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Coping in Crazy Times: Conversation Cafe

Coping in Crazy Times Conversation Café: Resilience (by Yvonne Adebar)

In 2011 Ann, Masten defined resilience as, “The capacity of a dynamic system to withstand or recover from significant changes that threaten its stability, viability, or development” (Masten, 2011). In 2014, Masten removed “withstand” and changed the definition to include “adapt successfully”.

Here is a reference for Ann Masten:

For the purposes of today’s conversation, I like to think of resilience as the ability to cope.

Adapting successfully, may look different for individuals in different situations, but basically it means how well we are able to accept and work with change and adversity that impacts our stability.

In our work we often find ourselves dealing with changes in policy or systems or having to deal with challenging clients, but many of us have learned how to cope with that and have developed strategies to adapt successfully over time. We have an element of control in these situations.

The past few years have really provided challenges which were out of our control, and which threatened our stability on a day-to-day basis.

Who were the individuals who were able to cope successfully? In other words, what do we need to be resilient? In the past it was thought that it was all about the individual, who was robust due to the interaction between genetics and a healthy supportive environment which encouraged the individual to develop confidence, build strategies and learn how to accept defeat and bounce back.

Current thought recognizes that there may be so much more to the development of resilience. This involves supportive resources which are available for the individual to access. Michael Ungar (2021) believes that the following are important to the development of resilience:

  1. Structure: we do better when the world around us provides routines and expectations. Structure is even more important during a crisis as it provides a buffer against chaos. It helps us to feel that our lives are predictable even during times of change. This was very important for children during the pandemic as well.
  2. Consequences: Making mistakes is a prerequisite for success. We must be accountable for our actions so that we can learn from them – repair the wrong and integrate what we have learned into future efforts. This was very important during the pandemic. We were constantly making “mistakes” and revising policies and decisions.
  3. Intimate and sustaining relationships: having even one person that loves us unconditionally is an important foundation for resilience, even if that person is no longer with us, we have the memory of having been well loved. We have a sense of self worth.
  4. Lots of other relationships – we all need a clan, a tribe, an extended family, colleagues at work and a community in which we feel we are needed and have something to contribute. This was one of the significant challenges to resilience during the pandemic where we were forced to isolate ourselves from this resource. Loneliness was one of the major challenges to deal with and contributed to a spike in mental health issues during the pandemic.
  5. A powerful identity-how we are seen by others and our sense of self-worth impacts how well we deal with adversity. If we are confident that we can handle challenges, we will.
  6. A sense of control – this was another casualty of the pandemic which really affected our ability to cope. We often felt that we had little personal efficacy during this time. Decisions were made for us, policies developed, mandates created.
  7. A sense of belonging– religious affiliations, culture, and life purpose. When we feel connected to a supportive group or an organization we are more likely to succeed.
  8. Rights and responsibilities. We have rights and respect the rights of others. Again, this was a particular challenge during the pandemic as this was often a blurry area.
  9. Safety and Support – knowing that our homes and communities are safe and have the right supports in place to help us find the resources we need to cope when problems occur. Without this element we are placed into an overwhelming state of constant stress. Again, this was prevalent during the pandemic. Are we safe? What if we need to go to the hospital? Can we get help? Medical attention?
  10. Positive thinking – People who succeed have a positive future orientation. They believe that good things can happen and that they deserve them.
  11. Physical well-being-the better the environment is at keeping us healthy the easier it is to maintain a lifestyle that improves our well being and helps us to succeed. One of the ways that people coped in the pandemic was outdoor activity, exercise, meeting in the sunshine. But again, the worry was there about what would happen if we got ill.
  12. Financial well being – the ability to provide for your needs and those you love is a key to resilience. We all know the suffering that happens when you lose your job and the challenges we face. Again, for many during the pandemic this was a reality. Job losses, layoffs, shift reductions, closures were faced by many families, our own and those we work with.

In the past the expectation was that “rugged” or “robust” individuals who were resilient could create these resources for themselves, however we now believe that this is not the case. Resourced individuals find what they need in their environment. This means that being well resourced with supports expands on the concept of environment in resilience and shows how important it is.

The fact that so many of these components were disrupted during the pandemic and at other times of crisis helps us to understand why we may not be as resilient as we thought we would be.

Not being able to visit family and friends, attend classes, participate in hobbies and recreational activities that support us while dealing with the extra uncertainty of money, health and the future, what will happen? When will it end? This all added so much to our already full plates.

Michael Ungar (2021), Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the Path to Success. Sutherland House.

https://youtu.be/bBe0MRJ-teU  This is a link to a video on Michael Ungar where he talks about rating your resilience.

How can we build resilience?

When looking at these 12 items, there are ways to ensure that we are getting what we need so that we can build our sense of resilience.

Some of us jog (not me but some of us), play music, meditate, take hot baths, visit with friends and family, work to build our sense of inner strength. Some of us find chocolate to be quite medicinal…

But are there actual strategies to be more resilient?

The good news is yes! The following suggestions correspond to the 12 items discussed under resources needed to be resilient.

The American Psychological Association has some recommendations to help us best respond to challenges: (See attached article)

Ask yourself the following questions and look to your answers for solutions:

What kinds of events have been stressful for me?

How have these events typically affected me?

Have I found it helpful to think of important people in my life when I am distressed?

Do I have people to reach out to for support in a stressful or traumatic situation? Who are they?

What have I learned about myself and my interactions with others during difficult times?

Has it been helpful for me to help someone else going through a similar experience?

Have I been able to overcome obstacles in my life and if so, how?

What has helped make me feel more hopeful about the future?

Alyssa Shaffer has come up with some Stress Busting Strategies as she calls them that also help you to bounce back (How to Beat Stress, The Scientific Guide to Feeling Happier, 2022)

Help someone else. Research shows that doing good helps you to feel good.

Take a deep breath. We know that but it bears repeating. Exercise and eating well we all know about too

Write down what you are grateful for. This helps to create that positive outlook

Do something new that challenges you, maybe with a friend.

Tidy up- cleaning up clutter helps you to feel like you have some control over your life

Hold onto an ice cube – the cold sensation helps to disrupt your thought processes and allows you to regain some control over your thoughts.

Take up or continue with a hobby – the feeling of accomplishment and control is important

Break down problem situations into solvable chunks and let go of what you can’t control.

Reach out to friends, family, community agencies and supports if you can’t manage.

If you need help paying for training or workshops, check out the provincial IDP-SCD Bursary in Professional Development! To find Job Postings, go to Lower Mainland Programs.
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