I have been thinking a lot about the word resilience lately. I guess it is the natural reaction when you hear about all the tragedy and problems of this world- whether it occurs in another part of the country or in your own home. Resilience appears to be the key to moving forward in the face of difficulty, but what exactly is it?
According to the American Psychological Association, "Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences."
It is not that we try to avoid or can avoid those difficult experiences because frankly we cannot. Change, adversity and stress are givens in our lives. It is not a question of if they will affect us but when? And when they affect us do we adapt or handle it well?
How to we prepare to handle these situations? How do we develop resiliency?
I think there are some basic foundational things we can do to be prepared and adapt to whatever possible stress will happen. I know that in my own life I can create additional stress by feeling disorganized, feeling that I have too much to do in too little time, or by being physically ill or tired.
I think a good way to prepare for stress is to have foundational elements in place in our lifestyle. Kind of like the old Bozo the Clown Bop Bags- those free standing inflatable bags that are weighted on the bottom. You can hit and punch it and it falls over but it always comes springing back to the upright position. Sure, we will have onslaughts in our lives but by practicing crucial lifestyle elements we can withstand the pummeling and bounce back to center.
The first is to be as healthy as you can be. That includes exercise, diet, sleep, balance of taking time for yourself and time for others. Years ago a work acquaintance shared that she had a brain tumor. It was benign but she had to go through surgeries and some follow up care nonetheless. She did quite well in her recovery and attributed it to being as healthy as she can be. "Who knows if I hadn't exercised or eaten well all these years what would've been discovered instead?"
I think too to my post op recovery for my surgery. I have been told that what I had done is one of the most painful procedures a person can experience but I was able to get through it. My healing has been pretty fast. I don't think that it is because I have any special healing super powers but because I am pretty healthy and am used to regular exercise and a good diet. Of course, these last couple of weeks I haven't been able to pursue the exercise as much but the foundations were there. In a sense, I have been pummeled but have been able to come back to center.
If you feel that you are not overall healthy, why not? Has something prevented you in the past? Can you start making small changes?
Start by looking at your current practices: Do you exercise? How much soda and sugar laden beverages or food do you ingest? Do you eat out a lot? How many fruits and veggies to you take in each day? How much sleep do you get? Do you feel drained caring for others? When was the last time you did something for yourself? What brings you joy? Do you volunteer or help others on a regular basis? Does that bring you joy?
As we have talked about before, making changes in our routine can be difficult. Start out small. Plan to incorporate one or two ideas each week. Remember that your goal is to be as healthy as you can.
- Exercise: Walk around your block before dinner, use steps instead of the elevator, do arm exercises, sit ups or march in place during commercial breaks while watching television, do one errand without using the car (bike, walk or run to do it).
- Food: Buy some clementines or apples and leave in a bowl on your counter- reminder to eat healthy snacks. Or any other fresh fruit or veggie. Swap out white flour products for whole wheat. Prepare for the afternoon munchies by having pre-measured cut up carrots and humus, nuts or popcorn as a work snack. Put away the candy dish and give away the extra Halloween candy. If the break room at work is too tempting this time of year, avoid going in. Plan to not bring into your home anything sugary or prepared with more than five ingredients. Drink a glass of water before snacking.
- Sleep: Try to get an extra 1/2 hour of sleep each night. If you cannot commit to that for seven days in a row, try getting some extra winks three nights/week.
- Balance: Figure out what brings you joy and what you love to do. Write in your calendar specific times when you can practice that activity. Look around your family, community, and work for opportunities to help others. It might be writing encouraging notes, driving an elderly person to the store, volunteering at a school, listening and keeping in touch with many friends or a myriad of other opportunities. Helping others is only limited by our imaginations. Schedule these times on your calendar too. A good rule of thumb- make sure that you have just as many outings for yourself as you do for others.
What about you? Do you bounce back like Bozo? Have you developed some basic healthy practices to help? What works for you?