Building up Resilience During a Crisis
By Theresa Anthony
What makes one person seem so strong in the face of adversity, while another flounders and falls at the slightest bump in the road?
Each of us is born with our own unique temperament, those natural traits that are prewired into our human behaviors. These differences are what give us our own flavor, our unique emotional natures that enable us to navigate this crazy planet. On top of our base temperaments, which are usually a blend of two temperaments, our life experiences and personality traits further influence how we respond to this or that stimuli as we go through life.
Some people are just more resilient by nature, and I guess I am one of them. Somehow I happened to be born with an ability to bounce back from life’s misfortunes, which is truly a gift. I can’t claim to have any special knowledge or skillset that has helped me endure some of the most awful experiences imaginable. I am just blessed with innate resilience.
For example, looking back, I am mystified that I was able to smile in photos at the reception following my son’s funeral. I see those images now and scratch my head…how on earth was I able to smile for the camera, much less stand up straight, on that sorrowful day? In some of the pictures I am standing with my love, who was undergoing cancer treatment for leukemia. We are both smiling. Nine months later, I lost him, too.
During a not-so-Ozzie-and-Harriet-childhood, I moved 8 times by the age of 13. I am talking different states, counties, cities—that’s a lot of instability. Our family experienced two divorces, and then we lost my little sister to cancer at the age of 27. What gives, God?
Life doles out hardships to all of us. If we are lucky, our scales tip toward the positives, giving us the strength to ride out those negative events when they do come along. And they will. But how do we manage the losses, how do we bounce back and continue to move forward when in pain? Sure, much of this ability comes from the luck of the genes, but I also believe that a positive attitude—and lots of prayer—has a lot to do with not crumbling into a heap of sawdust.
I actually believe that resilience can be built up, like a muscle, but you have to work it. Currently, all of us on the planet are facing adversity, as we wind through the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This offers us a unique opportunity to build up our resiliency, which will become a handy coping skill when we face difficult situations in the future.
Consider these tips to boost resiliency:
Be proactive, not reactive. When bad stuff happens, face the pain and don’t ignore the problem. By acknowledging it as a temporary setback instead of the end of the world, you gain the mindset of a survivor instead of a victim.
Seek support. Even the strongest person you know will become wobbly when adversity strikes, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Seeing a therapist for a while, getting some spiritual advice or counsel, or just reaching out to a close friend can help you get over the hump.
Be productive. After a fair amount of wallowing it is time to get up and do something productive. This can be embarking on a new hobby, volunteering at a charity, taking a class, or revisiting a prior passion. Just do something that is constructive.
Keep Perspective. While it is very hard to go through trying times, it helps to remember that there is always someone out there going through an even more daunting challenge. Count your blessings and keep a healthy perspective.
Never lose hope. Out of all the tragic losses we can experience, none is worse than the loss of hope. Hope is the fuel that keeps our souls alive each day, so never forget the saying, “This too shall pass,” when tempted to give up on hope.
For me personally, I do not want to be seen as a pathetic character to be pitied. I choose to not be that. I don’t wake up each day in a state of mourning, although, trust me, I did for a while. Instead, I face each day with a sense of gratitude when I see the sun peaking over the hills and my beloved boxer, Rocky, greets me. I make a daily to-do list and go about tackling each item, which gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. I choose to smile at people I meet and choose to exude a positive attitude as I go about my days. No one I encounter would guess the terrible losses I have suffered because I choose to spare them my sorrow.
Sure, our genes and personality to a large extent may predetermine resilience, but just like any other skill or virtue—or muscle, our resilience can be strengthened.