Finding Your Resilience

By Elliott Potter

Jackie Sue Griffin is the force behind HERStory and an untold number of other innovations, programs and causes. She rides on the top of the waves when it comes to relevant topics.

I speak from experience. I was Jackie’s editor many years ago when she was a young newspaper reporter, building her eclectic resume and searching for the best means to apply her talents. She became passionately involved in the community, which allowed her to figure out what really mattered to our readers better than many veterans on the staff.

So when Jackie informed me recently that she was working on a project on the topic of resiliency, I knew she was onto something. I jumped at a chance to help. If the year 2020 has been anything, it has been an unprecedented test of our collective resiliency, so the subject grabbed my attention.

I employ the adjective “collective” because we are challenged globally by COVID-19–yet I also recognize that, when it comes to resiliency, the whole is the sum of the parts.

We, as individuals, have to forge our unique paths to resiliency. Those paths are not found on a map, which can be a frustrating reality. Some people struggle to find their way. Even those who seem most resilient will admit that the journey is rarely easy and often full of surprises. But the act of overcoming has great rewards.

While resiliency is worth exploring in these difficult times, it’s not a new concept. It literally has been around forever; though defined and expressed in many ways.

The Rev. Martin Luther King summoned the power of resiliency when he recited the words to the spiritual anthem “We Shall Overcome” in Memphis in 1968. Thousands of mourners would sing those words just days later after his assassination. “Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.”

The words ring true today, even in a pandemic. And they will ring true tomorrow.

Researching the time-honored notion of resiliency gave me great hope. Here’s a brief collection of some of the insights I found, pulled from many brilliant and well-trained minds:

Building resiliency

1) Start with a thorough self-assessment; be honest with yourself in assessing your strengths and weaknesses. Build your response to challenges such as COVID-19 around both. Make lists; write them down.

2) During the ongoing response to COVID-19, we have discovered ways we were well-suited to handle such a crisis (our strengths). For many people, our strengths were as straightforward as our abilities to plan and prepare good meals. Others are blessed at communicating–combining new technology with a basic understanding of the unique needs of yourself and loved ones in order to stay connected in a meaningful way. Summon your strengths and put them to work.

3) COVID-19’s impact exposes how ill-prepared we were in certain areas, from a national scale all the way down to our personal lives. Rather than dwell on self-blame, it’s important that we identify our weaknesses and protect ourselves; focus on using your strengths to defend areas of weakness.

4) Shame may be a natural response to vulnerabilities, but it has no role in building resiliency.  Finances are a concern for many families, and COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in personal budgets. Instead of shame, which looks back, what we need is recovery and solutions, which look forward. The same holds true with increased exposure because of pre-existing medical conditions. The key is using your knowledge of your health to build your defenses. Circle those wagons.

Balancing self-care and nurturing

1) Learn to recognize your own emotional and physical health needs rather than constantly striving to meet the expectations of others. Focusing on your own well-being is central to resiliency. Dealing with COVID-19 requires each of us to protect our own health, with attention to our own vulnerabilities, and then project outward to meet the needs of others who may need our help.

2) Relegate stress in your life. It is impossible to eliminate stress, so you must learn to manage it by putting stress in its proper place. If you sense that stress is building in some areas of your life, such as in the workplace, make a conscious effort to prevent it from infiltrating other areas, such as at home. Everyone needs a relief valve–a way to find refuge and support.

3) Exercise your strengths to maintain an edge; when possible, share your strengths with others. When you cook those good meals, make sure you share a plate with others. Putting your strengths to work builds self-esteem, and the positive feedback coming your way will boost self-confidence. Sharing your strengths rarely requires self-sacrifice, so it’s not likely to erode your resiliency.

4) Don’t forget the tools that always have helped you through tough times. Reading the Bible or other material central to your faith or philosophy is essential to many; it anchors you during a time when the news and other information sources can be inconsistent and make you feel lost. Music can soothe the soul and provide a soundtrack to continued well-being. Of course, there are few things better than a long talk with someone who understands you, especially in the course of a walk or other physical exercise

5) There is power in nurturing; not only are you helping others who may need it, but you may also be bolstering an ally for a common defense. Two heads, and two hearts, can be better than one. Building strength in others builds strength in yourself.

Maintaining resilience

1) Don’t try to go it alone; or as Tina Turner sang, “We don’t need another hero.” In times such as these, our goal needs to be sticking together and getting to the other side. That doesn’t mean heroes won’t emerge, but those people likely will be community leaders, not those who tried to do everything themselves without seeking the support of others. Find others who help boost your confidence; return the favor.

2) “Maintaining resiliency” is a bit of a redundancy. Resiliency itself is the act of maintaining as well as overcoming. Winning the battle can require us to dig deep, both internally and externally, for emotional and material reinforcements. Don’t wait; seek help, if you need it.

3) The basic strategy doesn’t need to change: Understand your strengths through honest self-assessment and use them to confront the situation; also know your weaknesses and use your strengths to defend them. If necessary, don’t be afraid to adapt.

4) Prepare to fight back. Negative people and circumstances will test you. Unnecessary conflict saps our energies, but avoidance can as well–and send us down the wrong road. If someone tries to attack you or trick you or divert you, summon your strength to send them packing; show them the exit.

5) Don’t spend your time and waste your resources solving the same problems over and over. Deal only with those things over which you have some control. Like having batteries on hand during a storm, in times of crisis, it is essential to maintain your energy to get through hard times.

You don’t have to embrace hardship to appreciate its place in your journey. Learn from the experience. Expect that you will conquer these challenges one day–and be stronger, and more resilient, because of it.

Elliott Potter is a staff columnist and blogger for HERStory. He is a former newspaper editor and publisher who lives in Jacksonville, N.C.

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