Building resilience to navigate change — Vivienne Solomons

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A monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal
consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a
difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is
also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God
and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with
special needs.

Our eldest son doesn’t like surprises and is particularly averse to change. As a result, we routinely advise him of upcoming events in the calendar so that he can be prepared for what lies ahead and, if need be, we also talk him through any possible areas of concern that he might have. If plans change, we do the same.

He is also now at an age where he is very much aware of what is happening not only in his immediate world but also in the nation at large.

So, needless to say, as parents we often find ourselves having to explain situations even we don’t fully understand. But what we are intentionally working towards is building in him the resilience to navigate any type of change on his own (and in his own healthy way) in the long term.

So what is ‘resilience’? In short, ‘resilience’ means the ability to ‘bounce back’ from difficult experiences. It is an ongoing process whereby we learn to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress – including family and relationship problems, serious health issues or workplace and financial stressors.

Fire consumes a house in Knysna. Victims of the recent fire disaster in the town are showing resilience in rebuilding their lives. (PHOTO: Twitter/ Snazo Gulwa)

This past week, the topic of resilience came up again. As I followed events along the scenic Garden Route and witnessed from a “safe” distance the devastation left in the wake of the fires that had raged for days, I was particularly touched by something I read — a list sent out by my son’s school detailing what could be donated to the survivors of the fire.

What struck me was the fact that so called “work clothes” was specifically included in the list since “men and women need work clothing as they have to continue their lives in order to rebuild their homes”.

This is resilience in action – victims of the fires continuing to put one foot in front of the other in spite of the dire circumstances they find themselves in and the harsh realities they face.

Of course, being resilient does not mean that we don’t experience difficulty or emotional distress. It is not even a trait that one does or does not have. On the contrary, resilience can be developed in anyone as it involves healthy behaviours, thoughts, and actions in response to challenging life situations that we inevitably encounter over the course of a lifetime.

The road to resilience is, however, a very personal journey as we each experience adversity and trauma in different ways meaning what works for me may not necessarily work for you. In this regard, the American Psychological Association (APA) suggests 10 different ways in which to build resilience in our own lives (and possibly help others to do the same):

1. Make connections
Good relationships with close family and friends are important as accepting help and support from those who care about us and are willing to listen to us strengthens our resilience.

2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems
While we cannot change the fact that stressful events happen in our lives, we can change how we interpret and respond to those situations.

3. Accept that change is a part of living
Sometimes we need to accept circumstances that cannot be changed in order to focus our time and our energy on those circumstances that can be altered.

4. Move toward our goals
We can develop smaller, realistic goals that can be accomplished in the short term, which help us move in the direction we wish to go in the long term.

5. Take decisive actions
We can choose to take whatever action we can to deal with our adverse circumstances rather than pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery
Many people who have experienced tragedy or endured hardship report that they learned something new about themselves and even go on to experience better relationships and have a greater appreciation for life as a result.

7. Nurture a positive view of ourselves
Developing confidence in our ability to solve or deal with problems and learning to trust our own instincts strengthens resilience.

8. Keep things in perspective
Even though it is easy to become overwhelmed in the present hardship, keeping a long-term perspective not only restores hope to the situation but also strengthens resilience.

9. Maintain a hopeful outlook
Adopting an optimistic outlook rather than worrying about the future enables us to expect good things to happen to us.

10. Take care of ourselves
Paying attention to our own needs and engaging in activities that we enjoy and find relaxing helps to prepare our minds and our bodies for those situations that require resilience.
Interestingly, the APA also suggests an eleventh and additional way in which to strengthen one’s resilience, which is that of “spiritual practices”. But for me, this is a pivotal step in my personal strategy for fostering resilience since a relationship with God brings a healthy perspective to my life and restores hope to whatever circumstances I may find myself in.

I wish you all well on your personal road to resilience!

Acknowledgements:
The American Psychological Association. See further www.apa.org.

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