It was too much. She lost her husband and two months later, was diagnosed with cancer. They were 37 years old–and it was 2 weeks before Christmas. Yet talking to her three years later, when she’d single-mothered her two girls into middle-school while going through grief and chemo, you’d hardly know she’d been through such a rough patch. She was thinner, a little tired, but her joie de vivre–described as that keen or buoyant enjoyment of life–was evident. I always left a little happier after just being with her. I didn’t understand. I wondered just how she did it and could it be bottled up and passed along to others.

I was particularly interested since we are in the midst of that time of year that is meant to be most wonderful but often isn’t when in the middle of a divorce, custody trial or guardianship hearings. In fact, the holidays can be just be one more source of stress–all the while surrounded by cute little signs in shop windows and on Facebook screaming joy and peace and happiness. 

Here it is. Resilience. The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. Research has been on-going to determine just what it is that allows some people to bounce back better than others. Dozens of books have been written about it. [1]

The American Psychological Association lists the following 10 Ways to Build Resilience:[2]

  • Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Also, assisting others in their time of need benefits the helper.
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. 
  • Accept that change is a part of living.  Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed helps to focus on circumstances you can alter.
  • Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that moves you toward your goals. 
  • Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. 
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
  • Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context. Keep a long-term perspective.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  • Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Some of those things sound good but summoning the energy to engage can be challenging. If you live in West Michigan, there is an exhibit you should know about if you are interested in APA’s tools. St. Joseph, Michigan’s Krasl Art Center’s Resiliency exhibit has blown me away. https://krasl.org/art/exhibitions/ It features contemporary art–in a many different formats–from across the nation that explores, celebrates and practices resiliency.  Using the visual arts as a platform, this exhibition provides applicable tools for guests to craft their own resiliency practices and gain empathy for others

It is the hands-on, reflective aspect of this beautiful exhibit that got to me. And I think it hits every one of the APA’s bullet points for developing resiliency. I hope you won’t miss it. But act fast. It’s only here until December 1. Do this for you. 

Wishing you wisdom, 
Deborah Bennet Berecz


[1] Positive Psychology has a great list of best books on resiliency at https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-books/

[2] Get the full brochure at https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.  

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