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Become Unstoppable: Four Tips to Build Resiliency

The recent mass killing in Orlando made me pause and reflect. I felt sad and sent love and prayers to the victims and their loved ones. I felt angry that assault weapons are on our streets and can fall into the hands of destructive zealots and mentally ill people. I felt anxious for the future safety of my loved ones and other innocent people. For a brief time I thought about how fragile life can be and how it could affect me. I quickly turned my attention to the outpouring of love within the world to the victims of this tragedy and my own resolve to focus on the positive in the face of adversity.

Why is it that some people succeed while others succumb after a life crisis or tragedy? When we succumb, we get stuck in depression, bitterness, anxiety, guilt and/or develop post-traumatic stress disorder. When we succeed, we use adversity to move toward psychological growth and make choices that lead to successful outcomes. The word “resilience” is often used to describe people who are able to persevere and thrive in the face of adversity. These people pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the “game of life” in constructive ways.

In the 1970s, researcher Emmy Werner developed the term “resilience.” She studied children in Kauai, Hawaii, from poor, alcoholic, unemployed and mentally ill parents. She found that two-thirds of these children in their later teens exhibited destructive behaviors, such as chronic unemployment, substance abuse, and out-of-wedlock births (girls). One-third of these children did not develop these behaviors, and Werner called them “resilient.”

Resilience has been described as a process not a trait. This life-affirming process enables us to bounce back to a level of competent functioning after a disaster, or any disappointment for that matter. It is our ability to navigate around and through stressful situations and crises using coping behaviors that are right for each of us.

My four top resiliency building strategies are these:

Use Your Mind: Once you have gotten through the initial shock and trauma, find a positive outlook that leads to purposeful action. A reframe empowers you and leads to choices that turn you into a thriver. My cancer diagnosis became an opportunity to improve my health, change my life, and become an inspiration to others.

Open Your Heart: Once you allow yourself to feel all of your feelings after a crisis, be willing to move beyond blame toward forgiveness. Holding on to negative emotions, like fear, resentment and guilt, compromises your health and well-being. I never blamed myself, doctors or God for getting cancer. I just discovered how I might have contributed to it and changed what was within my power to change.

Call upon Grace: Reach for a Higher Power: 1) Ask for the courage to carry on and the comfort to be taken out of the pain; 2) Appreciate what you do have—i.e., loved ones, health, or community; and 3) Use mindful practices to tap into moments of inner peace. Your spirituality is a resource that uplifts you in times of adversity. Grace became my companion on my cancer journey. I felt uplifted and guided so that I could do what I needed to do to thrive.

Mobilize Your Environment: Reach out to others who are able to help you cope, forgive and move on feeling empowered and optimistic. Discover the resources that have been put into place to help you. The amount and quality of resources available to you after a trauma impact your recovery and well-being. The breast cancer community supported me as I had to make tough treatment decisions. I still feel gratitude for the amazing strangers who “held” me in my time of need.

Any life crisis includes a period of grieving and healing. (The time period is unique to everyone.) Thrivers can be recognized by their ability to regulate their emotions, work with what is happening, and change course or carry on after a crisis. As you are well aware, adversity is a part of life. When you develop coping skills to survive, grow and thrive, you are mastering resilience. Your spiritual resources and your community are an important part of becoming unstoppable; they remind you that you don’t have to take charge alone. 

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