Women’s resilience always seems to be tested; from doing the bulk of the care giving for children, families, and elders, being the multi-taskers, the nurturers, the drill sergeants and the compassion experts. It is any wonder that this leads to reporting higher stress levels than men do?
Resilience comes from a Latin word meaning to leap back or rebound. My own resilience was tested in the last decade during a series of hard losses – my dad and husband, who died within three months of each other, followed by my mom, my dog, and my only sibling.
As a psychologist, but also as someone doing lots of caregiving during this time and coping with grief, I had to develop a set of skills to increase my resilience. These four tools helped me better handle the losses and the stress:
- Engage in Meditation
Some believe that meditation may be the single most important tool for increasing resilience. A regular practice of meditation changes the brain, enhances the immune system, and induces a faster recovery from life stressors. Meditation induces calm and decreases ruminative thinking. Whether it’s a meditation that focuses on breath, or a mantra word like “Peace,” engaging in a bit of daily meditation makes a huge difference in being able to rebound from a challenging situation.
- Practice Self Care
Self-care involves paying attention to three important things that impact the body and moods: sleep, exercise, and nutrition. These three factors go hand in hand – one has a synergistic effect on the other. Sleep rests the brain and reboots the immune system. Lack of sleep results in being more prone to illness and just plain grumpy!
It also impacts the gut, and most people usually reach for junk food,- which impacts brain and guts functioning- when sleep deprived rather than healthier foods such as fresh fruits, vegetable and nuts. Exercise or some form of daily movement, like walking, biking, swimming, or dancing, helps with better sleep, reduces appetite, enhances the immune system, and releases hormones that help feelings and mood states more positive.
Lack of sleep or proper nutrition and exercise, sabotages the mental and physical well-being as well as the ability to rebound from stress.
- Recover and Recharge
It’s not enough to try and endure a stressful experience, as you develop resilience. Instead the focus must be on how to recharge in order to bounce back and move forward. Being in constant action is damaging to both body and mind, not to mention the spirit! When encountering a stressor, it’s important to take stress breaks or recovery periods that allow the time and space to heal, just like a runner does between training runs. Without these recovery periods, resilience doesn’t have a chance to grow.
- Find Social Support
Chronic loneliness (not to be confused with “alone time” or “me time”) increases the levels of stress hormones circulating in the body, and also impairs decision-making and problem-solving skills, which are often critical when faced with loss and life stressors. From birth, you are hard-wired to have several close confidantes with whom they entrust your secrets and worries.
This is a particularly important tool in healing from loss because grief can feel so isolating. Joining a support group, or seeing a therapist is a great initial step in combating loneliness and finding a safe place to share your concerns. Finding a tribe of likeminded people, whether it’s joining a yoga class, a hobby group, a book club, or a sports team is also a great idea. Rumi says: “There’s a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard, they cannot hope. It is this: Look as long as you can at the friend that you love.”
The next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, remember these seeds of resilience, and recall that in a garden, a healthy seed grows into a beautiful plant. Even though the plant may get assailed from time to time by blustering winds and heavy rains, the plant can bounce back and still survive, often blooming more beautifully than before.
Sherry Cormier, PhD is a psychologist, consultant and public speaker. Formerly on the faculty at the University of Tennessee and West Virginia University, she is the author of Counseling Strategies and Interventions for Professional Helpers (Pearson Education, 9th edition) and coauthor of Interviewing and Change Strategies for Helpers (Cengage Learning, 8th edition). She has cowritten and coproduced more than 50 training videos for Cengage Learning. Her new book is Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness After Loss and Grief(Rowman & Littlefield).