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September 13, 2012

Lori Brothers: Nurture resiliency to face adversity

NEW CASTLE — What you choose in feelings, thoughts and actions can shape a positive perspective about yourself and develop coping skills, which lead to resilience.

Resiliency is a new area of research in preventive health. It is the skill of being able to adapt to life’s misfortunes. It has a positive impact on your health and sense of well-being.

“Selful” is a word used to replace “selfish.” It is a heart-based attitude you can live by, and activate when you are coping with life demands. You treat yourself much kinder. You are aware that you are going through a hard time. You do something about it by admitting it to yourself, and take action to practice self care.

During times of adversity, it is common to let your own personal care slack. Even if you feel awful about what you are dealing with, do your best to focus on eating healthy foods, getting enough rest and exercise, and practice stress management to find your peace and calm in the storm. This is all inner- and outer-strength building.

Listen to relaxing music, or any music that you really enjoy — sing your heart out. Practice contemplative prayer. Find a peaceful place to restore and rejuvenate. Convert television time to workout time, either by walking or heading to the gym. At first, you may feel overwhelmed or exhausted. However, just a little motivation can be restorative to your viewpoint and boost your coping skills.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the unexpected. Whether big or small setbacks bring hardship, or leave you dealing with the unknown, do you tend to bounce back? Do you fall apart?  Either way, you can assess the situation and choose resiliency habits.

People who develop inner strength tend to be more adaptable and flexible. They tend to be more stress hardy, which allows them to meet the demands of change.

Inner strength develops hope. Seeking joy, and feeling enjoyment in life despite the problems you face can help you to cope and manage stress.

The feelings that emerge when the unexpected occurs — anger, pain, grief — are the normal reaction when life hands you a lemon. I actually like lemons. However, in life, they’re the metaphor for what we perceive as a bad deal. Over-riding these negative emotional responses helps choose positive action.

When you move away from the self-imposed role of victim, you build inner strength. Know that your health and well-being are worth fighting for, and when you feel low find a friend to laugh with, eat a healthy snack, or head outside for a 20 minute walk.

Reaching out is the healthy response to become resilient through adversity. It is important to access support from others. Cutting yourself off from family, friends, churches or appropriate agencies can put added strain on you emotionally, mentally and physically.

You may not know it at the time of a crisis, but you’re learning something valuable and wise by going through challenging life experiences. Choose a life philosophy that affirms you will learn from your experiences. This can produce positive self-talk, and will also lead you to gratitude for the ups and the downs.

It is important to find purpose during challenging times. Find something that helps you feel a personal sense of accomplishment every day. A pro-active lifestyle leads you to your future. A fearful, sedentary one can keep you stuck.

Once you feel personal satisfaction from doing at least one small thing for yourself, acknowledge the feeling. Good feelings are the fuel you need cope and to look forward to better times ahead.

(Lori Brothers is the director of the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease at Jameson Hospital, www.jamesonhealth.org)

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