Humans are born with resilience. It’s an innate quality we all possess. Like most qualities, resilience needs nurturing. And what better time than now – as we’re navigating the ups and downs of pandemic recovery – to discuss how to replenish your resilience reservoir?

“We have all been through a heck of a 2020 and 2021,” says Cheryl Van Demark PT, C-IAYT, Physical Therapist and Certified Yoga Therapist, Physical Rehabilitation Services at Dignity Health Yavapai Regional Medical Center. “The pandemic has challenged all of us—particularly those on the frontlines of health care, people who have survived COVID-19, and those who have lost loved ones to the virus. But no matter your experience, we’ve all had to figure out what it takes to successfully come through a pandemic. And that, in itself, demonstrates human resilience.”

If you’re feeling “rattled,” as Van Demark calls it, you’re not alone. Anxiety is up among all age groups in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 42% of people surveyed in December 2020 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, an increase of 11% from the previous year.

What is resilience?
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, and significant sources of stress.” Your parents or other influential people in your life may have called it “bouncing back” after a setback.

Van Demark encourages you to create a “triumphant list” of past situations in which you have demonstrated resilience.

“It’s important to remember times that we have triumphed over a challenge, gotten back up after a setback, or even come back after being knocked flat,” she explains.

Qualities that build resilience
Day-to-day life stressors may only dip into your resilience reservoir. But other experiences – major illness, divorce, the death of a loved one, a pandemic and more – will draw heavily on your resilience capacity. There are certain human qualities that experts, like Van Demark, know support us during difficult life experiences. They include:

  • Flexibility
  • Problem solving
  • Perspective
  • Humor
  • Positive attitudes
  • Realistic optimism
  • Recognizing and managing thoughts and emotions
  • Self-acceptance

“We can develop these qualities within ourselves as well as in relationship to others,” Van Demark says. “For example, humor is a good way to develop self-acceptance. Realistic optimism – not pie in the sky optimism – supports positive thinking but with a realistic view of your challenges.”

How can I strengthen my resilience?
Van Demark compares resilience to a muscle that can be strengthened with exercise. Some of those actions include:

  • Facing your fears
  • Aligning your actions to your moral compass
  • Leaning into your personal religious beliefs and/or spirituality
  • Learning from resilient role models
  • Keeping your brain active
  • Being open intellectually and emotionally
  • Finding meaning and purpose in your life
  • Eating well to control inflammation
  • Staying on schedule with annual physicals and preventive medical screenings
  • Learning and practicing stress coping
  • Journaling (writing or drawing are both good)
  • Evoking your relaxation response regularly (sit in a relaxed position, eyes closed, and repeat a word, sound or prayer as you breathe)
  • Embracing ongoing physical fitness

Resilience fortifies the immune system
Scientific studies show that as your stress increases, your immune system function declines. Likewise, physical fitness and other resilience-building actions can improve immunity.

“There’s a lot of common ground between stress-coping strategies and resilience-building strategies,” Van Demark says. “They serve one another.”

Life experiences that deplete resilience
Now that you know strategies that promote resilience, it’s also important to understand life experiences that can deplete our resilience, including:

  • Adverse childhood experiences – Abuse, neglect, and homelessness, for example.
  • Adverse community experiences – These may include, for example, poverty, discrimination, and violence.

Together these form what is called the “Pair of ACEs.” This graphic illustrates the ACES concept.

Tapping your resilience
All of these actions are a good springboard for examining your resilience reservoir and setting goals to build your resilience. Begin your exploration with this “Circle of Resilience” graphic.

“Tapping your resilience means looking inward,” explains Van Demark. “The Circle of Resilience graphic places you at the center and includes questions to ask yourself as you explore your resilience.”

Setting goal is also important. Van Demark recommends SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results oriented, and Time bounded) as well as WISE goals (Willing to execute, Inspirational, Service oriented, and Experiential).

Build resilience with Yavapai Regional
Yavapai Regional’s Physical Rehabilitation Services offers the following resilience-promoting services:

To learn more about these and other Physical Rehabilitation Services visit Yavapai Regional’s website or call (928) 771-5131.