Your Resiliency Toolkit is Here
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
I know I am not the only one who feels like the hits just keep on coming. Just when I think things are going well, something else happens that leads me down a path of feeling miserable. I guess things haven’t really been going “well”, but I have at least been learning to adjust. And then I remember how many people have it far worse than I do, or have far greater challenges to overcome and far less resources with which to work. So in addition to feeling pretty spoiled for feeling lost right now, I also start to really think about not just what people overcome, but how we overcome it. Is it luck? Is it reserved for the wealthy? What is resilience? Where does it come from? And seriously, how do I find me some more of it during these unprecedented and troubling times?
My good friends at Google tell me that resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty or mistakes. It is the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. Examples of resilience that I often think of are mommy waistlines after having babies, flowers blooming in the forest after a devastating fire, or even Olympians who get right back up on that mountain and ski the course again after truly a horrible first run. Resilience is the body and the mind. Resilience is natural. Resilience also seems to defy the laws of nature when recovering is viewed as impossible or futile.
Research does indicate that resilience is not a state of being that is innate. It is a toughness that is learned and built upon. And while there are definitely people we can identify as demonstrating a whole lot of resilience, there is no evidence that some people are just born more resilient than others. We create resiliency every time we decide to move beyond a challenge in a meaningful way. We develop a resilient state of mind each time we change our thought patterns so that we learn something new, about ourselves and the situation at hand. Resiliency is strength that just keeps on adapting and holding on.
So what gives? How do we build resilience for ourselves, for whatever situation comes our way? I’m so glad you asked - I have a few ideas. None of these ideas are new or revolutionary. In fact, they are all known entities when it comes to just taking care of ourselves in generic terms. But collectively, they can become a part of our resiliency toolkit to have at our disposal when the going really gets tough, whatever tough means to each and every one of us.*
1. Connections with others who are not just like-minded but generally empathetic and supportive is a critical component to resilience. When we have connections to people and causes, we are much less likely to feel alone and much more likely to believe that things can and will get better. We always knew that having a tribe was important to our sanity; turns out our tribe is also vital to building our ability, collectively, to handle and recover from life’s challenges. Nurturing relationships makes them strong and stronger relationships can’t help but make us stronger, too.
2. It turns out that general practices around wellness play a part in how we handle and overcome challenges. Taking care of our bodies with exercise and healthy eating, as well as taking care of our minds with positivity and mindfulness, are all contributing factors to greater resiliency. And avoiding truly maladaptive ways of coping (I’m talking to you wine and drugs) make resilient activities, and outcomes, much more likely.
3. I spend a whole lot of time talking about goal-setting but I really didn’t know the deeper connection goals have to being a person of resilience, but it totally makes sense. Goals give us a purpose for living each day, which is something we need when life gets really dark. But goals also allow us to engage with the world in a proactive and positive way, demonstrating in real-time our ability to literally make our world a better place. Through goal-setting we learn about ourselves and learn to see the ways around challenges. Goals keep us proactive about what direction our lives go. It gets pretty hard to feel like we can’t rise above when we believe in our own ability to do just that.
4. Addressing our patterns of thinking affects the likelihood that we can be resilient in the face of hardship. People who stay positive see an alternative reality - one that includes an opportunity for better. Being able to generally just deal with change, roll with the punches and admit that life is always a roller coaster, are all related to being more resilient when it counts most. Changing what we think takes a whole lot of practice, so start small and try often. Telling yourself “it will be ok” is usually not only an accurate statement but a calming one.
5. A part of just about any toolkit should be the advice to reach out and ask for professional help. We can rely on the great friendships and connections that were referenced earlier but when that just isn’t enough, it is time to find someone else. Professional help is there for a reason and there is zero shame in admitting that what you are dealing with is above your pay grade. Asking for help is powerful - directed by you and for you.
Life is pretty challenging right now. Join me by packing a toolkit. Fill it with strong connections, wellness practices, goals to reach for, adaptive thinking patterns and your list of resources to call when you need professional help. Remember that while the crazy world around us is not in our control, our resiliency is.
Ok, tomorrow, with your tragedy and uncertainty. Bring it on.
*The American Psychological Association boasts a vast collection of online content and resources. I happily consulted it when I pulled together my thoughts about this topic. For more information, head to https://www.apa.org/topics