Take Care of Yourself. I know that the term “self-care” is probably a little bit overused. However, far too many people still aren’t getting the message that looking after yourself isn’t selfish. So many people believe that self-care is something that you deserve only after you’ve reached whatever the thing is that you want to reach. Resilient people know that self-care is part of the process of becoming someone who reaches the goals they want to reach. It’s such an important distinction! Resilient people know they deserve to be taken care of even if they haven’t yet reached whatever goal they’re hoping to achieve.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Mendez.
Emily Mendez, M.S., E.d.S., is a former therapist, mental health expert and author. Emily’s writing has appeared in TherapyTribe, eCounseling, and SonderMind. She is frequently interviewed by Healthline, Fatherly, INSIDER, Family Circle, and other national media for her advice and expert opinion on the latest mental health topics.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
My name is Emily Mendez. I am a mental health expert and author. I have a popular blog where I share tools, tips, and trends on mental health and wellness. I am also the founder and creative director of Priceless Copy, a creative content agency.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think that the most interesting story of my career has to be how I transitioned from being a private practice therapist to a writer. It is a great example of resiliency.
I’ve always enjoyed writing so I started blogging as a hobby. I wrote on what I knew well and enjoyed sharing facts on — mental health. About a year into my blogging journey, I had to take time off from my therapy practice to care for an ill family member. During that time, I continued to write, relying on it to earn a living. Realizing that it was my passion, I eventually chose to pursue writing full time.
The big lesson is that even when one door closes (for me that was continuing to practice therapy) another opens. The key is that you have to be willing to look for the other door. Before writing full time, it is not something that I would have considered as a career. I mean I spent years on a specific career path. I had not considered anything else. I had to be willing to be flexible and consider other options. That’s a big part of resiliency.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think that my company is different because it started as a passion project. In the beginning, I really wasn’t making any money from it.
It was just a way to bring more awareness to something that I was passionate about and that I felt like wasn’t talked openly about enough — mental health. At the time I started blogging, there weren’t a lot of mental health and wellness focused blogs out there. It wasn’t really part of the conversation.
I’m glad that mental health is now more openly talked about and it is my sincere hope that readers gain useful insights and knowledge from my blog and all the other resources available today.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people that have played a part in helping me along the way. I’m very lucky in that I have a really supportive family. The fact that they have supported and believed in me has helped me bounce back from many of the difficulties that I have faced. Their support has given me the confidence to know that I can do it.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is really this intangible thing that we recognize when we see it. It can actually take our breath away because it shows such bold defiance in the face of significant adversity. On a clinical level, resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulties. It’s almost this supernatural ability to bounce back from defeat, trauma and disappointments that really should have ended us. It’s that ability to push through even though it feels like the world is trying to drag you down by your ankles. We sort of picture a person with resilience running and running with this crystal-like focused glimmer in their eyes while looking forward instead of glancing down at all of the obstacles trying to drag at them. I think it’s really important to tie in the idea of optimism when trying to define resilience. I’m not talking about starry-eyed, naïve optimism that borders on denial or delusion. I mean a type of optimism that allows us to access the cognitive resources and positive tools we possess deep down in our beings to be able to picture a scenario where the worst thing doesn’t happen, allow ourselves to have the courage to think success is possible and map out a plan for moving toward that positive outcome. It can almost be described as a type of “hope,” even though it doesn’t necessarily require faith. Resilience consists of so many different moving parts because it relies on our intellect, cognitive strengths and willingness to be vulnerable. None of those are easy things to cultivate.
I don’t think there’s “one way” to be resilient because so many people who have done great things in the face of adversity have pulled from many different sets of tools. However, we know from research that specific characteristics or traits are common in highly resilient people. The first big one is knowing the boundaries of where you begin as a person. What I mean by this is that resilient people know the difference between “who they are” and “what their suffering is.” Some people who are suffering decide to stay in that spot to let it become who they are. While we certainly don’t want to shame anyone who is having trouble getting unstuck from trauma, it’s still important to recognize that being somewhat detached from the suffering helps with resiliency. Resilient people are also phenomenal when it comes to putting together support systems. They seem to have this gift for connecting with the right people who can help to lift them up using the strengths and resources they might not have on their own. Part of this may be that they aren’t afraid to ask for help because they aren’t afraid to face what they are lacking. Many people are.
Finally, resilient people have a wonderful combination of self-awareness and acceptance. They are okay to sit in the discomfort of what “is” instead of trying to escape into denial. They know how to face themselves in a way that makes them capable of finding the flaws and weaknesses that need to be worked on to reach goals. They also allow themselves to truly feel whatever they’re going through without getting lost in it. I feel like the secret to resiliency might be learning to accept how to live in reality on reality’s terms.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Resilience means to bounce back from misfortune and adversity. Courage refers to bravery. People who have courage are not intimidated easily. When a person becomes resilient, it may be easier for them to display courage compared to someone who has not cultivated resilience to the same degree.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think Bethany Hamilton’s story shows a great example of resiliency in the modern age. Bethany Hamilton is a professional surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack in 2003 when she was just 13 years old. The incredible thing is that she didn’t stop surfing. She got so good that she became a professional by age 17. She’s doing just beautifully today. I think I read recently that she’s even a wife and mother now. Just imagine what it took to get on that board again after what happened! I’m not sure that’s something I could have done as a teenager. There’s a movie called “Soul Surfer” starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Carrie Underwood and a few other big stars from a few years ago that’s based on Bethany’s story.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Yes, there have been lots of times this has happened. I can’t count how many times I’ve had people tell me that it’s not possible to make a good living as a writer — unless you are the next Stephen King.
I think that the big thing is to just listen to yourself. It’s important not to doubt yourself. Do the research. Discover the answer for yourself rather than relying on others.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Like most of us, I’ve experienced a number of setbacks in my life. Probably the biggest was moving back to Indiana from Chicago as a single mom and starting all over again.
One thing that helped me bounce back was having a great support system in place from my family and friends.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
As I mentioned above, having a solid support system has been instrumental in cultivating resilience for me. No one person can do it all alone. It’s just not possible. Often we expect too much of ourselves when we need to lean on others more.
Support can come from many different places, including local organizations, faith-based communities, and more.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
#1. First, find some way to derive purpose from the negative thing that happened to you. While this can be so hard, it has changed the world time and time again. For instance, Candace Lightner founded Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. How many lives do you estimate this organization has helped to save just through spreading awareness? It’s such a great example of something horrendous being turned into something positive.
#2. Get a support system in place! So many people isolate themselves when they experience loss, sorrow or trauma. This can really bury you if you’re not careful because we need other people. Honestly, I think 12-step programs provide excellent examples of this. So many people manage to get out of the darkest places just because they know they have people to talk to when they’re feeling low.
#3. Stop distracting yourself. This one is getting increasingly harder and harder to do in this age of Netflix, podcasts, social media, gaming and more. It can be so hard to access our internal strength when we have so many external distractions. I strongly suggest “passive” activities like meditation, walks in nature, retreats or prayer for people who are having a hard time finding that resilient voice within themselves that can show them what to do next.
#4. Take Care of Yourself. I know that the term “self-care” is probably a little bit overused. However, far too many people still aren’t getting the message that looking after yourself isn’t selfish. So many people believe that self-care is something that you deserve only after you’ve reached whatever the thing is that you want to reach. Resilient people know that self-care is part of the process of becoming someone who reaches the goals they want to reach. It’s such an important distinction! Resilient people know they deserve to be taken care of even if they haven’t yet reached whatever goal they’re hoping to achieve.
#5. Create a Plan to Become Better. Resilient people don’t focus on the people and external factors that are responsible for their pain. They truly hunker down to do the hard work from within. They take accountability for what happens in their lives even though they could easily blame others. A great example of this is Soichiro Honda. Do you know who he is? He founded the Honda Motor Company. The problem is that he tried to start a car company during the Great Depression. This poor entrepreneur did not have an easy time trying to get a car brand running. After his first factory got destroyed by bombs in the war, his second one got taken down by an earthquake. He was broke for a time. He had a case for just throwing in the towel because the universe obviously did not want him to have a successful automotive company. However, he didn’t give up. I think we all know what happened next!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement to shine a brighter light on mental health awareness.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Arianna Huffington because I like how she’s talked so openly about stress and burnout.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Check out my blog: https://emilymendez.com/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!