resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties - the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress
This is a brief essay about resilience. It’s a topic no one wants to think about, much less write about, because it’s about bad stuff happening and how we react to it. And during this last 15 months, there’s been a lot of bad stuff.
Virtually everyone knows someone who was seriously affected by Covid-19. At this moment the United States has seen 34 million cases and more than 600,000 deaths (that we know about – the numbers are likely significantly higher). Worldwide the known cases exceed 178 million and 3.8 million deaths. And even among the recovered, the lingering effects of Covid, some very serious, are preventing too many people from enjoying the fullness of life.
I hate statistics.
They’re so cold and clinical. Every statistic is a real person with a history, a family, a future unfulfilled. Some of the news shows on TV have featured a regular segment on individual lives lost during the pandemic – their real-life stories. Every one is heartbreaking. I instinctively want to turn the channel because I don’t want to hear about sad things. But I force myself to watch and listen to every one to remind myself of the humanity in every statistic.
The Covid story in the US makes me angry.
Dismissive rhetoric, shifting of responsibility and blame by our political leaders in the critical early stages of the pandemic had dire consequences. But we can’t go back. All we ever will have that we can do anything about is today and the future ahead of us. The fullness of today and that future are so dependent on our attitude toward it. That’s what this post is about – resilience.
Life is never a straight line. Twists and turns, barriers and adversity are inevitable – some earth-shaking like the loss of a loved one that so many in this pandemic have experienced. Anyone who has experienced profound loss or other adversity knows how difficult it is to get beyond the grief, the frustration and anger, the immense sadness and anxiety about the future that trauma can evoke.
“Life goes on” is a truth we don’t want to hear in the midst of our grief. But only a recognition of that truth can allow us to begin the healing and return to the fullness of life that is essential for us to move forward and take charge of our future. How quickly, how effectively, how decisively we can do this is resilience.
We use words like “toughness” and “bouncing back” to describe resilience, but resilience is more than returning to a normalcy in our life. It can be a stepping stone, albeit a disturbingly painful and distressing one, to personal growth – to improving our life in the future – IF we can learn the skills and behaviors that prepare us for a resilient response to adversity.
Can we learn resilience?
Thankfully, yes. Like so much in life, our incredible brain has the capacity to learn how to be more resilient. And also like so much in life, how intentionally and deliberately we work at it determines the level of resilience we can achieve.
The American Psychiatric Association has determined the 4 pillars of resilience that we should strive to develop in order to be as prepared as we can be to handle the adversities we experience in life.
1. Build connections in our life
Build and enrich relationships in our life. The more relationships we have with people we trust and who share our values, the less alone we feel in the face of adversity.
2. Focus on our personal wellness
In other words, take care of ourself. Stress is as much physical as it is emotional. So the more we improve our nutrition, exercise. hydration, sleep, etc., the better our resilience to deal with adversities.
Likewise, the more we build mindfulness with activities like meditation, prayer, yoga, Tai Chi or journaling, with positivity and gratefulness, the more resistant we will be to the powerful stresses of adversity.
3. Find purpose in our life
Focus on others rather than on ourself. Volunteer, help a friend in need, join a group or organization that reaches out to help people who need assistance.
Be proactive. Take charge. Don’t give in to the sadness or anxiety. Every positive effort to reach out to others is a positive step forward and a stepping stone to resilience.
Set goals and move forward toward those goals. Focus on small, achievable steps – what we can do today to move us closer to a goal. The more our focus is on moving forward, the less time we have to relive past sadness or pain.
Look for opportunities to feel a sense of self-growth. Consciously look for ways our life is improving as we overcome our emotional struggles. Experiencing tragedy or intense sadness can often lead to a strengthening of relationships, increased self-worth as we overcome our grief and a greater appreciation for life.
4. Focus on healthy thoughts
Keeping things in perspective is essential. Don’t let grief or anxiety consume us. Guard against irrational thoughts. Don’t let ourself be overwhelmed by our adversity. What happened today does not predict how our future will be. We are not helpless. We are in control of our future. Be hopeful. Every day we deal with adversity moves us closer to better days.
It is important to be accepting of change as a part of life. “Why me” is not a productive question. We can’t change the past. And some changes to our future are unavoidable. We must accept that we are not entitled to a perfect life. The more we accept new circumstances that we cannot change, the more we can focus on what CAN change, and the more resilient we will be in our journey into the future.
We learn from our past.
We can look back to other adversity that we overcame in our life and apply those lessons to our present challenge. We are always learning. Mobilize those memories of successful resilience in the past to energize the path forward.
And, if we can’t manage our way through the adversity on our own, we MUST seek help – from a trusted friend or family member or from a professional. We are often too proud or too stubborn to ask for help, and that is so unfortunate. Understanding that we are not alone and reaching out for help is often the first step on the path forward.
Covid-19 has forced so many of us to confront our own resilience.
The intensity of the pain and sense of loss, the anxiety of an uncertain future, the bombardment of news and information about variants and vaccination slowdowns that is impossible to avoid in today’s media-dominated world – these are some of the challenges that Covid has wrought.
Moving on from Covid is not easy. But it IS essential. Keep in mind that resilience can be built stronger by consciously and intentionally working at it right now and every day. We can learn to be more resilient for inevitable future adversities.
As you will hear if you click on the TED Talk that I’m recommending below, resilient people are good at constantly asking themselves the question “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?” Learning where to focus our attention during a healing period is perhaps the #1 skill to stay on the path to recovery and a full life.
As terrible as our Covid experience has been, we must learn from it how strong and resilient we can be – inspiring our future self to find the resilience to confidently and successfully deal with whatever adversity may await us.
We each have it within our power to enrich our future with a resilience of body, mind and spirit.
We only need the courage and fortitude to look beyond today’s pain and sadness to a bright future ahead.
I’m determined to find that courage and fortitude in myself.
I genuinely hope you can find it in yourself, too.
You CAN do it.
Here’s my favorite TED Talk on the topic. This is a terrific video. Please invest a few extra minutes in viewing it – I guarantee it will move you.
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