Hell fire and brim stones are hailing down on you and you want to plonk yourself down in the middle of the street and yell “Alright already”. You don’t of course, you trudge on through the mire of obstacles until you reach the other side. Does sticking it out through thick and thin come easily to you or could you do with a bit of help when you are faced with adversity? Indeed is Resilience something we are born with or is it something we can develop?
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of threat.”
In their book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Dennis Charney M.D and Steven M. Southwick M.D, Professor of Psychiatry, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Resilience, Yale Medical School, they say that
“Resilience is common and can be witnessed all around us. Even better, we learned that everyone can learn and train to be more resilient. The key involves knowing how to harness stress and use it to our advantage. After all, stress is necessary for growth. Without it the mind and body weaken and atrophy.”
Our bodies respond in the fight or flight mode during a stressful event but once the immediate danger has passed a well-balanced brain will shut down the alarm bells and resume business in a controlled and orderly fashion. But if our brains have been sensitised to frequent stress the brain becomes trigger happy and we remain in a prolonged heightened state of alert. If left like this for too long our bodies start to fire up signals of pain and disease; it is the only way they can get us to sit up and take notice. You’d think, after this, if we continue to ignore the bells tolling, that our minds and bodies would spontaneously combust under the continued pressure. In fact our bodies do start to break down but there are things we can do before it’s too late. This is where resilience comes in.
What scientists are discovering now is that we can ‘adapt’ to stress. Studies on the brain using ECG and fMRI scanning, show that mindfulness meditation strengthens the left prefrontal cortex, which is primarily responsible for helping us recover from anger, resentment, frustration, disgust, fear. The greater the activation of the left prefrontal cortex; the faster the recovery. Aerobic exercise can also help resilience by boosting levels of nerve growth factor and appears to protect against some of the negative effects of stress. It also lowers cortisol levels, allowing a greater resilience to stress.
According to Dr Fred Luskin in his book “Forgive for Good”, forgiveness is key to resilience. It requires unraveling our grievance stories, recognising where we have tried to put unenforceable rules in place (she should be more affectionate, he shouldn’t drink so much, they shouldn’t have kicked me out when I was 15), and making a choice to forgive when we have been hurt, traumatised, let down. (We can still put boundaries in place). The outcome of forgiveness is the release from our own pain and the power to move through almost anything.
In science resilience is the ability of a material or an object to resume its natural form after it has had a disruption or a knock. For example a building that settles back after an earthquake tremor. The more strength and flexibility that the engineers have built into its design, the more likely that it will resume its original shape without stress damage. According to expert Dr Carole Pemberton, author of Resilience, a Practical Guide for Coaches, resilience is the ability of humans to stay flexible in the face of the obstacles that life brings. The world is changing rapidly and on many levels, so we are being forced to have to be more resilient in order to survive. As Dr Pemberton says “Surprises are the new normal”. It is about being able to recover when things are pressurising us, and the ability to learn from those experiences. When we are creative, we are able to adapt, to reconfigure, to find alternative routes, different ways of thinking about what has happened, be pro-active and resourceful.
When our minds are tuned into keeping hold of the bigger picture we are much better able to keep going under duress; we know why we are persevering. We keep an eye on what’s coming so that we can be aware of what we need to prepare for, how we can best develop our skills and abilities. We must know our strengths and work with them. Where we feel we are weak we must be ready to get support and help. We must know when to say no and we must learn from previous failures.
Resilience isn’t about being super-human. Viktor Frankel, the psychologist, talks of how he managed to withstand the horrors of the concentration camps: “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” Victor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997), Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, devoted his life to studying, understanding and promoting “meaning.” His famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it.
When we know why we are here and that is consistently entwined with our values, then we are able to keep going against the odds. If you need help building up your resilience, learning to forgive, and letting go of anger work with me and I will show you how. For a free 30 minute consultation email me Lou@createlab.co.uk
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