So often, I get asked how I manage to stay “so resilient”. It’s always in different words, always in a complimentary manner and most often with the genuine aim of actually finding out how they could be more resilient. I get asked this so many times, it’s become very easy to answer. But recently, I’ve had to put those answers to use for myself a bit more than normal, and honestly, the effectiveness of my methods of staying resilient have really been tested. So much so, I’ve had some doubts on how well they work. But we aren’t here to talk about my current problems, we are talking about the approaches I use to work through them.
When most people ask about resilience, they basically want to know how to recover from adversity and return to normalcy. I’m so used to being asked about my resilience, I’ve become good at answering in on the fly and in dynamic ways tailored to whatever the situation is at the time. Like the questions however, my answers are usually different versions of the same general ideas:
1. I don’t do it alone.
2. It takes time and hard work.
3. It’s a constant and continuous process.
The specific words I choose are always slightly altered and sometimes even rehearsed beforehand, but always the truth. At least my truth.
I always try and have someone to touch base with for as many situations I can. I may not always seek out external help straightaway, but if I can get a different perspective on a problem before, during or even after finding a solution, I will. Yes, I am very independent minded when making decisions or dealing with issues unique to my personal circumstances, but I’d be telling a big fat lie if I don’t also tell you that almost every approach I’ve ever taken to finding solutions has been either inspired, informed, confirmed or double-checked by someone I trust. And if it hasn’t, then it sure will be at some point in the future. No matter how much I master any given type of situation, I am still only one person with only one perspective. A different perspective will always enrich what you know about how to navigate any given situation. At best, you learn a better, quicker or just different solution. At worst, you’ll learn one more thing that isn’t a solution. All the more reason to try and make this other person someone you trust, and not necessarily because you know or are familiar with them. Sometimes, a person’s knowledge, experiences or other relevant characteristic makes them a trustworthy person. Think doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, parents, family, personal trainers, therapists, etc. Basically someone who has learned or experienced something relevant to what it is you’re trying to recover from.
Sometimes just knowing you have someone you could go to if you needed to is enough to build up that resilience. So don’t be an island.
For a lot of situations or if you’re lucky, the solution comes easy or leaves little to no damage for you to try and live with. But you wouldn’t be reading this if that was always the case. Too often, negative experiences take time to heal, or leave behind scars that make it harder to recover and get back to some normalcy. However, the keyword there is time. Because something takes time doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It just hasn’t happened yet. The real problem here is what we do (or don’t do) in that time. How can we shorten that time and make it more bearable. The first thing is to acknowledge that “THIS COULD INDEED TAKE TIME”. It’s far more difficult to be resilient if we approach recovery as a goal to be achieved by a specified time. Please don’t do this. Specifying a time by which something should happen implies a level of control over that thing happening. Your body, heart and mind will heal in the time they needed to heal. If however, you have some magical way to control when you recover from your experiences, why oh why are you reading this? I should be the one reading your blog. Please let me how I can get in touch. But for the rest of us muggles and average Joe’s, recovery from adversity is not a race. The truth is you shouldn’t be thinking in terms of the finish line. After all, resilience doesn’t end at recovery, the return to normalcy still has to come after. Normalcy is LIVING your life, a continuing process. So if the goal is to reach a point where you can continue LIVING normally, you’re still going to have to live through the recovery. “Normalcy” most likely won’t come at once, but in small doses: Each dose being an additional brick to rebuilding your new normal. And if you’re lucky, when done right, you’ll end up with a better version of “normal” than what you had before.
So you’ve found people you can confide in, and accepted that the journey to recovery could very well take time. Now what do you do to move forward on that journey? Remember those bricks I mentioned? They aren’t to build a house, they are to build a foundation. What goes on top of the foundation is your “normal life”. The foundation itself is your resilience. Trauma damages the foundations that hold up our lives, or at the very least, exposes possible weaknesses in that foundation. Recovery is the process of rebuilding that foundation. And being resilient is having a strong enough foundation to hold whatever life we put on top of it together in times of hardship OR at least provides an easy starting point to erect a new life. People with high levels of resilience have strong foundations on which their lives stand. So back to the question of, what to do on the road to recovery. You proactively take care of your foundation, even when it’s working just fine. Fill your life with things that make you happy, healthy and fuel your self-worth. There are so many ways to do this and I don’t know them all. But maybe this short and by no means exhaustive list could give you some ideas better suited for you.
- Have at least one regular productive hobby: Reading, exercise (even just some light walking), cooking, picking up a new sport. Anything you could enjoy doing while also improving some aspect of yourself in some way. That improved aspect of yourself becomes more resilient. The more aspects of yourself are resilient, the more resilient you become as a whole.
- Do something regularly or continuously that benefits someone other than yourself: Aside from being very rewarding, helping others works wonders for your self-esteem, self-worth and confidence. You get a lot of positive energy from knowing someone else is better off because of your actions and from the gratitude you’ll receive in return. You automatically get to see value in yourself as you provide it for others. And it’s just an awesome thing to do.
- Start practising an activity that is solely designed to improve yourself: All Whether it’s meditation, staying fit/eating healthy, reading a book, listening to a podcast or learning a language. If you have) the time, try and add something to your life that can be useful somewhere else in your life. This does 3 things. 1) the thing you add could very well be the thing you need when your resilience is tested; 2) for everything you add, the next one becomes easier; and 3) time spent adding to your life is time not spent taking away from your life.
- Take out some time, periodically, to be with yourself: By this I mean no work, no active contact with anyone else and preferably little to no technology, especially anything with screens. This one only needs to be a couple of hours at most at a time, maybe once a week, maybe every day. Yes, it is possible and no, you won’t die. Do something simple or do nothing at all. Take a soothing bath, listen to some music, sleep or just lie in bed awake, so long as you’re on your own, it’s not work and it’s at least somewhat soothing/relaxing. Getting comfortable with your own company means getting to know yourself better, being more independent and more accepting of yourself, among others. So if the test of your resilience comes unexpectedly, you can be more comfortable in beginning to handle it yourself before you can get a trusted person involved, if you even need to.
Now you will notice suggestions in the last step all involve doing something continuously or regularly. That’s because being resilient is not something you do when you need to, it’s a lifestyle. You do these things to build up your resilience for what you may be going through right now, but also what you will go through in future. You aren’t resilient because you recover after something happens, you are resilient because you have the ability to recover IF something happens.