I Am Resilient: 7 Steps for Adapting to Stress

One of my favorite songs at the moment is “I Am Resilient” by Rising Appalachia. I love the appeal to open our hearts and minds to the present and be willing to show up for ourselves in the middle of chaos. Even when we feel like we are too small to make a difference, if all of us come together, we become stronger and capable of understanding each other better and even doing good work.

When things get tough, it can feel tempting to go under the covers and binge-watch your latest favorite show. That’s what I did last Thursday. And, having moments of retreat can be very important in the process of accepting and understanding difficult circumstances. However, this is not a place where we can stay for very long without becoming a part of the problem.

Getting out of bed and getting your body, mind, and heart into the game of life is a requirement for cultivating resilience. Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. So how do we “adapt”?

While we will all experience great stressors in our lives and feel the impact of that in our bodies and emotions, the skill of mindfulness has been shown to help people recover from physical and psychological stress more quickly than people who don’t practice mindfulness. Where’s what mindfulness has helped me do in the face of adversity.

1. Pause. The sacred pause is so important in the process of facing the challenges of our life. The pause can be those moments to breathe and become still. It can also be time under the bed covers if that is what seems to be the only thing you can do for a while. I get it!

2. Name the feelings. This is an initial step in stress recovery. Learn to name the feelings that you are having. Recently I had a host of them I needed to name. Anger is one of my first feelings under stress. This is the common response of my personality type (Wood Element) in Chinese Medicine. I know its best to name this feeling and let it cool down before doing or saying anything. Then I felt sad, mad, kind, perplexed, surprised, exasperated, disappointed, heartbroken, and remorseful. Yes, it was a doozy of a week. (For a list of feelings, go to the non-violent communication website.)

3. Identify your needs. Nonviolent communication teaches us that after identifying what you’re feeling, it’s important to state your needs. Your feelings arise from underlying needs which have or have not been satisfied. Stating your needs without making someone else responsible for them is an important step in your resilience. I had a need for respect, communication, cooperation, community, integrity, participation, and mourning. (For a list of needs, go to the non-violent communication website.)

4 Ask for what you want. Do you know what you want? Or do you just know what you don’t want? Try to get clear in your own heart and mind about your needs and what strategies might help you meet them. You are unlikely to get what you want unless you ask.

5. Be willing to compromise. What you want might not be completely possible. Be willing to let your conversations be two-sided. After you’ve asked for what you want, be willing to hear other viewpoints and ideas about what strategy might meet your needs besides the one thing you’ve decided needs to happen. Be open to the universe to give you many more solutions and opportunities.

6. Be willing to be vulnerable. It takes guts to say what is on your heart, but it is the only way that you can truly stand in your power. I studied the Course in Miracles for many years and my favorite lesson was “In my defenselessness my safety lies.” Being vulnerable means putting down your defenses and opening to the heart of yourself and others. You are only not safe when you are in defensive mode.

7. View others with compassion.  Even after working on all the steps above, there will be times when it is difficult to have a conversation with someone. Particularly in these times, your work is to see the other person with compassion. They must be going through a lot themselves. Can you bring compassion to them and realize we are all trying to do the best we know how? Sometimes our best doesn’t look very good. This is true for everyone.

When you practice these steps, you may or may not get exactly what you want or agree on everything all the time, but you will feel freedom and spaciousness. Freedom comes when we speak directly from our hearts and are willing to step into our power with courage and kindness. Resilience is the result.