Resilience, Flexibility, the Ability to Bounce Back
By Suzanne Anderson, MSW Counselor & Special Projects Coordinator
In recent years much has been written about resilience—how to raise resilient children who can get back up when they fall down or how to manage a defensive and offensive work environment that can respond to an emergency with continuity. But what about developing resilience in ourselves? Especially, as we enter the Holiday season which can bring on many stressors.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from depression or discouragement or the quality or state of being flexible. It is not something that we either have or don’t have. It is a capacity which can be learned and strengthened. To look at resilience as a picture, think of a bank account. We need to make regular deposits to our resiliency back account. When a crisis occurs, either through stressors that accumulate or a one time major emergency, it is too late to build up a savings or resilience to withdraw from. We want our resilience bank account as full as possible so stressors won’t leave our balance in a deficit.
A holistic approach to building our resiliency nest egg covers a number of areas. Some of these areas discussed below may appear quite basic and not apply to you right now. However, it is good to regularly take a comprehensive inventory and identify areas in need of attention.
Physical Health & Abilities—While this may seem too obvious an area to discuss, the fact remains that many of us are running on empty when it comes to physical activity or exercise, rest, sleep and eating habits. Is physical activity or exercise a part of your weekly routine? Are you getting a full night’s sleep most nights of the week? Do you have unplanned time in your schedule where you are free to choose what you want to do? Are you eating regularly? Are you eating healthy food? Do you need to increase your intake of fruit and vegetables? Do you need to cut back on sugar, fast food, caffeine or alcohol?
Emotional Capacity—Emotional capacity refers to our awareness of our emotions, our ability to express them, and to have an outlet for troubling or difficult emotions. For many people a busy schedule serves as an incidental or purposeful block to knowing how we feel. Can you name the emotions you experience throughout the day? Are you able to tell others what emotions you are feeling? Do you have someone or a way, such as journaling, writing, art or poetry to express strong emotions?
Cognitive Abilities—Our responsibilities of being an employee, parent, spouse and friend can inundate us with information and requests for time that require us to make decisions, set priorities, problem-solve and plan. Are you feeling overwhelmed with the amount of demands on your time? Is your correspondence pile, email inbox and backdated reading greater than you can accomplish in the next two weeks? Are you putting off decisions or activities until you are under the pressure of an anxiety producing deadline?
Experience/Education—A main contributor to feeling burned out or overwhelmed can be the feeling that our skills are unequal to the task that lies before us. We have had experiences of coping with stressful or difficult situations. In reviewing your past coping ask yourself: Was my coping successful in the past? If so, can I use the same approach this time? If not, what can I do differently? Do I need to learn a new skill or ability to help me meet a current challenge? Do I know someone else who has faced the same or similar challenge I am facing? What did they do that was not effective that I would want to avoid? What did they do that was helpful that I would want to use for myself?
Access to Social Support—Having support from family and friends is a cornerstone of having a resilient life. Our lives are often filled with people. But how many of those people can we call upon for support; people from whom we can request emotional support, encouragement, advice, companionship and practical and tangible help. And are we willing to ask for help? Often, a lack of willingness to ask can be the greatest barrier to obtaining the help we need. Do you have friends with whom you can trust your keys, cash, spouse or kids or call in the middle of the night? Do you have friends you can talk to about your fears and concerns? Are there friends with whom you share interests and hobbies?
Strengthening our Self-Esteem—A feeling of value, that we have things we can do well, that we match up, or have something we can contribute to others and our communities are aspects of having a positive sense of self-esteem. Do you spend time with people who encourage you? People who think you are terrific? Do you take time to engage in activities you are good at; that others think you are good at?
Spiritual Connections—For many people having a belief in, and a sense of support and guidance from God or a power higher than ourselves can help bring a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives, and even a sense of meaning and purpose to difficult and challenging situations. Do I spend time in meditation, prayer or reflection strengthening my sense of connection to God or a higher power?
Knowing Yourself—There is a lot of authoritative advice about what is best in each of the areas described. We are all unique. We have different natures and personalities. What is enjoyable to one person can be exhausting to another. Some people gather their energy or make decisions better alone. For others they are replenished by spending time with others or may not be able to sort through a problem without giving voice to it with a friend. There is no “free size” for what is right for everyone in developing their own resiliency. Do you know what helps you to restore your energy when you are exhausted?
Some of the steps in business resiliency plans include strategy, organization and process. We need to have a strategy. Look at the eight categories of resilience and identify two areas in which you could make a change in the next two weeks. Organize a way to address those two areas. Seek out resources through books, friends or professionals to obtain ideas for dealing with those two areas. Incorporate the changes you decide upon into the process and flow of your life. Not just as a one time effort, but a lifestyle change. Incorporating positive change can be a matter of trial and error. Try something and if it doesn’t work, trying something new!