Guest post from CMHA National: www.cmha.ca
A lot is being said about stress these days, and it’s no wonder. The pandemic has brought with it countless sources of extreme stress. But there has been relative silence on a topic that would help us get through the stress. And that topic is “resilience.” Maybe that’s because we all know what stress is, and what it feels like. And maybe we are less familiar with the concept of resilience. Resilience, which comes from Latin and literally means “jumping back up,” is about adapting well to stress, hardship or adversity.
It is not a foregone conclusion that stress will lead to illness, nor that trauma will break us. To give an example from nature, if you put stress on something physical, say the branch of a tree, it might break. But depending on the amount of stress, and the strength of the branch, it might not break at all. It might simply bend, and flex, and return to its original state. In the case of human beings, stress and adversity can even make a person stronger. This is resilience. And it is a human ability, available to all of us, that simply needs to be awakened.
Here, to demonstrate the basics of human resilience, is Monika. Monika lost her job due to the pandemic. At first blush, this was nothing but bad news. She was dejected, even depressed, and had trouble getting out of bed. But soon her internal resources—and her resilience—kicked in.
Here’s a step-by-step account of how resilience can turn a difficult life event on its head, using Monika as our example.
Reaching out for support
We can build up our resilience by drawing on and building up our relationships and our support network. Monika checked in with friends who had also been affected by pandemic-related job loss. This helped remind her that she was not alone. In fact, she started to see herself as part of a community – of people who had lost their jobs when the pandemic hit who were struggling too. By reaching out for support, Monika was demonstrating and building resilience.
Shifting your perception
How you perceive an event can make a big difference in your ability to be resilient. An event might be “potentially” traumatic, but your response to it – how you interpret it, or assign meaning to it — might actually help you overcome it. So, in the example of Monika, she realized there were other ways to understand and interpret her job loss, besides as just an obstacle or challenge. She reminded herself that she’d longed for less stressful work, and that losing her job offered her the chance to find it.
Being kind to yourself
When you are compassionate with yourself in the face of adversity and challenges, you are building your resilience. As for Monika, she recognized that the job itself had been very stressful, She decided to take the interruption as an opportunity to rest and take care of herself.
Knowing it’s not personal or permanent
There are things we can control, and things we can’t. Monika chose to recognize the external forces at play in her job loss, not seeing it as a reflection of her as a person or as a permanent state. She would certainly find work again.
Identifying your own power
Being resilient means seeing that there are things within your control. Monika acted on her belief that she wasn’t powerless in the face of external forces; that she has some control in her own life, It wasn’t long before she had polished up her resume, sought advice from a career counsellor and looked for less demanding work. Then, in the middle of the summer, against the odds, she found new work.
Monika may be fictional, but her experience is not. Anyone can learn and demonstrate resilience. The way we perceive and respond to hardships can make the difference between the figurative branch that snaps, and the one that just gets stronger.