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Resilience and Crisis

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: stupid.fotos

If you don’t have a spiritual practice in place when times are good, you can’t expect to suddenly develop one during a moment of crisis.

— Doug Copeland

All adversities are not created equal.

There are days when nothing really big happens, but lots of little stuff seems to get you down.

  • Your keys aren’t where they should be.
  • You have to drive back by the house to make sure that you closed the garage door.
  • Traffic is bad and you’re late to work.
  • In a meeting, you ask what seems to you to be a reasonable question and get a curt answer implying you should have known the answer.
  • On top of all that, you’re feeling out of sorts and less than grateful for your life and your job and you feel guilty about your lack of gratitude.

You might call these run-of-the mill adversities.

None of these things by themselves are earth shatteringly bad.  Put them all together with the resulting self-talk and you can create a pretty miserable morning.  OR, you can choose to “restart” your day at any point, and ignore the bad beginning.  To do this, it takes consciousness, resolve, and a willingness to let go of a natural tendency to whine about a yucky morning.

That’s one way to be resilient.

Bigger Challenges

Just as all adversities are not created equal, what it takes to deal with the adversity depends on exactly what the problem is and how you feel about it.

One of my co-workers, Gary, was recently in a bad car accident.  The other driver followed a big truck through the intersection on a left turn and never saw Gary coming.  While Gary’s car stayed upright, the other car rolled.  Luckily the people all walked away without any injuries.  The cars, however, were both totaled.

For a young married couple with two kids under 6, this is a challenge.  Yet, once Gary got through the first couple of hours of being shaken up, it was almost as if it hadn’t happened.  He and his wife went out and found a car that worked for their family, and had it within a couple of days.  There’s a little bit of residual dealing with the insurance companies, but he’s not letting it disrupt his life.  He’s just glad that everybody’s OK.

Me, I like a little more attention than all that.  After all, this was a major accident.  Although I’ve never thought of myself this way, compared to Gary, I must be a drama queen.

Running the Race

When you’re faced with what might be called a crisis, it’s wise to understand up front that there may not be a quick fix.  Getting through these kinds of challenges require first and foremost that you have realistic expectations for yourself and the situation.

It also requires that you use your resilience skills to get through day-to-day.  This is where resilience really pays off.  No matter how badly you feel, you still need to get the kids to school, pack lunches, do laundry, and fix dinner.  With Gary’s accident, aside from the excitement of picking Dad up and taking him to work on the day of the accident, things were kept close to normal.

Even using your resilience skills, you may feel a bit rocky for a while.

  • It may be that you need to mourn what you lost.
  • You may have big mood swings; up one minute, in the pits, the next.
  • With a change in routine, you may feel discombobulated.

All of these are OK, as long as you don’t decide that you’re reacting poorly.  It’s not so much a matter of how you react, it’s what you tell yourself about how you’re reacting.  If you beat yourself up because you’re not in total control, you’ll compound the negative feelings.

Remember, adjustment to change takes time.  The bigger the change, the longer it takes to absorb.  The key is to manage what you can while feeling your way to where you need to be.

Here are some things that can help you feel more grounded:

  • Once the initial crisis has abated, set a schedule and keep it as much as possible.  Habit is powerful.
  • If you can, continue with the activities that you enjoyed before the crisis.  If you play tennis every weekend, get back to it.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.  Now, more than ever, it’s important to remind yourself of the good stuff that’s going on in your life.
  • Evolve to your new life.  It very seldom makes sense to make huge changes all at once.  Migrate to your new path.

Gary was lucky.  What started out as a big crisis was quickly cut down to a manageable size and a return to normalcy.  Not everyone is so lucky.  Yet, we often contribute to our luck by our actions and our attitude.

Dealing with a major crisis is like running a marathon.  Getting through is a matter of marshaling the physical and emotional resources that help in the long run.  Resilience skills are part of what get us through.

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