Knowledge is power, and the most useful knowledge we have is understanding ourselves. With self-awareness, we have the power to build resilience. This enables us to tackle the most challenging situations and grow from them, rather than hitting rock bottom with no way to move forward. Self-knowledge leads to resilience.
We hear the word “resilience” often, but what exactly is it? In its simplest form, resilience “means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences” (APA, 2017). Perhaps the good news is that resilience is something we can build, it’s a skill we can hone so that when we face adversity or obstacles we can overcome them.
In our recent Resilience Series with the Boston Fire Department, O2X experts explained what tools we can use to minimize the long-term impact that adversity can have on our mental and physical health. While there are many different components to building resilience and dealing with difficulty, here are three takeaways from the Resilience Series that we think are important for everyone to remember.
1. Connectedness – Dr. Stephen Durant lost his eye in a gruesome rugby accident, and he attributes his ability to overcome the injury and the impact it had on his life to the people he had around him. According to Durant, you should find your “go to people” and be sure that you “never suffer alone.”
A large part of overcoming adversity and dealing with trauma is having a support network around you. A variety of studies show that demonstrating resilience in difficult situations can be attributed to connectedness and strong relationships (APA, 2017; Morrison, 2015; Alidina, 2016). Build meaningful connections at work and at home so that when you need support, you have a network to help you through tough times.
2. Breathing – It’s something that we do thousands of times a day and it’s our most basic human need, but we rarely think of how strengthening our breathing technique can maximize human performance. Using breath to build resilience does require some effort and training, deep breathing is something we need to train because it does not always feel natural at first.
Among other benefits, breathing deeply “aids you in disengaging from distracting thoughts and sensations” (Harvard Health Publications, 2016); in doing so, it allows you to be present to your situation and handle the task at hand. This enables you to take control of what you are doing and make choices about how you handle stressors.
O2X experts Maria Trozzi and Dr. Tracy Heller recommend low and slow breathing at a pace of a 5 count inhale and 7 count exhale to lower your heart rate and help tap into resilience during stressful situations.
3. Mindfulness – O2X expert Maria Trozzi explains that just 5 minutes of mindfulness practice a day can change the architecture of your brain. You may be thinking that something that can have that big of an impact must be hard to do, but it’s something you can do while taking a walk or brushing your teeth every day. Like deep breathing, mindfulness requires practice and although it seems simple it may not come easily to you at first.
Mindfulness means being fully present without passing judgement, it’s acknowledging the thoughts you are having or the situation you are experiencing without reacting emotionally. Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that mindfulness is simply “about knowing what is on your mind” (Mindful.org, 2017).
“When mindfulness is present, you can remember that you always have a choice regarding how to respond” (Hauck, 2016), and choice, like knowledge, is power. Perhaps the best part is that neuroscientists have found that the more you use mindfulness meditation, the more resilience you can build (Alidina, 2016). Next time you brush your teeth or take a walk, be present and practice awareness to strengthen your ability to be mindful so that you have the skill when you need it in times of distress.
This is merely scratching the surface of building resilience, but you can begin to strengthen your ability to be resilient by using these techniques regularly. It takes 21 days to build a habit, so try to practice these skills every day and before you know it they will be a part of your daily routine (Clear, 2014).
“Being resilient does not mean being impervious to stress, but it does mean adapting to and coping with stressful situations. It is not an inherent quality: it can be acquired through learned behaviors, thoughts and actions” (Morrison, 2015).
We will be hosting more Resilience Series events in the future, so stay tuned via our website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for announcements. #RiseHigher
Thank you again to Mayor Martin J. Walsh, BFD Commissioner/Chief of Department Joseph E. Finn, BFD Local 718 President Rich Paris, and the BFD Safety Health and Wellness Division who brought the O2X Resilience Series to fire fighters, first responders, military veterans, and their families last week.