As we have all felt to some extent last/this year, loss hurts. It sucks to feel out of control, to feel like everything is going wrong, and like we just can't catch a break. In some ways, I have felt that way for quite a few years now as my health issues have been a fairly consistent source of unpredictability. I'm sure many of you have similar sentiments you can relate to of loss and hardship.
Something I have learned about is that feeling of loss is that, despite the pain, it can provide value to my life. If this still seems too ethereal, another word for loss may be stress. Stress can be good (eustress) or bad (distress), and is really more of how we perceive it that makes the difference. Despite the old model in psychology that says stress and the brain are hardset and unchangeable, new psychology relating to neuroplasticity says that the brain is constantly adapting and able to be changed and rebuilt depending on what the individual chooses. Thus, stress, if we choose to lean into and accept it, can build what many call emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is the ability to accept that “our perception of stress is more important than stress itself” (McGonigal). Indeed, “it is the meaning we attach to our experiences that makes them stressful or stress-free” (Lipski). This is crucially important as we must grow in our awareness that stress is not a fixed entity that is out of our control. It's something that we can utilize to grow us. Every person can grow in resilience by repeating the following cycle on a regular basis. The Emotional Resilience cycle can be used on a regular basis for both small and large life changes. Each step is crucial in fostering a healthy perspective in the midst of suffering and hardship.
Acceptance. Face reality, realize your limitation, and relinquish control of the unknown/unchangeable. Then, you’ll be able to move forward with changing what you can control. Grieve Loss. Loss comes in varied forms: crushed dreams, the end of a relationship, loss of physical health, and more. By taking time to grieve what has been lost, you will lessen and prevent fatigue, sleeplessness, digestive issues, and broken heart syndrome. Seek out the good. “Flip negative images and turn criticism into a positive thought or plan of action.” This will help release anxiety and depressive thoughts by redirecting the mind to see the situation from a different perspective. Choose gratefulness. Gratitude has been linked to improved health outcomes and can reduce stress (Mullin & Swift). When we choose thankfulness and positivity over negativity, these thoughts physiologically change your brain’s hardwiring, which is also known as neuroplasticity (Bauman, 2019). Choose to believe that there is always something to be grateful for, such as the breaths you take, the small flower you find growing outside, or the smile of a stranger. Your mind and body will thank you.
If you would like to receive a free PDF on how to cope with stress and how to build emotional resilience, please contact me and I will be happy to send you them to you.
Bauman College. (2019). 106.2 Mental health [PDF]. Lipski, Liz. (2020). Digestive Wellness. (5th Ed., pp. 217). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. McGonigal. K. (2013). How to Make Stress Your Friend. TEDGlobal 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en Mullin, G. and Swift K. (2011). The Inside Tract. New York: Rodale Books.