When I think about the word “resilience,” I am reminded about bamboos. This giant grass bends when faced with strong gusts of wind and they remain rooted even in the strongest of typhoons. These plants spring back, tall and straight as if no storm ever passed at all. Despite how seemingly flimsy they appear, they are certainly tough.
The lesson I learned from this plant is the value of “bending” in times of great troubles in our lives. And now that I am thinking about this resilient plant, what I really find is the strength it has to stand tall time and time again.
RESILIENCE VS. STRENGTH
Resilience and strength are two words that are easily interchanged. Strength is the ability to resist a strong force, with the goal of overpowering it. While resilience is the ability to “spring back” after the force overcame us.1
On the surface, it seems like strength is better than resilience because the latter entails “losing”. But life comes with never-ending battles in various forms and the reality is, we are bound to lose some of those battles because that’s just how life is.
The dilemma with using strength is that even when things come to a standstill and even when the damage is far greater than we can handle, we don’t know when to stop. Do we resent the idea of losing and so we display strength? Is it too shameful to raise the white flag even when the situation is pointless? Too much pride combined with strength can do us harm when we don’t take time to step back and recalibrate.
Resilience, despite the inferred loss, offers a ray of hope, a fresh start, and the opportunity to be better than our former selves. It is driven by persistence, courage, and strength.
COPING FOR HEALTH
Why is resilience so important?
From a biological and medical perspective, having the ability to properly cope with the tides of life can lessen a dramatic decline in one’s health.
When we are unable to cope, we feel more stressed. Cortisol, which is a glucogenic stress hormone, is released during the fight-or-flight response. If we are unable to cope, we are in a constant fight-or-flight state and, although cortisol is a good hormone in times of danger, a constant secretion to our bloodstream can lead to serious health conditions.
Glucogenic hormones–like Cortisol–are hormones that increase blood sugar levels in the body. An excess of it can make a person susceptible to insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Metabolic Syndrome, Cardiovascular Diseases, and many more. Aside from being secreted in stressing times, Cortisol can also suppress the hormones that decrease the sugar, and his fellow glucogenic hormones.5
Aside from this, people who have a low level of resilience are more prone to depression and other mental health diseases.4
Mary Poffenroth, a professor at San Jose University and a researcher of everyday fears, said that “stress” is just fear renamed. And all of our everyday fears can be narrowed down into two types of fears: “Fear of not being enough” and “Fear of not being in control”.2
Safe to say, everyone experiences stress, but, for some reason and frustratingly enough, some people seem to cope better than others. Why is it that some people, despite the stress, are able to become successful, while some crumble?
Is it because the gravity of their stress is less? Are they just the lucky few who were biologically programmed to be more cool, calm, collected? Natural selection?
Of course not.
Successful people learned how to cope by mastering and applying two factors: Psychological and Emotional Resilience
MASTER OF EMOTION
Emotional Resilience is different from being an uber-optimist. It’s not about irrational happiness after a negative event. It’s knowing how to control and positively cope with your emotions and not let them overpower you to the point of a downward spiral.
It’s not, “I’m in a bad situation but I’m going to stay happy to attract good vibes!” It’s more of, “Things aren’t ideal right now, but I’ll make the best out of it until I can find a way.”
It’s not the denial of the existence of the problem. It is awareness and acknowledgment of it and finding solutions. More importantly, emotional resilience makes an individual become conscious of not being controlled by a problem.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of Psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, talks about “emotional granularity”, which is basically learning to name our feelings in a more specific way. Instead of saying, “I feel sad/bad/mad,” emotional granularity suggests you say, “I feel disappointed/heartbroken/resentful.” Instead of classifying complex emotions in a single category, you cut them down into fine granules.3
There is power in naming things. Once we name something, we start to make it our own and slowly take control. When we’re more specific about the problem, we’re more specific with the solution.2
For example: After a long day at work, your significant other tells you, “You look a little stressed” and because of that statement, you start to feel bad, angry, and sad, but you can’t tell that because you’ll seem childish so you end up not talking, making the problem bigger than it actually is. The more productive way of responding to that statement is, “I’m really tired and I feel insecure because of what you said.”
Such a specific statement helps target the problem, leading to better communication and finding a resolution.
Barrett said that it helps to broaden your vocabulary in mastering emotional granularity. The more you know, the more you can describe.3
“By coming up with your own emotion concepts, you’ll be better calibrated to cope with different circumstances and potentially more empathic with others,” Barrett said.
Being emotionally resilient also means you are more likely to exhibit empathy for others even with small, non-verbal clues observed by others.
Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett has mapped facial expressions, scanned brains and analyzed hundreds of physiology studies to understand what emotions really are. She shares the results of her exhaustive research — and explains how we may have more control over our emotions than we think in this 18-minute video.
MIND OVER MATTER
Psychological resilience is the ability to bounce back from negative events by using positive emotions to cope.6 This is why mastering our emotions and practicing emotional granularity is essential in developing this characteristic.
Psychological resilience is a bonus that comes with building our emotional resilience
Going beyond the emotional perspective, psychological resilience also encompasses behaviors, attitudes, and responses to different stressors.
People who are psychologically resilient know how to process a stressor and transform it into productivity. They take in a bad review and see it as constructive criticism. They see the world in all its reality. They don’t live in fantasies, but they’re not pessimists either (It is what it is). They are the ones who walk away from unnecessary stressors (in the form of events or people) and focus on what they have rather than what they don’t. It is founded so much on true maturity.
People who haven’t built their psychological resilience are usually the ones who turn to self-harm for relief such as, heavy drinking, drugs, isolation, stress-eating, etc. Sometimes to the point of addiction.
Furthermore, psychological resilience is not just focused on mere problem-solving, but also on self-care, knowing how to pace and when to stop to take a breather. It is knowing, understanding, and accepting what problems can be solved and which ones are beyond our control.
Bad things happen. We can’t always defeat the dragon and go home in glory. That’s life–a kaleidoscope of emotions and events, both good and bad, mixing together.
Sometimes, we have to bend to life’s gusts of wind even though there seems to be no logic in it, even if it hurts at first. Once the storm passes, we lift our heads and try again, hopefully, wiser this time around.
Whatever people say, always remember: there is bravery in letting yourself be taken by the wind.