post about trying to live with integrity. Resilience is one of my values, and I wanted to work on developing this value, because so far in life I pretty much sucked at dealing with difficulty.
Getting divorced. Losing an important friendship. Losing a job. Suffering the death of a loved one. Being diagnosed with a serious illness. This stuff happens. To all of us. But what do you do when it happens to you? You can be overwhelmed and give up (my pattern for over 40 years). Or you can stay strong and carry on as best you can (work in progress). This is resilience.
Being resilient doesn’t make you immune to adversity. And it doesn’t mean you no longer experience the sadness, anger, or the other emotions that occur when you are going through something catastrophic. It just means that you can deal with the stress. You can weather the storm and come out of it intact.
According to psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, resilient people employ emotional coping strategies such as monitoring emotions and calling up positive ones to use advantageously. Psychiatrist Frederic Flach maintained that resilient people are able to develop novel perspectives when facing negative life events. Resilience means adapting and giving the negative event some meaning. In effect, resilient people use positive emotions as a buffer against the negative ones, and they are able to persevere as a result.
This is all great, but if, like me, you didn’t grow up with these emotional coping strategies, then you must develop them. Looking at the research (see the references below), I’ve boiled down the expert’s advice to three main things you can do to develop resilience: cultivate relationships, adjust your outlook, and nurture yourself.
Cultivate relationships. When you are part of a loving, supportive community, you are connected. Having a tribe – as I call it – gives you someone to talk to, someone to give advice from a more objective (not in the middle of the crisis like you) place. It’s important to maintain your relationships rather than withdraw from them during crises. Even if you feel like getting in the fetal position under the covers all by yourself, send someone an email or a text saying that’s how you feel. Allow yourself to be cared for when you need it.
Adjust your outlook. Sometimes, life is up and sometimes it’s down. And while you can’t change the fact that bad shit happens, you can change how you approach it when you’re in the midst of it. Know that during the down times problems are not insurmountable. Know that the down times are merely part of a cycle. Good then bad then good. Sun then clouds then sun. This (bad shit), too, will pass. And this too. And that also (because sometimes it seems to go on and on and on).
Take care of yourself. Sleep well. Eat well. Exercise. Practice stress-relieving activities (yoga, meditation, walks in nature, petting your dog, whatever works for you). Prioritize self-care because unless you pay someone else to do it (personal chef, personal trainer, masseuse, life coach – all on my list when I when the lottery), it’s not going to happen. Writer Pico Iyer calls this going to the mental health gym. Psychologist Guy Winch refers to it as practicing emotional hygiene. It’s work that you have to do in order to replenish your stores and develop your whole self – body, mind, and spirit.
Remember what Maya Angelou said and take it to heart. “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. Your difficulties do not define you. They simply strengthen your ability to overcome.”
Work on resilience, because, this too will pass.