Rise-Up: 5 Practices to Build Resilience and Cope with Adversity

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 challengesResilience 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.  

  1. 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.  

  1.  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? 

  1. 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. 

  1.  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. 

  1.  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. 

Resiliency and Early Learning

US News just published an article – Why Kids – and Schools – Need Yoga.  There’s continued science-backed evidence that yoga is beneficial to everyone.  Yoga for Recovery, Foundation has a goal to reach adults recovering from addiction, systematic oppression, acute-stress, and trauma but what if we started with the kids being ahead of the curve in growing a generation with imbedded resiliency?   Our trademark could be Everybody is Resilient!

It begins by changing our overall human reaction and mindset for both kids and adults in recovery from a negative thought pattern to a more positive one.  University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others.  See the article – https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/schools-behavior-discipline-collaborative-proactive-solutions-ross-greene/?fbclid=IwAR3TgX0gU9mI827i5nKFWOMAoBKwjJQH7OsTQrFFNVzEglJC4yDe8cPBZY8

How can mindfulness and yoga provided to kids help?  The same way it helps adults!  Kids who regularly practice gain a sense of competence by ‘mastering’ a pose.  They start to learn and positively anticipate how to move and engage their bodies not only in the space assigned to them on their mat but also with the other kids who are all suddenly speaking the same body language.  Very often, a skilled yoga instructor also offers their students opportunity toward autonomy – choosing their own calming visualization or mental stimulus, making a decision on what way ‘feels’ best to arrive at a pose, or even how many counts to hold a breath.  The entire expression of yoga is based on mastery of ‘self’.   Even as Sage Patanjali taught us – Prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam or “Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.”