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House call: Adult resilience

In my last column, I wrapped things up with advising the importance of modeling resilience for your children or other youngsters you may be around often. That can seem like a big responsibility, especially if you don’t feel like you have learned to be resilient yourself. In light of that, I’d like to talk about how to develop and improve resilience as an adult.

I think the best place to start is to be clear about what resilience is. It is the ability to adapt in a healthy way to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. That does not mean you never get sad or feel emotional pain, but it does mean that you can cope with these feelings, understand they won’t last forever and continue with life in a fulfilling way.

An important thing to keep in mind as you read this article and work on your resilience is that it is a very individual thing. Each person’s strategy is going to be different and maybe you will even need a combination of strategies. If something does not seem to be helping, move on and try something else.

I’ve mentioned this before: a healthy diet, regular exercise, getting enough sleep and avoiding excessive alcohol (and other drugs) are important for maintaining good physical and mental health and are the solid foundation on which to build your resiliency skills. When you are stressed take a walk or a run or a bike ride. Don’t just sit there watching TV or obsessing on social media. You will feel better.

The thing that most resilient people have in common is a network of family and friends that they have good relationships with. Find ways to build and strengthen your network in the good times. For our entire adult lives, my wife and I have been part of small groups that meet regularly for Bible study, , and to hang out, share needs and struggles and pray for one another. You don’t have to be in a Bible study, but having some way to get together with others regularly and know and be known by others is a good way to develop the networks of friends that I am talking about. A book group or some other interest-based group is a good way to go if you need to develop those relationships.

Be mindful of how you perceive yourself. Learn to recognize negative self-talk and stop it. Negative self-talk is when you put yourself down verbally or mentally. Consider asking your friends for help with this goal. I have a friend who says the following to her friends who are prone to negative self-talking out loud: “I don’t like it when you talk about my friend like that.”

Learn to recognize when something can’t be changed so that you can focus your energy elsewhere. Also learn the flip side of this, which is that sometimes things change and you cannot stop it from happening. Find healthy ways to be at peace with things that are out of your control.

Reflect on difficulties you have faced in the past to see if you did more than just survived and learned something in the process. You may surprise yourself and discover you came out of that time in your life with more patience or a greater appreciation for life. What were the things that helped and how could you use those same things to help in your current challenge?

For more information on resilience and mental health, join me at the free community event, Making Mental Health Essential Health, featuring former U.S. congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, at the Spokane Convention Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., at 6 p.m. Jan. 31.

Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.


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