As I mentioned last time I wrote, I have been thinking about resilience recently and wondering what it is that enables some of us to be more resilient than others, what it is that makes our resilience vary from week to week or maybe even day to day. If you are caring for someone, being resilient is really important if you are to remain healthy yourself.
I have discovered a way of thinking about resilience which I find quite helpful. If we think about it as something we do rather than something we have, it opens up some options for us. When we think of resilience as something we have then it is static, but we know that how we cope can vary week to week, even day to day and sometimes within a day. So, if we think of resilience as something we do then we can choose to do it or not to do it. It might be a difficult choice but it is still a choice. Some time ago I wrote about making choices and there were some interesting comments about realising that there is always a choice.
There is another complication though. I have met and worked with many carers who appear to have tremendous resilience in that they can keep coping with what I might think of unsustainable situations. They have become so used to coping and being under pressure, that they have become acclimatised. It is sometimes only once they start speaking about it that they realise that they don’t want or need to experience the pain or distress or the negative consequences they describe.
It’s a bit like comparing running a marathon with running for the bus. Running for the bus, we can sprint for a short while, but we would struggle to keep that pace up running a marathon. We would need breaks and time to recharge our batteries. And we would be exhausted and suffer afterwards. What sometimes blinds us to the price we are paying in terms of our wellbeing, is the extent to which we believe we have to run that marathon! Or have to care in a particular way.
And there is another difficulty, we slip into patterns of thinking and ways of speaking to ourselves, perhaps even bullying ourselves. One of those patterns might be to do with our expectations of ourselves about how we should care for the person we are looking after. The more pressure we are under and the more distressed we are, the more difficult it is to think differently and speak differently to ourselves. In other words, to think more flexibly.
So, if we DID resilience what would that look like? Well, there is the long term and how we equip ourselves generally. And there is the short or immediate term, when we are in that moment of feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, when thinking flexibly can completely desert us.
Equipping ourselves generally is making ourselves a priority. Things like getting enough sleep, eating well, meeting friends, having some fun and taking some exercise.
In the moment is a bit more difficult, but pausing and breathing deeply for a moment allows another part of our nervous system to calm us down. Feeling slightly calmer may make it possible for us to get back into what we might call our resilience zone where we can think more flexibly and make some choices. Instead of thinking “I can’t do that” shift to thinking “I can’t do that yet”. Instead of thinking its your fault and that you are not a good enough carer, being a little more compassionate towards yourself, the way you probably would be to someone else. Instead of your emotions leaking out as you speak, you might speak a bit more calmly which in turn brings about a different response and winds things down rather than winding them up.
Try doing some resilience and let me know how it goes.