Life with MS

Planning for Resilience

By Carol Lewis
Resilience is a concept that can be applied to virtually everything, including ourselves, the groups we belong to, and our communities. Resilience means being strong and stable, as well as being flexible and able to bounce back from adversity. It is bending, but not breaking, under stress.

Think of a palm tree that is flexible and able to sway with the wind. After a storm, it returns to its original shape, though perhaps a little more windblown. Much like the palm tree, we can cultivate resilience throughout our lives. This is true no matter what issues we are dealing with or encounter.

A Plan for Resilience
Factors that make us more resilient can either be skills we use to regulate ourselves, or outside resources, such as supportive friends, activities, or group membership. The four areas of awareness discussed in the previous article can provide some structure for an examination of both current resilience skills and resources, and areas that need to be addressed. A resilience check-up and plan can be done in each of the four areas.

In mind/thoughts (mental resilience): What habits of thinking support your well-being? Cultivate healthy coping thoughts, compassion toward yourself and others, and gratitude. Mindfulness and contemplative practices also build mental resilience. 

In body (physical resilience): How is the body? Are you doing all you can to be the healthiest
you can be, even with physical challenges? Work on optimizing your physical health within the guidelines appropriate for you. Befriend the body. Address sleep, diet or eating issues, and physical activity. You might join an exercise class that’s right for you. A mindful movement class like yoga, T’ai Chi, or Qi Gong has the benefits of developing mental and emotional resilience as well as physical resilience.

In the emotions (emotional resilience): What emotions do you find yourself experiencing often? Are these emotions interfering with you being your healthiest, most resilient self? It’s important to be able to experience the whole range of emotions. But it is equally important to be able to manage (not control) those emotions effectively. Cultivating mindfulness skills, or present moment awareness, can help us have a healthy relationship with our emotions, neither pushing them away or being swept away by them. Using a gratitude diary also builds emotional resilience.

In behavior (behavioral resilience, including social resilience): Do your actions, including your
habits and patterns, support your well-being? Is your social network healthy? Are you engaging in meaningful and enriching activities? Develop or cultivate healthy habits, including spending time with others, setting healthy boundaries in relationships, and engaging in pleasurable activities. Daily pleasant activities do not have to cost anything, do not have to take a long time, and you do not have to go anywhere special for them. You will get the most from these activities if you pay attention to them while you’re doing them, rather than being preoccupied by other issues or problems. It is also beneficial to engage in a variety of activities, if possible. A resilience plan includes developing awareness of early warning signs of difficulty in the four areas of awareness, and having a plan for healthy actions to take when those signs are detected. These actions might include using mindfulness skills (for mental resilience), increasing physical activity or sleep (for physical resilience), using a gratitude diary (for emotional and mental resilience), and engaging in daily pleasant activities (for behavioral and  emotional resilience). 

Resilience building is an ongoing process of cultivating strength, stability, and flexibility in body and mind. When we’re resilient, we can navigate through whatever we may encounter in a healthy and effective manner. Then, like a palm tree, we can bend, but not break, when faced with life’s challenges.