BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
“Resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane – they bend rather than break.” -Brad Waters, Writer and MSW
My mom, Caroline, had a way of fooling people. It wasn’t intentional, but some made the error of mistaking meek with weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. When trouble rolled in and turbulence rocked our world, she was a fortress of strength, courage, and adaptability. She was that bamboo in a hurricane.
Caroline was resilient. She had the remarkable ability to withstand adversity and to bounce back from difficulty. That’s the thing about resilience; it’s two-sided. When we’re resilient, we can hang on and hang in there when everything has been turned on its head. We can also pick ourselves up and carry on again when we’re bent low because we are not permanently broken.
I understand now how my mother’s resilience allowed her to live with and live through many challenges and adversities. Resilience was something Caroline quietly and intentionally nurtured through focused attention and curated action. While there are many steps we can take to build our personal reserve of resilience, these six made my mom the bamboo that doesn’t break.
Six Ways to Reach for Resilience
- Start with an intention, not a “To Do”
Take a few minutes in the morning to clear your mind and your heart. Let go of lingering feelings and remind yourself that the 24 hours ahead of you are fresh and new. Then decide how you want to experience them. When I feel overwhelmed with too much to do or worry about, I choose an intention such as “I will be peaceful and calm today.” Or, “I will not get ahead of myself; I will take one thing at a time.”
- Take control with positive actions and goals
Once I’ve set my intention for the day, I identify a handful of specific things I will do to sustain the positive. That often includes: taking a walk at lunchtime, getting a “Thinking of You” card in the mail for a faraway friend, or scheduling a “hard-stop” at five so that I can enjoy an hour with a good book before dinner. The options are endless. The more you practice “taking control,” the more positively-addictive it becomes.
- Stay focused on the present
When we experience prolonged distress such as the pandemic, job loss, or a persistent illness, we often gravitate to catastrophizing, or envisioning worst-case outcomes. Our resilience takes a beating and keeps us stuck in negative thought patterns. When you catch yourself going down that slippery slope of helplessness and despair, reel yourself back in. Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and your body, then focus on the present moment, where you are right now.
- Stay connected to your tribe
The pandemic has taught us to be creative in order to sustain our bonds of connection with others. As those closest to me are the farthest away, this means random texts, scheduled virtual Happy Hours, and Facetime. Here, where I am now planted, sustaining connection takes the form of evenings on the porch with neighbors, kind words to everyone I interact with, and waves to every passing vehicle in the neighborhood. All of these intentional actions build a bridge out of isolation, reinforcing that I am not alone.
- Make your peace with uncertainty
Take a few moments to consider the countless experiences you’ve made it through. Looking through that lens, you realize that even “the best-laid plans” can go awry, regardless of your meticulous planning. Did you get through it? Did you learn something from it? Were you able to carry on despite the uncertainty and the outcome? The point is this: you already know how to get through uncertainty, so stop wringing your hands and wasting your priceless energy on fighting it.
- Practice good self-care
Caroline prayed the rosary every day for 25 years. She also walked daily, fed the birds, and “gabbed over coffee” with the ladies in the neighborhood when she could. Those activities constituted her self-care. While mine are different, they amount to the same thing: respecting myself by nurturing myself so that I can show up in my life as Caroline did in hers: bamboo that bends but doesn’t break.