8TH NOVEMBER 2018
Loosely defined, resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult situations and not just survive but thrive. For example, look at your friendship group. Why does one friend’s partner leave them and after a period of grieving they go on to find another partner and seem even happier, while another friend has a similar experience, shuts down, becomes bitter and swears off the opposite sex ‘forever’?
You might argue that it is a case of how different personalities cope with adversity and that is one consideration. Yet, whatever your personality or MO, it is possible to learn new ways to deal with hard times more easily.
Recently I’ve had another opportunity to finetune my resilience skills. Last August I was diagnosed with breast cancer and after a mastectomy am now enduring the final few weeks of chemotherapy before the next phase of treatment kicks in. It has been a very fragile, nauseous and fatigued six months added to by a case of shingles over Christmas/New Year (thanks chemo!) Without a doubt this is one of the most difficult experiences of my life, mentally, emotionally, physically and financially.
Positive psychology research shows that people high in resilience do better academically, are happier, healthier, more productive and even earn more than their counterparts. But what about when bad luck strikes in the form of the big ‘c’?
It turns out the skills I’ve learnt and practice in my life and work are helping me in numerous ways. Despite being a classic introvert I know how to and have been able to gather resources around me in the form of a great medical team, other health professionals, family and friends that support me on this unasked for journey.
Thanks to my mindfulness practice I can handle the crazy ‘you’re going to die’ or ‘you’re going to end up homeless’ type thoughts that pop up. Meditation has trained my mind to be able to experience the thought without getting caught up in catastrophising. I remain positive about the eventual outcome and believe that although every part of my life is being affected by this disease, I am a person being treated for cancer, it is not who I am.
So resilience, although easy enough to learn is not skin deep. You can learn the skills in online courses, books, and via coaching and workshops like the ones I run (and will be starting again before too long, I hope). it is never too early or too late to begin. If I have one tip it would be that it is very useful to learn the skills in the good times so they can be there for you in the bad. Think of it as pre-emotive emotional first aid, if you like. Other than that, just learn anyway.
There is an upside to every difficult situation, even stage 3 cancer. I wouldn’t usually have the pleasure of sitting on the sofa on a weekday afternoon writing a blog, or so much time to contemplate the trees and sky outside the window. My dogs are snoring gently nearby, so right now all is good!
More about the skills that comprise resilience next time-