by: Hope Smyth
They found her body nearly twenty-four hours after she died, submerged in the bathtub. The faucet continued to run as hot water turned cold. Eventually it leaked into the apartment below. It would take the coroner’s office almost a month to release the final cause of death.
The phone rang and I knew it was bad news. I picked it up. Shallow breath on the other end, a heavy pause before my stepfather spoke. In a shaky whisper he said, “two police officers were here.” I couldn’t quite digest the words the first time. My ears turned hot; the room blurred, the ground felt unstable; suddenly, I was on my knees. My sister was dead at a mere thirty-two years old.
It was a tumultuous childhood for both of us. Why does one sibling survive, while the other took her own life? I have asked myself this question countless times. Although, I will never know the answer, the word resilience resonates within.
How we deal with setbacks, challenges and failures plays a significant role in our psychological and emotional health. Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; or thrive despite challenges. Resilience is a way to rise- up despite the adversity we face. No one knows for sure why some embody resilience and others succumb to despair. But research is optimistic that we can build resilience and it’s a skill anyone can learn.
We can choose to create new neural pathways by participating in new activities that train our brains. The pathways get stronger through repetition. Psychologist Deann Ware Ph.D., states that when brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens- With enough repetition these behaviors become automatic. Reading, driving, and riding a bike are examples of complicated behaviors that we do automatically because of neural pathways. Below are five strategies for overcoming life’s challenges as you build resilience.
- Breath with Intention:
There are numerous breathing techniques to help soothe and restore the parasympathetic nervous system. One is diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. Lay on your back, place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Breathe in through your nose. As you inhale the hand on your belly will rise. Breathe out through your mouth and your hand will lower. There are countless videos on the internet to guide this practice.
- Re-write your story:
Changing or understanding your internal narrative is imperative. We tend to ruminate on the details of a traumatic experience. Allow yourself to explore the event by writing it down. Create a safe space and take 10-20 minutes to free write. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation. Just let the words spill to the page. Research shows that adding structure to chaos can help us gain a sense of control. Once the event loses power, go back, and see what you have learned about yourself or the experience. What have you gained despite the adversity?
- The Practice of Self-Compassion:
Self-compassion encourages us to approach our own suffering with warmth and kindness. Although it’s not an easy practice, we must first learn to love ourselves. I invite you to envision someone you love. A child, best friend or partner. Imagine they come to you with the very same story. How would you comfort them? Would you hug them, make them tea? Would you give them a safe space to express their anguish? Whatever you would do for a loved one, do it for yourself.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:
Therapy is the gateway to emotional health. It provides a support network, it’s a safe place to explore emotional trauma while creating a plan of action to build your resilience. If you have tried therapy in the past and determined it was not for you, please try again. It can take a few tries to find a therapist that matches your personality. View it as a job interview or new date; sometimes, you need to explore a few options before you discover the right fit.
- Physical Self-Care:
Get in your body and find activities that connect the body and mind. Yoga, mindfulness and walking are excellent examples. Of course, if those don’t speak to you, find something that does. New research in neural and biological health indicates that mindfully integrating the body with cognitive behavioral therapy can help speed recovery.
These are suggested practices. Be patient with yourself and remember real change takes time.