Three Ways to Learn Real Life Resilience

By Kate Kerry Spencer

Resilience is the determined buoyancy that comes from living through and beyond the hard times of life. Older? Maybe. Wiser? Hopefully. Stronger? Frequently.  

We come into the world with a gasp followed by a cry. From that first cry, to our last breath, we feel both the weight of gravity and the lightness of being, the solace of safety and the thrill of chance. If we are lucky, we have those chances. If we are wise and kind, we pass some of those best chances on to others.

Of course, not all hard times are created equal and hardship is often relative. Some people have a meltdown if they break a nail; other people soldier on with a broken foot. The challenge is to not overreact or under react to stress, but to see it as part of the life story of being human.  (And yes, it’s a whole lot easier to be philosophical about stress when it’s not beating down your door.)

Given that we all get our share of hard times, it’s good to have some daily habits that help us find ways to cultivate more resilience. Authentically acknowledging both the upside and downside of life is one of the best ways to ensure that we don’t miss the joy of it when it comes.

1. Stay in the Present

We remember the past and imagine the future, but the present is the only time that is actually ours to live. While future thinking, planning and dreaming is important, during challenging, threatening times we often imagine worst-case scenarios of the future. Some of us think doing this prepares us to better deal with the siege. It doesn’t. It just robs us of the present, while planting seeds of fear and doubt of the future.  

When you find yourself catastrophizing about the future:

  • STOP

  • Close your eyes

  • Put your hand on your heart

  • Take a slow deep breath through your nose

  • Hold that breath for three seconds

  • Slowly exhale through your lips, like you’re giving a cherished child a big kiss

  • Reclaim the present

  • Repeat as many times as you need to

Practice until it becomes second nature to you because, ultimately, peace within ourselves despite our losses or fears, is just a breath away. 

Remember, things look differently when we take the time to feel things differently

2. Let Others In

Given our high capacity to imagine worst case scenarios in life, reality checks are one of the keys to a more peaceful, focused life. Sometimes, however, particularly in times of true crisis, we don’t have the emotional bandwidth to do much reality checking. We are hanging by a shredding thread.

Listen. If you find yourself hanging by a shredding thread, this is not the time you want to isolate yourself and be stoic and saint-like. This is not the time that you say no to help.  Whether it’s a ride to the hospital or a Happy Meal for your kids, take the good that is offered you in your crisis.  Yes, there are people who offer help that secretly (or not so secretly) hope you will say no. Say yes anyway. It’ll do them some good and you some good. In a crisis we need all the good we can get.

This is also the time that you honestly, soulfully and sometimes, brazenly ask for help. If you get it, take it. Take the good that is offered to you in your crisis. And yes, it’s often easier to say no to that offer.

In crisis, you are typically scared, sleep-deprived and running on the adrenaline of a Triple gold-winning Olympic medalist insomniac. Seriously, fighting the good fight for life is one of the most adrenaline saturated experiences of being human. Once that fight is won, or lost, when the adrenaline dries up and the fatigue sets in, you’ll be happy you had those helpers.

3. Help Someone Else

One day you will find yourself with more energy. You will find yourself looking out the window and seeing a new season. The season will come in its own time. Take that new season as a sign that you have safely made your passage into the next part of your life. Whether you are celebrating a victory or mourning a loss, one day you will see the dawn of morning and know that you have turned the corner and walked back into your life.

You will gradually find your strength, your focus and your interests. They may not be the same strengths, the same focus or the same interests that you had before the siege. But if you open your hand to life, life will take you by the hand and open itself to you.

Consider extending your hand to someone who needs the kind of help that was once given to you. Consider what that help meant to you. Then give what you can to whomever needs your help the most. In doing that, you’ll find another, and another, and another hand to hold. And together, you’ll form another perfectly imperfect circle of life.


Kate Kerry Spencer is a Pacific Northwest writer, editor, and publisher. Learn more about her upcoming memoir, Smoke: A Story of Love, Lies and Cigarettes

Smoke is the story of fatal consolations--tobacco, denial and deceit--and the second chances that can come to us in the most unlikely places. For this mother and daughter it was a rehab center where the two women wrestled with cigarettes, scrambled brains and each other--and in the process, found the long way back to love.

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