Stress. The situation that we face, at this time in human history, is the very definition of stress. In the human mind stress is experienced when we face uncertainty and lack of control. Each day, we feel more uncertainty and, if we are realistic, there is no one in this human family who feels in control of this Covid-19 virus or where it will take us as a human family.
Stress. Anxiety. Fear.
These are emotions that, over extended periods of time (hours, days and weeks), are as dangerous as the thing that is creating stress…the thing that threatens uncertainty and lack of control. In fact, these emotions, if not honored for what they are and why we have them, can cause us to spiral down, exacerbating the situation and creating even more uncertainty and lack of control. It’s a vicious cycle that I am witnessing so many people going through right now…including myself.
I am not a stranger to fear. I have lived with it since I was a very small child; so much so that I thought that it was a normal part of life…that it was, actually, how everyone felt! I lived with a mother who felt the best way to bring up a “good” child was with a well-placed spanking. Or for those, like myself, who had an opinion, a smart slap across the face was delivered. I learned to be fearful…and I learned to trust that fear. When it moved into my awareness, I learned it was time to move into submissiveness… or to run like hell. Fear became my friend. And stress accompanied it as I learned, over time, that I had no control in my life.
What I did as a child, though, was to build resilience.
Resilience: the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. The ability to “bounce back.”
I hear a lot of talk about resilience, lately and how important it is. How our children need it. How we become better humans when we learn to build resilience. Yes, I am happy that I have built it, however, there is a very big part of me that has heard, way too many times in life, “Oh, but you are one of the strongest people I know!” Yes, I am thank you. But do you know that strength and resilience come from suffering? They do. I have come to hate it when someone brings to light, again, how strong I am because that, usually, means that I am going through something that requires strength…again.
I am feeling fear, and stress and, occasionally, anxiety. I know that life has moved me right out of my comfort zone and now, once again, it is time for me to call upon and strengthen my resilience. And, I know you are feeling similar feelings.
So, please…from someone who has become quite adept at building resilience… allow me to share what I know.
FIRST and foremost, please be compassionate with yourself.
It’s okay that you are frightened. Please know that your feelings are valid. You do not need to be some kind of hero or play the part of some super-human spiritual master. You are human. You are not expected to go through life’s chaos and turmoil without feeling all the feels! In fact, these feelings are important! They are telling you to pay attention. They tell you that there might be a threat of which you need be aware. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It is out of our control. Honor this fear. It is good.
You need to be exactly who you are, where you are, right now, no matter what your feelings.
Fear, anxiety, nervousness, stressed, terrified…all valid feelings.
Some say that we should be able to “just get over it.” Some say that meditation will take all those fears away. Meditate. Don’t think about it. Just get over it! I’ve been meditating for nearly 40 years and, you know what? I haven’t been able to “just get over it” yet. In fact, when I hear those words (and, sometimes they come from my inner bully!) it makes things worse because, I’m being told I “should”…and I just can’t! Then I go into all my feelings of imperfection and brokenness. Sigh…
The thing that I want you to know is that I understand. It is okay. And you are not alone. You are experiencing the same deep emotions that most of us are feeling. I don’t like this feeling, but here it is anyway!
Now, how do we go from this fear to resilience? According to the American Psychological Association (APA) there are 10 ways to build personal resilience. I have attached a slide from the APA with their suggestions.
I can roll them all up into two important actions.
We need to connect with others, if we can. Humans are social creatures. Even those of you who are introverts, being with other human beings is imperative to your health and well-being. You tend to move to your alone time to recharge after time with others. This is important for you. Still, connection with others is important, especially as we move through difficult times, in our society, and we desire to build resilience.
For those who are extroverts, or share both personality types (that would be me), connection with those you love and care about…or those who love and care about you…during a challenging experience can be imperative.
When I am feeling fear, I want to have someone to talk to who will listen, deeply and without judgement. I want to have someone who will sit with me until I don’t feel so afraid.
I want someone who will say to me, “I am right here. I am not going anywhere. I have nowhere better to be than right here, with you, right now. I don’t need anything from you. You don’t have to be anyone that you think you “should” be. You don’t need to be brave. You don’t need to be strong or spiritual or a leader so that others don’t feel afraid. I’m here. I love you. There is nothing you can do, or not do that will cost you my love or presence. I will sit with you in this ocean of fear, until you no longer need me. We will face this together.”
And, as I listen to these words, and feel my friend’s love and support, the fear begins to subside. I feel calmer. I feel more at ease. I feel like someone has my back, they’re in my corner, they understand and they love me.
I would venture to say that many of you would like to hear similar things when you are afraid. And, knowing that, we can find ways to offer our time, our listening ears and loving hearts to others who are feeling afraid.
However, there are times when I am scared, or terrified (and I do get terrified) when there is no one available to sit with me…no one who will listen and love me. Well, no one but me….
In those times I turn to Number two:
I sit down and write myself a love letter. Let me explain…
When it’s just me…and no one else, and I just want to cry, or scream, or run…I sit quietly and allow myself to feel all of those scary, fearful, anxious, terrified feelings and, then, I ask that little girl inside of me, “What do you need from me right now?” And, then, I listen while all the feelings come up. You see, when we allow our feelings and stop pushing them aside, or down, when we stop fighting them, we can find compassion for ourselves. So, I listen.
And then I write a love letter to myself. I write exactly what I would want to hear from someone who loves and cares for me. “I am right here, Cynthia. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t need anything from you. Your feelings are valid and important and I don’t need you to be anyone that you “should” be right now. I’m here. I love you. I will face this with you. I’ve got you. I promise.”
And, as I write these words of love to myself, again, the fear begins to subside. Here, too, I feel calmer. I feel more at ease. I feel like someone has my back, they’re in my corner, they understand and they love me.
It isn’t difficult to ask yourself, “If I had someone strong and loving and protective to tell me what I need to hear right now, what would it be?” Write that down. Write it. It’s more effective when you write it and it gives you the opportunity to read it again, later. All of these words of unconditional love and encouragement, written to you!
Speaking to ourselves with a voice of love and compassion is the ultimate action of self-care. It is the first, and most important step to all the other steps suggested by the APA to build resilience: Self discovery, accepting and managing change, keeping things in perspective, taking decisive action, moving towards goals, nurturing self- esteem, maintaining hope and positivity, taking care of oneself and seeing the crisis as a surmountable problem.
When we begin with self-compassion, we begin to build a sense of resiliency within. When we hear that voice of love, connection and compassion from within, when our fear begins to abate, we can feel a sense that we can face our threat and adapt. In that moment, I know that during adversity, trauma, tragedy and threats we can bounce back. There is nothing more resilient that the human spirit’s desire to thrive. That is what resiliency is; Moving from a need to survive to an ability to thrive.
Having love and compassion for myself was not always part of my life. I was not taught to speak to myself kindly or compassionately. Quite the opposite. For most of my life I learned resiliency the hard way. I was expected to hold my words and my emotions in. Literally (and figuratively) I was thrown off of a roof and told to fly. I was thrown into the ocean and told to swim. I was taught to stand strong, even with the threat of bodily harm. And I learned that the more I jumped off of cliffs, the more I put myself in challenging situations, the more I learned and built resiliency. I could survive. Fear was my daily experience and I learned to use it, to bully myself, be angry with myself, move forward no matter the circumstances. It worked. I have been called the “strongest woman” by many. But, I have learned a better way through compassion.
I still have that bully in my head who attacks me when I am afraid; who calls me weak and shames me. I know she is trying to keep me safe, to move me forward out of danger and to help me survive. But now I balance her out with this voice of love and compassion for myself. It is a big part of me. I can be patient with my own human-ness. I can let go of the shame so that I can focus on dealing with the fear with loving kindness and compassion.
And there is plenty of fear to deal with, right now. This Covid-19 virus is affecting every aspect of my life and the lives of all those around me. I am in a helping profession…I work with people who live with fear and anxiety every day. People who want to be able to not only survive, but to thrive through their own challenges. And I know that, if I am going to be of benefit to anyone else, I have to take care of the ONE person I KNOW is suffering right now…me.
So, in the spirit of love and compassion, today, I sat down and I let my fears speak to me. “What am I going to do? What if I find myself homeless? What if I, or someone I love, contracts this virus?” So many fearful concerns within. And I wrote myself a letter. “I am here, with you. I don’t know what we should do right now. We are not homeless now. We are doing what we need to to protect ourselves and we are helping others, too. All I know is that I am here, with you, and we will get through this together. I love you.”
Elizabeth Gilbert said, “The opposite of fear is not courage, it is compassion. You cannot chase fear out, you can only bring love in and, then, the fear starts to subside. “
Human beings are incredibly resourceful, creative and resilient. Every single one of us is a descendent of a survivor. Resilience is our birthright. We are adaptive, creative and strong. This is what we have been preparing for. All those hours you have spent learning, meditating, praying, connecting, loving, surviving, building…these hours prepared you for today.
Now, in this challenging moment in time, when our world is in need of courage and resilience, perhaps it’s time to bring in compassion, first. For you and for all those lives you are able to touch.
And, in case you didn’t know, I’m right here. I’ve got you. I’m not going anywhere. We are in this together and I am right here. I love you.
Be gentle. Be tender. Be kind. Be love.
Acquired 03/22/2020 from: https://www.slideshare.net/VALOZ/building-workplace-personal-resilience