Thriving Through Challenging Times
Rachael: Welcome to today’s webinar entitled Thriving Through Challenging Times. We are very fortunate to have Marjorie Nichols as our presenter today. Ms. Nichols is Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has provided Behavioral Healthcare for over 30 years.
She graduated from Eastern Illinois University with an Undergraduate Major in Psychology and Health Education. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from University of Illinois and has served as a field instructor for the University of Texas at Arlington for social work interns.
In her capacity as an employee assistance program counselor, corporate director of EAP systems, and director of provider networks, she has written and facilitated seminars and workshop for numerous organizations. She has gone on to establish her own consulting firm working with group practices, business and medical organizations, and behavioral health organizations. And without further delay, Marjorie, I'll turn things over to you.
Marjorie Nichols: Thank you Rachael and thank you all for attending today’s webinar on Thriving Through Challenging Times. Well in the next 30 minutes I'll be talking with you all about the enviable trade of resiliency, a much sought after condition that is a critical tool that gives us the ability to thrive during difficult times. You might recall a difficult time you’ve experienced or are experiencing now which seems to overwhelm you.
Well, this webinar will help you move through this difficulty or better prepare you for a time in the future where you will need tools to remind you, this too will pass and I will not only survive, but I'll thrive as a result of this. Let me tell you how we are going to get there. What I’ll talk with you about during this webinar, I’ll define resiliency and in turn discuss why developing resiliency trades are so important to your mental and physical health.
In order to develop resiliency trade we first need to understand how our thinking and feeling get in the way. So I’ll highlight for you what the barriers are that prevent us from achieving a sense of calm and normalcy during difficult times.
We’ll move on then to describing the characteristics of resiliency, and lastly, how to further develop those trades in yourself.
So let’s begin with asking the question, what is resiliency?
Well, ValueOptions define resiliency as the ability of individual, families, teams or organizations not only to survive, but also to thrive when facing challenges or major crises. This ability consists of more than bouncing back to previous functioning; it also involves positive transformation, the emerging of previously unknown strengths and abilities.
Well, since I have started talking when if you are probably thinking of troubles that you have experienced or maybe a friend of yours has come to mind, someone who is struggling in the midst of some difficulties.
Well, let me tell you about someone that came to see me in my office, let’s call her Perry. Her husband Sam has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Perry came to me because of the stress she was experiencing as a result of her husband's health. If Perry did not have the protective factor of that resiliency that allowed her to withstand the shock of her husband's illness, she might have cratered, instead Perry moved relatively quickly from distress and disbelief, anger and sadness. All of which are very appropriate in normal emotion, given their circumstance, to viewing the situation as a challenge that both of them had to walk through together. Perry demonstrated the heartiness to the stresses they were facing and she moved through her feeling, gaining control over what she could and looking towards the next step she needed to take.
Additionally, Perry began to see that although her husband’s health condition was scary, both she and her husband began to realize there were some lessons they were learning because of this illness. This, as the definition reminds us is the transformative part. The ability to see that there will be gains made even in hardship.
All of us face hardship and in turn respond from small adjustments to major rebuilding of our lives, but some seem to adjust with it better than others. Why are some people more resilient than other? Well, some we might say are born that way, but almost all of us learn these fortunate trades and when we learn to use the tools of resiliency, we are no longer overwhelmed by life struggle. Let’s consider why these characteristics are so sought after, why we want to be more resilient?
Well, first of all a resilient person recovers more quickly rather from setbacks or difficult changes. Think about a hero of yours, a coach, a teacher, a friend you admire; those had some difficulties. You admire them in part because of the way they moved towards the difficulties rather than letting the difficulty define them. Well in another words, they didn’t get stuck and perhaps they shared with you how their hardship made them stronger, perhaps more grateful for what they have now.
A resilient person is less likely to give up and more likely to cope with stressful situation in a healthy way. I think about the actor Christopher Reeves, the man who played Superman, who sadly fell off his horse and became a quadriplegic and in all of his interviews he continued to talk about the future, what he was looking forward to and not the accident, but his hopefulness, and he went on working for some years in acting and in writing. Being resilient helps us overcome the most difficult situations whatever they maybe.
Resilience is the vaccination, if you will, that helps us prevent or better manage various mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. You see, when we do not manage difficult times effectively, we become more vulnerable to both of these mental health conditions. Given all of these positive aspects of being resilient, why don't we all just automatically respond to life’s challenges, in this helpful way? Well in part, because we all have barriers, ways in which we think and feel and react that keep us from this hopeful response.
Let me explain briefly what these are and then we’ll of course move on to the resiliency factors. But I want you to listen to what fits for you. If you hear yourself in any of these barriers, make a note, so that you have a better understanding of what you need to begin to change or alter, what keeps you from being resilient?
Now the first is pessimism or negative thinking the next guilt, a next rigid thinking, perfectionism and we end with poor self-care. Well, you all know what pessimism or negative thinking is, don’t you? But do you catch yourself when you're in the throes of it? Do you know that negative thinking can greatly influence your emotional state, level of stress, job performance and even your health? People who believe that the results of negative events will be permanent tend to feel more fearful and suffer more chronic stress.
Well, the next is guilt. That’s the emotion that gives you the gift of anxiety, and worry, nothing helpful there. Resilient people are flexible in their thinking. Someone who's locked into only one way of looking at a problem, a rigid thinker is unable to move beyond the problem, and then give the solution. These are also people that might feel they are destined to fate faith; that bad things just happen to them. These are people that end up believing that their normal is despair, hard times, they’re victim of circumstances and may dwell on the problem and they ask, why me, they get stuck?
In contrast a resilient person asks of themselves, where do I go from here? Well, a word on perfectionism. A perfectionist is someone obsessed with doing it right, perfect, and we all know that’s impossible. So there is this inherent setup for the perfectionist to be unhappy; disappointed and a sense that nothing is ever complete, no business is finished because it could be better. And our last barrier is that of course, self-care. We cannot bounce back from difficulty if we are not taking care of our self.
If you lack good self-care, have a pattern of over drinking, over eating or sedentary, you probably either become easily angered or you become sad, you reject help, you isolate. In this state it’s hard to rebound; it’s hard to believe in yourself, your strengths and abilities when you're not practicing self-care. Again, if you can relate to any of these barriers, jot them down. There is hope; there is hope to becoming more resilient.
So we move on now to the characteristics of a resilient person. They are optimism. The idea that when we are facing problems, they are not permanent; this is something I always remind my clients of. What you are feeling right now isn’t going to last forever, it’s going to change. Optimists have the ability to move beyond it and determine a new normal.
Optimists knows that hard times again are not permanent. Optimism and positive thinking is the key to resilient. Perhaps look at it this way, to quote Robert Brault, “An optimist is someone who figures taking a step backwards after having taken a step forward, is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha-cha.” All right! Resilient people have a good sense of humor about life’s challenges. Humor gives us power over the problem, humor is an exercise in being creative, thinking of our problems differently. To paraphrase Einstein, "Creativity is intelligence having fun."
Equally important to rebounding is believing that in one own meaning and purpose in life; that even in difficult times as with Perry, who I observed used her inner strength to gain new insight of her problems. Perry’s actions are forward thinking, she has no time dwell on the unfairness of her situation. Actually, she has applied meaning to this new chapter of her life.
For Perry, her new meaning is to save her each day with both her child and her husband and find effective ways of juggling and navigating work and home and healthcare and use all the support she can find from neighbors, families and friends. Once a shy woman, now she's her husband’s voice and doing a great job of it.
Resilient people recognize that change happens continuously and maybe your change of the challenge, not as a threat. In turn they have the ability to adapt the change easily and in part, because they stay healthy by taking care of themselves; emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Additionally, they understand that setbacks are a part of life, so they're prepared to meet them.
There are many ways of looking at a problem, let me give you an example of three. We’ll start with what I see often in my office. One is to allow the problem to consume you, two, to become fearful and then paralyze as a result. But more importantly and more effectively, another way to view the problem is to consider adversity as a challenge, not a threat.
Resilient people do not isolate, they have strong connection to what is really important to them, community, spirituality, their career. As I mentioned in Perry's story, she realized she couldn't do it alone, so she let her friends, family, place of worship and neighbors know she needed help and that’s what she got, help and compassion.
It's important when events happen to bring us down that we can recognize our own emotion and deal with them in a healthy manner. Resilient people believe in themselves, they are self-confident, they believe in their ability to problem solve and to use their strengths. They are committed to moving forward, not staying in the problem. This makes them realistic, while often viewing their concerns with curiosity rather than fear.
Ultimately these are people that normally use humor to address their difficulties, but they do it in a playful way. I mentioned before, these are people that use their friends, families and peers to be a sounding board to receive support during difficult times.
Now onto the tools, to help you achieve these characteristics, and no surprise, they begin with self-care. You cannot expect to rebound from difficulties if you're not taking care of yourself. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, without sleep there is little restoration for bodies and brain, eating healthful food, reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake.
Exercise, Move daily. Did you know that our bodies are designed, they are meant to move? But so many of us have sedentary jobs, and when we go home we are also inactive. Think of exercise as both a stress reducer and food for your brain. There is so much I could say about good self-care.
What I just mentioned is part of what we need to do for our overall physical health. Let's now move to our emotional and cognitive self. We begin emotional well-being by reaffirming that change happens whether we like it or not, although we are by nature resistant to change. When we accept that change is part of our lives, we are no longer battling this very natural process.
We are joining it and asking ourselves, how can I use this change to my benefit or where do I go from here? Now you're onto the solutions, and I guarantee you, being in the solution feels a whole lot better than staying in despair of difficulty.
Now this next bullet on this slide reminds us how important it is to manage our feelings. So let me remind you that you are not your feelings and you can control them. It's all part of being emotionally intelligent. Managing feelings start with understanding that your feelings emerge from perceptions that you have made.
Let me interject here. There are so many ways of preceding a difficulty and when you change the way you look at the problem, we often can see opportunities, this is something I help my clients with, is identifying that they've been locked in, perhaps by their own rigid thinking or their victim thinking that there is only one way of looking at the problem that they're struggling with.
And when they begin to interpret it or perceive of it differently, things start to change. When we see opportunities, we're moving into solutions. Solutions breed hopefulness. A basic part of believing, we have the ability to choose how we will feel and how we will manage our challenges.
Think about it this way, without hope we would never have evolved. It's hopefulness that gives us the ability to imagine positive change, to reach for our goals, and I use the word imagine or imagination, because when we begin to install that creativity that sometimes difficulties erase and we begin to imagine how this problem can change, we're already in that process of being resilient.
Another helpful tool is to remind ourselves of the strengths and abilities we have used in the past to manage changes and difficulties. We install if you will, positive self talk and that keeps us hopeful.
Very important for you all to remember the struggles that you may have had in the past. Those struggles didn't kill you. As a matter of fact that probably made you stronger. One of our barriers to resiliency is isolating from others. The solution is to reconnect with our family, friends, peers and realize we're not alone, there is help out there and it may come in the form of a friend that says me too, I have been there and here is what I did, I hope it helps.
Or just as effective is the friend or the family member that just listens. Remember, that a positive connection to your support system helps you in the following ways. One, to de-stress, deep breathe and decompress. Two, provides an outside regulator or reality test to our current experiences. Three, provides nurturance or humor, and lastly, fun.
Well, it's important to be reminded that each of us has meaning and purpose in our lives. It's one of our talents as humans, it's part of our creativity. It's reminding ourselves that what really matters.
So, here are some ways to work on making your life feel more meaningful. One, remind yourself of what is really important to you. As you're listening to me right now, write down five things that are important to you and incorporate those each day in your life.
Two, pursue a passion, something that gives you meaning and purpose. When you are in your passion, you lose all sense of time, you are in the zone. Three, live with compassion and practice compassion, and in keeping with compassion practice, random acts of kindness or may do something for someone else. We get out of ourselves, we right size our problems and we feel good about having done something for someone else.
Five, simplifying your life, this helps you reduce your stress and increase your productivity, and last, set daily goals that are fulfilling and meaningful and commit to completion. You will live your life more consciously and with more enthusiasm.
Well, when we keep things into perspective and reality test the situation, we're less likely to be overwhelmed by the difficulty. Keeping things in perspective, this right sizing, it's not allowing the situation or our belief about the situation to be blown out of proportion. When we accept the unexpected, we reduce the feelings of being shocked, overwhelmed or feeling out of control.
Remember what you think and what you feel are choices you make. Remember there is always another way of interpreting the difficulties you are experiencing. Challenge yourself to find other perspectives and you will change how you feel.
Keep a journal. Writing in a journal helps us right size our problems. I explain to people that I work with that when we entertain feelings that overwhelm us, they seem galactic in size. But when we write them down, they seem more manageable. Solutions seem achievable.
A journal is a great tool to better manage our emotion, so our emotions don't get the best of us. Emotions that are really charged get our attention, right? If you will, those types of emotions grip us by the throat and it's hard to get free. When we journal, we are forced to decide what we are feeling. A starting point is writing it down, the problem. But oftentimes the problems are our feelings.
Then brainstorm solutions to include steps that I may have already mentioned to you. Get out and walk. A client of mine says that when she walks, the committee inside her head stops and she feels in control again.
I suggest to people to ask themselves, what's the worst thing that could happen and then I ask them to reality test that. Almost always the worst thing never happens. Then get into action on how you will not only solve the problem, the difficulty or challenge, but how you will transform you. What you will gain from that event.
Think now of a challenging life event that you have experienced. And I imagine as you think back on that, you can record growth that you’ve experienced as a result of that incident or write it down. Journaling will remind you of what you have already moved through.
Let me return very briefly to Perry, the woman who called me for help. She was overwhelmed, even though she was doing all the right things; she sought out a mental health counselor because she knew that was her next helpful step. Don't let difficulties consume you; don't wait until you can't sleep. You find yourself unable to focus, you can't make decisions. Call the EAP, your Employee Assistance Program for help.
Now you have heard the same you are what you eat. Well, we are who we befriend. Stick around people that are positive, happy, satisfied with their lives. The time I spend with friends are filled with optimism, fun and laughter. Did you have your dose of laughter today? Many people struggle with holding on to the mistakes that they have made in the past. They only mistake that we make are when we don’t learn from those.
Let go off your previous mistakes, find humor in it and use constructive problem-solving. We've included this slide in this webinar as a note on how to proceed with your problems that seem too difficult to tackle. I've walked you through a couple of them when I talked about journaling. The first is to identify what appears to be the problem, gather and analyze the data.
Clarify the problem, sometimes what we think is the initial problem really isn't the problem, and then begin to brainstorm solution. Choose a solution that you think will work for yourself, implement it, and then evaluate it. Take time, a week or a month afterwards to question yourself, is what I've done is helping me, is it working? How do I feel?
Well in conclusion, I want to remind you, resiliency can be learned and developed over time and like a muscle it needs to be exercised. Using the tools we reviewed will lessen the negative effects of challenging events that we experience. Take time each day to practice self-care. Through taking good care of yourself you remain buoyant and able to respond to challenges in a positive way.