PART 1: MENTAL RESILIENCY
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
– Rocky Balboa
This quote resonates with most adults as we all have faced life’s wrath at times. This quote appropriately summarizes the importance of resiliency, which the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change”. Basically, it’s not about avoiding conflict and challenge but being able to bounce back afterward. Though the above Rocky quote applies to mental and emotional resiliency, it is certainly applicable to physical resiliency. Unfortunately, like an athlete lacking in certain aspects of general fitness, many individuals do not have all the resiliency components necessary to successfully withstand life’s punches. The goal of the next two articles is to discuss the importance of mental and physical resilience and provide some tips on how to strengthen both. This article will focus on mental resilience and the next will be geared towards physical.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental and behavioral health expert. The information I provide in this article is from a combination of courses during my physical therapy education, experience as a healthcare provider, my own personal life experiences, and the mental/emotional resiliency training I received while serving in the Army. I encourage those with mental and behavioral health concerns to seek further assistance from a specialized licensed professional.
Mentally and emotionally, being resilient is crucial to withstand the stresses and emotional challenges of life. As a dad of two young girls, I see the need to build resiliency early in life. Though their “life problems” are not the same stressors as adults, they face their own challenges including rejection (“no, you can’t have cookies for dinner”) and having to do something they don’t want to (“you need to stop playing and do your homework”). These challenges may seem small compared to an adult’s, but they are big to them. A child’s ability to face these struggles will build their resiliency so they can withstand the harder challenges that naturally come with age.
One way to build resiliency is through exposure. Every punch you take and recover from, the tougher you get. Every time you get back up after falling, the stronger you become. Each and every successful rebound increases overall resiliency, better preparing you to handle larger challenges in the future. The caveat is that these blows must be enough to stress you emotionally and mentally but not be complete knockouts. A knockout event may be too much to overcome and create secondary adverse effects (depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, avoidance behaviors, etc.) while a life without stress does not challenge a person’s resiliency, resulting in a weakened ability to rebound. Like Goldilocks looking for the right porridge, we need the “right” amount of stress to build resiliency: not too much, not too little.
There are other ways to build mental and emotional resilience than through just exposure. Research has shown time and time again expressing gratitude consistently can be very impactful. The most common method of doing so is by keeping a daily gratitude log identifying three to five specific items you are grateful for that day. The more specific the better, and it’s more impactful to reflect on why you are grateful for it. I recommend keeping a notebook next to your bed and either start or end the day completing your gratitude log.
If you find yourself not handling a stressor well, there are other tactics to assist in the heat of the moment. Think of these as spotters for your emotional and mental resilience. First, identify if you are catastrophizing and making it worse than it truly is. It’s common to spiral downward when faced with an obstacle or stressor (ex: doing a task wrong at work leads to thoughts of getting fired which leads to financial problems then marital issues followed by losing the house then winding up alone living in a ditch). Stopping these thoughts immediately and recognizing the spiral can be challenging, and success depends on being able to accurately identify the most likely outcome (ex: doing a task incorrectly at work likely will result in a verbal warning from a supervisor). The goal is to put the stressor into perspective, acknowledging that it’s not great but also not fatal.