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“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.”
– Japanese Proverb
Many people confuse resilience with resistance, and that’s why their idea of the term is far from what it really means. Being resilient does not mean enduring life’s adversities with stoicism, without complaining, or doing more than we can do. Being resilient is more like the qualities of a bamboo: it can bend in a strong wind or storm without breaking and is able to adapt to adverse circumstances, bouncing back even stronger.
The word resilience comes from the Latin word ‘resalire,’ which means springing back or rebounding.
According to the APA (American Psychological Association), resilience is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to complex or challenging life experiences, primarily through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.
In neuroscience, it is said that resilience does not imply accepting and resigning to the disturbing situation; it is the ability to be flexible, endure adversity, and recover from events of great uncertainty and extreme situations that arise in life. Being resilient does not mean that we do not experience emotional stress and suffering but that we will recover from it with more resources and come out stronger.
As we know, life is constantly changing. Buddhist teachings tell us that change is life’s only constant and certainty. We cannot control life. However, the good news is that resilience is not a characteristic that one person can possess and another cannot; that is, it is not an exclusive gene that only a few lucky people can acquire; it is an ability that can be cultivated, trained and strengthened over time as if it were a muscle. We all have the potential to develop this skill.
Here are 10 tips for building your resilience:
1. Accept that change is part of life (Radical Acceptance)
Accepting the circumstances you cannot change can help you focus on the events you can alter. Radical acceptance is NOT approval, but rather wholly and totally accepting with our mind, body, and spirit that we cannot change the present situation, even if we do not like it. By accepting things that are out of our control, we prevent becoming stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, and sadness, and we can stop suffering.
Fully accepting what is happening is still challenging and painful, but focusing on what we can control instead of focusing on the things we can’t can be very empowering and liberating. It helps us free up all of the energy we were using to fight reality so we can focus on what we can do, what we need, and on taking care of ourselves.
You can find more resources on radical acceptance at https://dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com/distress-tolerance/radical-acceptance/
2. Schedule regular breaks
Try to incorporate five breaks during the day. Our nervous system needs to return to balance to get out of a state of chronic stress and be able to see reality from a regulated state. This allows us to see reality with more clarity, creativity, and a wide variety of possibilities for action in a given situation. You can set 5 alarms or reminders on your phone so you have time to exercise, drink tea, listen to music, go for a walk, open a window, breathe fresh air, or connect with nature. These regular breaks where you set aside time for yourself are necessary to help you rest and recharge. You don’t need much time; 5 minutes of breathing exercises can regulate your nervous system and prevent burnout.
3. Seek and accept help
It is common for caregivers to say that they do not have time for themselves, therapy, or support until their role of caring for others is over. We cannot effectively care for others if we do not take care of our physical, emotional, and mental health first. For many of us, it is not easy to ask for help, but there are times in life when we all need help, even the most self-reliant people. Be open to the support from your family and friends and ask them for help when you need it. You can ask for help with small things that, in the end, can be a big help, such as paying bills, buying groceries, preparing a meal, or even getting them to look after your patient for a short period of time while you get some rest or run errands.
4. Practice deep breathing exercises
Regular breathing exercises have a direct effect on our nervous system. We can immediately release the tension valve and promote relaxation. One simple breathing exercise is the 4-4-6 technique. Breathe slowly through the nose for 4 seconds, holding it for 4 seconds before exhaling for 6 seconds. Many other exercises, such as yoga and meditation, relieve stress and ease anxiety as well.
5. Join a support group
Knowing that people are going through similar challenges as you do or that some have had years of experience and can share their wisdom with you is immensely comforting. Support groups provide a safe environment where you can share your experience with others who understand you as they have experienced similar difficulties in their lives. Often, the members can provide one another with problem-solving strategies, encouragement, and validation.
At the Hospice of the North Coast, we offer many resources and support groups that can benefit you.
To find the support groups we have available for you, go to the following link: https://hospicenorthcoast.org/grief-support-groups/
6. Remind yourself of your wins.
During intense and challenging times, it is easier to see everything we do not do, and we forget to recognize and see the incredible path we have traveled and how much we have learned and accomplished. Now is when you must remind yourself of all your achievements, including past successes and seemingly impossible challenges or situations you’ve overcome. This serves as a self-reminder that you’ve come back from adversity before. You can do it again.
7. Strengthen and improve your spirituality
Religion and spirituality have been shown as predictors of resilience in various populations studied, including people suffering from chronic illnesses and pain, people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and children and adults who experience abuse or violence. Prayers, spiritual practices, faith, and communicating with a Higher Power are a healing balm to many who otherwise may resort to negative coping behaviors, such as drinking and drug use.
8. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable obstacles—
“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional.” — Byron Katie.
You can’t prevent stressful events from happening, but sometimes, it is beneficial to question our perception and change the way we interpret and react to what is happening. The book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie describes how sometimes it is the thoughts about situations that are causing you discomfort, not the problems themselves. Try to look beyond what you are perceiving right now and be open to whether there is a new perspective you could see on what is being presented. This can be incredibly helpful to cope with a difficult situation.
9. Take care of yourself—
Taking care of ourselves helps prepare our minds and bodies to face situations that require resilience. Like the airplane metaphor, If you try to help someone else get their mask on before you put yours on, you could both pass out from lack of oxygen. If you first put your mask on yourself, you can focus on helping others who may need your help. There are many ways we can take care of ourselves. Go out with friends, look for moments of communion with nature, go to therapy, join a support group, exercise, journal, eat foods that nourish you, make a routine to have a restful sleep, and ask for and accept help.
10. Communion with nature:
Nature is medicine for the mind, body, and soul. It can reset our whole system through all our senses, and we immediately feel restored, balanced, and stronger to return to our lives with a new perspective.
Remember that for a change to be permanent, it must be integrated one at a time and little by little. Make the commitment to choose only one of the practices and integrate it into your daily life for a week or two. When you feel that the practice is established, integrate another practice. It is proven that small and gradual changes are more powerful and lasting than radical changes.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Resilience. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
Camino a la resiliencia. (2011, July 26). https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience/camino
Kane, S. (2018, April 5). 11 ways to cultivate resilience. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/11-ways-to-cultivate-resilience#2