Why do some people bounce back after a major tragedy or illness, while others seem derailed by life’s daily challenges? The answer, in a word, is resilience.
At its core, resilience is the capacity to handle difficult moments. That could be a major trauma such as post-traumatic stress after a military deployment; a chronic source of tension, such as parenting a sick child; or a sudden loss—of a loved one, a job, a marriage, or a home, to fire or flood.
“That old image of resilience as gritting your teeth and struggling through is not what we’re talking about,” says Kripalu faculty member Maria Sirois. In fact, instead of being stoic and handing things on their own, she says healthy people seek out connections during tough times rather than trying to go it alone.
Life hands us difficult situations, no matter how much yoga or meditation we do. For those who study resilience, the question is: How can our lives be rich, even joyful, during both the ups and downs?
According to Maria, what differentiates resilient people from the rest of us is that they have a handful of strategies they consistently utilize.
They lead from their strengths. Maria says her strength is perseverance. In times of great difficulty, she reminds herself, “You don’t give up.” When we start from our strengths, we remind ourselves of who we are and what we have control over.
They are authentic. You can’t thrive unless you’re being true to yourself. Trying to live someone else’s life creates more stress and confusion, leaving you exhausted. “Drink from your own well and follow where your own path leads you,” Maria advises. “Remember, what works for me is different from what works for you.”
They reach out. Resilient people make wise choices about social connections. They invest time in building meaningful relationships and sometimes end those that are no longer healthy. There are certain times when it’s crucial to be connected to others. A diagnosis of an illness is one example; ironically, this is when people tend to be most isolated.
There are three specific types of connections that can make a real difference in a crisis. There are connections with experts in the field, such as therapists, healers, counselors, and coaches. There are connections with people who have experienced the same situation and can give us insight and guidance (for example, others who are recently divorced or have survived breast cancer). And there’s what Maria refers to as “the choir”—our support system, those people we trust most.
They are mindful. Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of how we live our lives. Being in the present allows us to see things clearly, so we are better able to handle problems as they arise.
They are positive. Positivity is an overall sense of optimism and well-being. People who are most resilient are able to cultivate a positive mindset and outlook even during the bad times, which enhances their capability to come up with more creative solutions. For example, a resilient person who has lost her job will find a creative way to move forward. She might ask: What are the unexpected benefits? Should I pursue something new? What lessons can I learn from this? This can help transform a painful period into an important lesson in survival.
Maria cites a real-world example, a young woman who was unable to do yoga or meditate on a cushion after enduring multiple back surgeries. Her creative and resilient solution was substituting a 10-minute meditative walk in nature.
The lesson, Maria says, is “You can say ‘Woe is me,’ or you can have those feelings and choose to do something constructive anyway.”
What is your lesson in resilience?