One of the big buzzwords coming out of the Pandemic Year (Plus) is Resiliency. I think of balls as being resilient…a buoyant inflated ball always bounces back when it’s thrown to the ground. A lot of us feel like we were thrown to the ground in myriad ways over the last twelve months. I wanted to share with you, 5 resilience keys, I as a trauma coach have used to navigate this past year.
Personally I lost my father six months ago after he technically recovered from Covid-19, but physically continued declining until August when he transitioned. I am also the Purple Unicorn who has managed to contract Covid-19 twice in the last year. I have suffered with lingering symptoms of breathlessness and heart irregularity long past my last bout with “the Corona”. I have a child in college and a child in high school, who have both spent most of the last year isolated and learning online, which is the antithesis of what they should be doing developmentally at this age. I have watched anxiety increase in my children, my friends, my clients and myself, about everything from health, finances, politics, the future, interacting with other people and whether or not there really is an end in sight.
And yet, most days, I am happy, even joyful.
This despite the fact that I can’t exercise in a way that I normally do which I (and my children) have always considered key to my sanity. Routine also supports my mental health, and it is difficult to have a routine with a child who is in a hybrid school situation, another key to sanity snuffed out by the Coronavirus fallout.
I am divorced and so also a single mom, it’s all on me from meals, to cleaning, to ferrying, to paying bills, to organizing health care (for the dog too!). It is difficult to find time to fit my clients into the shifting sands of my schedule. My ex-husband is supportive and takes care of the kids financially, but he lives in the Netherlands and they have been unable to physically see him for over a year now with no reunion on the current travel-restricted horizon.
I detail all of the above not to garner your sympathy, but to illustrate the various ways in which the Pandemic has impacted my life. Maybe in some of those, or all of those, you can see yourself. And I do not want to suggest that I have not cried, been frustrated, been angry, been tired, been scared, been anxious, been down. I assure you I have, but none of those feelings last very long and I think to a large degree I will emerge from the dumpster fires of 2020 a stronger person with possibly a whole new career. During this year I also published my book (after working on it on and off for almost 10 years), started studying some of my spiritual practices more intently with a new mentor, made new friends I haven’t even met yet except over zoom, starting bringing the work I do with private clients to a broader audience through videos (which I never would have thought of before), spent delicious amounts of time with my amazing kids and my mother and started writing magazine articles (feel free to be the judge of my success on that!).
And that reminds me of one of the keys to resilience.
Do you pat yourself on the back for the great things you do everyday? Do you think yourself worthy of praise or do those tapes in your head constantly berate you for all the things you have not achieved or left undone today?
Resilience Key 1: Thank yourself as well as others and congratulate yourself on small victories. You don’t have to win a Nobel prize or even the boss’s praise to be proud of yourself for whatever you accomplished today even if it is was just getting out of bed and being present and accounted for with your dog. Sometimes it’s an accomplishment to be still and not try to be everything to everyone.
Part of trying to be everything to everyone is an attempt at control. “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done right.” Does that sound familiar? If there was ever a year where we discovered that there is very little under our control, 2020 was that year. We often labor under the delusion that we are in control of our lives and sometimes even the lives around us, but in reality this is a fallacy. Almost everything we thought we could control and took for granted was blown up last year. When roadblocks and detours are thrown at you, how do you respond? Do you curse and rail at the guard directing you around or do you laugh and say, “Ok, maybe this will be an adventure and I can learn something new?”
Resilience Key 2: Everything, absolutely everything, is a potential learning experience or a chance for adventure. So you have to take the scenic route, and maybe you meet your new dog or find a great restaurant. Thinking of detours and roadblocks as the unexpected possibility for adventure makes for a much more joyful experience than cursing at something you can’t change. And shifting your perspective about something and creating new thinking patterns, has been proven (scientifically!) to rewire your brain.
Perspective shifting is a powerful tool. A recent conversation with my former mother-in-law illustrated this for me. She lost her husband four years ago. She has worked through a lot of grief and some anger in that time. One of the things that remains unresolved for her is a troubling relationship he had with a coworker. She explained to me that she really wants to get past it and forgive the coworker who has since passed on as well, but she has been unable to do so.
I suggested thinking about that person as her greatest teacher (a trick my first spiritual mentor taught me, thanks Shomit Mitter). I asked her if she would find it easier to think about what lesson she might have learned from the situation instead of just endlessly replaying all the reasons she was still angry. And now she has added being angry at herself for being unable to forgive or at least move on. The effect was immediate. She did not even have to figure out what lesson she could learn from the situation, just the suggestion of a different perspective gave her great relief. At the very least it was a different way of thinking about it and she had gotten stuck in a negative pattern like a giant cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal. She was excited about the possibility of looking at things from a different angle which gave her the feeling of being “unstuck”.
Key to Resilience Number 3: Think of difficult people as a teacher who has a lesson for you…the same with difficult situations. What can you learn about yourself and how you respond in different situations? What lesson might be here for you?
A nuance on the idea that we don’t control all the things we think we control is the idea that we can control the thoughts and actions of others. One of my favorite sayings is “crazy people can only drive you crazy if you give them the keys”. You give them the keys when you require them to act or think in a certain way and they stubbornly refuse to comply with your wishes, desires or demands. In that way even sane people can make you crazy if you allow them to.
Key to Resilience number 4: Never offload your emotional stability to another person or situation. Another way to think of this is releasing your attachment to the outcome of anything and everything. This is a practice and it will be easier in some situations than others. I find it easier with job related things than I do with personal relationships especially romantic ones, so I know where my work needs to be focused. One modern phrase might apply here…you need to give “Zero F@&%$” about what others think and how they react.
You are in charge in your emotional wellbeing and happiness.
If you are doing things, you enjoy and feel good about, you will be happier.
If you are waiting around for the next job, relationship, praise from your boss, thanks from your kids or partner, a certain amount of money, whatever, you are almost guaranteed to be unhappy. Do things because you enjoy them not because of some benefit you expect to accrue whether material or emotional. When you are engaging in activities that bring you joy, you can more easily let go of the outcome because you got so much from the experience. I know, you are going to say there are lots of things in your day that don’t bring you joy that you have to do anyway like paying bills. If you have the money to pay your bills maybe you can be grateful for that instead of resentful of the chore you are forced to do.
Shift your perspective where you can to one of gratitude or fun. I love driving in the car. I listen to music and sing my pants off. If my kids are with me, we all sing together. Driving can be considered a chore, but it doesn’t have to be. So your boss doesn’t praise you for a job well done on a big project or you don’t get the grade you wanted. Did you do your work with the best of intentions? Did you do your best? If so, let it go, figure our what you learned (resilience key number 2) and move on. Dwelling on negative outcomes serves no purpose other than to bring you down. Figure out what you can make of it and move on.
Another benefit of releasing attempts to force the outcome of any given situation is that something better may truly be in the offing if you allow it to bloom. When I first decided to move to California with my daughter so she could attend an arts high school, I was sure I had to sell my house in New Orleans to make the deal work. How could I afford to buy another house (impossible) or even rent one (almost as impossible) without first selling my current house? So I put it on the market. It didn’t sell. Several months went by and I began to believe that either I wasn’t supposed to move to California or I was missing something. At first I lowered the price to the point where I was barely going to do more than make my investment back and pushed my agent to make the sale. Stress increased.
Then I realized that I was saving my ex-husband a huge amount of money by not having our daughter board at the school. I checked to see what the boarding piece of tuition amounted to. It turned out to be twice, literally TWICE what rent would cost in town for us. He quickly agreed to cover the rent. Now not only did I NOT need to sell my house, but I was able to rent it and make money to cover some of my own losses as I took hit from the move. It didn’t just work out. It was so much BETTER than I imagined.
Resilience Key Number 5: If it don’t fit, don’t force it, just relax and let it slide…
Ok, I borrowed that phrase from the Gap Band, but it’s true. If something does not seem to be working, stop trying to force the key in the lock. Sometimes you need to relax, downshift and open yourself to other possibilities. Is there an open window you are missing? Look for it before you break down the door. Or go to the house down the street and have a cup of coffee with the neighbor and see what happens. Seemingly negative events can end up being the best thing that ever happened to you.
So what makes us resilient? What keeps air in our proverbial balls that allows us to bounce back when we are thrown to the ground multiple times?
A lot of that inflating air comes from your belief system:
- What do you believe about yourself? Are you competent? Do you deserve good things to happen to you? Work on negative belief patterns by thanking yourself for the smallest of accomplishments instead of berating yourself for perceived faults or missed steps. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
2. How do you handle perceived setbacks and challenges? Think of challenges and challenging people as possible adventures or learning opportunities.
3. You don’t control stuff, acknowledging that and doing your best will free up a lot of real estate in your mind.
4. Never offload your emotional wellbeing to someone or something else. Crazy people and crazy situations can only drive you crazy if you give them the keys!
5. Even when an event appears to be negative at first, it may be exactly the thing you need. Be open to another way forward when the first path is blocked. Not selling my house worked out better for me than I could have imagined.