Developing Holiday Resilience

In looking up resources on how to be resilient in the face of stress I found an article that discusses five characteristics that are common to resilient people: being positive, focused, flexible, organized, proactive.  (An article by Karen S. Dickason, LCSW, CEAP © 2006 Achieve Solutions)  Resiliency is the ability to withstand and to recover from adversity. 

While none of these characteristics are earth shattering, I think they are helpful reminders especially when the end of the year seems to bring on much stress.  I can think of many a holiday occasion when I have regretted my actions, conversations or attitude.  I kick myself for not acting with grace under pressure.  "Next year...", I declare.  The spirit may be willing but my flesh is weak. The characteristics for learning to be resilient can help us learn to change and adapt so that we can withstand adversity, anxiety and stress.  

The holiday season can trigger all kinds of adversity- whether that adversity comes from relationships, financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical trials. The subsequent tips in these five areas are exercises to practice in order to develop resilience in our own lives.  Just like some people enjoy running while others prefer swimming, these are not absolutes in developing resilience and ability to handle stress.  Rather they are ideas that might help spur you on to think of something that works for you as you embrace these five characteristics.  The more one practices, the better in handling the variety of stress we find in our lives. 


  • Concentrate on becoming better at a new task rather than perfecting it.

  • Practice using positive “self-talk” phrases, such as “this too shall pass” or “I will only ask myself to do the best I can rather than never to make any mistakes.”

  • During the holiday season, think about why you are doing what you are doing rather than striving to achieve the "perfect" holiday gathering.

  • Keep a gratitude journal this season. Begin or end each day with three statements of gratitude.  Some days you might only be able to enter  " grateful we didn't have a heated discussion over the way the turkey was cooked."  Keep a list of daily accomplishments- no matter how small. 


  • Visualize yourself as you would like to be  (either this holiday season or next year). Put a sign or picture on your bathroom mirror or desk to remind you of your vision. (e.g. enjoy the hubbub during the holidays, not to fight it, be more gracious, etc.)

  • Set specific short-, medium- and long-range goals for yourself relating to your change initiative. (e.g. will be cordial to Uncle Grumpy at the family dinner, will no longer play the comparison game with family members, will not be part of Facebook highlights of the perfect Christmas.) Base your goals firmly on your personal values.

  • Ask someone you trust to review your goals and give you feedback and suggestions on how you can further target the steps needed for successfully making the transition through the change. (Perhaps another family member has learned to handle Uncle Grumpy.  Ask what worked for him/her)

  • For this holiday season, focus on one aspect of the season- perhaps relationships.  If you find yourself in the midst of a change this season (and some type of adversity) and your family doesn't understand what you are doing, keep affirming and reminding yourself of your successes towards your goal. 


  • Learn to see another side to an issue. Swap sides in a discussion where you disagree with someone—you argue their side and ask them to argue your side. (might be a way to preemptively navigate the annual political discussion at the holiday table)

  • Put yourself into situations where you need to be flexible.  (e.g. Drive a new and unfamiliar route to a store or a friend’s house. Make note of what you see that’s different from your usual route.)

  • Change one aspect of your holiday- e.g. try a new Thanksgiving recipe, incorporate a new tradition- possibly from a "new" member of your extended family or a friend or neighbor.


  • Purchase and use a day planner.  Use it to keep track of your personal and work goals. 

  • Take a few moments to think through and list the key steps you need to take to accomplish a task before you tackle it. (e.g. If you are the one hosting a holiday dinner, start writing out a to-do list of all that you need to do each day before the big day.  Delegate where you can)

  • Put pieces of paperwork and important information in clearly marked files and put them in an accessible place. Good time to regroup especially as the year ends.  Start 2018 with organized tax info, health and medical records, etc.

  • Break down a problem, any problem, into smaller pieces—then tackle the easiest piece first. 


  • Develop plans for managing the worst-case scenario that might result from the change. (Will some of the family be upset and leave the table if you change the menu?)

  • Practice assessing the risks about a change initiative by listing all of the pros and cons you can think of. Ask yourself: What if...?

  • For the holiday season, if you anticipate how family members react (based on past history), try to reorganize or control the scenario.  (e.g. two family members do not get along- have them visit at separate occasions)

  • Plan as best you can for the holidays- shopping, card writing, meal planning, parties, holiday shows and concerts- do as much as you can a head of time and in small increments.   If things are hectic this year, cut out one or two events.  There is no grade or requisite that you have to do any of these things.  You can still celebrate the holidays without any of the hoopla and self-imposed deadlines. 

What about you?  Have you ever employed any of these tactics or characteristics in building resiliency?  How did it work out?  Are you anxious and stressed about the holidays?  What steps can you take this year to reduce that stress?  How can you adapt to changes so that you can no only survive but thrive during this season? 

Bouncing Back Like Bozo

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. 

Bozo Bop Bag 2.jpg

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? 


Smoked Kippers

Last week I had surgery and have been recovering.  I don't like to wish my life away but if I could fast forward these two weeks of post-op pain, I would.  Short of that, I have been trying to make the best of it.  I have found a wonderful distraction on Netflix- Escape to the Country.  The show involves showing three various types of homes to a couple or family who have decided to give up their English city/suburban life for a country/village one.  I love seeing the homes that have been picked but mostly, love the filming of the different counties in England.  Each show will highlight some particular feature of a specific region. 

On one of the shows, they were featuring the Northumberland coast and were interviewing the family who makes smoked kippers- the quintessential full fry-up English breakfast item. The family claims that they "discovered" them and it was only through a tragedy.   As the story goes, the fish were drying in the wood shed along the dock.  A fire occurred overnight.  By morning they wondered if anything could be salvaged, especially the fish.  The flavor of the smoked herring was acceptable and thus an industry was born.

I love stories where there is a silver lining in a seemingly disastrous event.  I wonder how many disasters that we as a society have gone through only to have missed the opportunities to see potential or possibilities because we focused on the loss?  I wonder too how many disasters that I may have experienced  and have missed or chosen to miss the opportunities to see potential, possibilities or change in my own life? 

It must've been devastating on that morning in the village of Seahouse to see one's whole catch of fish, in essence, one's whole livelihood literally up in smoke.  Where do you start with that type of disaster?  How do you go through the rubble and even begin to see possibility?

Disaster and tragedy are part of the ongoing human condition.  Look to the events in the last couple of weeks.  What do you do when your house has been completely flooded and there are no salvageable parts?  Is there any opportunity in a madman shooter or rental truck terrorist?

Yet I think many of us feel that we are going through disaster and tragedy when the perspective might show otherwise. 

I am even thinking of the "disaster" of this post op recovery.  Certainly it has been problematic and quite painful but it has given me time to be still.  I am not allowed to drive, lift, or strain in any way..  And so I lie down, sit and try to get comfortable in my stillness.  But I am grateful for the pain because that means that I have functioning nerve cells. I am grateful for healing medicine and I am grateful for this respite time.

Not to sound trite or offer platitudes but I really do think the beginning of finding possibility starts with gratitude:  gratitude that one is alive, gratitude that one can make choices and decisions, gratitude that one is not going through the difficulty alone.  Gratitude does give us a new lens on the same situation.  It is through that lens that we can begin to see a different angle of our predicament. Perhaps to germinate the seed of opportunity or a growth of possibility. 

At the same time as my surgery our family has been witness to the medical trials of a grand-niece baby. There have been moments of great concern about her health and her life.  It was in those times that I could pray, pretty much without ceasing because I did not have any other distractions.  Now I am not saying that my prayers were the things that healed this baby but the silver lining of my surgery was that I was able to have the opportunity to be like the persistent widow in Jesus story and continually lift up my family member to God.  I was able to practice continual prayers and was able to add my voice to many others. 

The prayers gave me purpose and focus during my pain. It gave me perspective over what I had to endure. In the big scheme of things, my "disaster" is nothing.  While I was soldiering through the pain, I kept telling myself that this too would end. I had perspective when I thought of those who had truly suffered before me- slaves, prisoners of war, homeless people and was grateful that my experience was temporary. 

I realized that the experience of gratitude helped me to foster endurance. I am hoping that the experience of learning to endure will aid me in future situations; if I remember how I endured in the past I can be resilient to problems in the future.  

What about you?  Have you gone through pain and suffering?  What got you through?  Has there been any opportunity in it? Even one iota?  How did you discover that?  In the found rubble, could you discover smoked kippers?