Lions and Nomads: How to Cultivate Resilience in Trying Times [2021]

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So let’s all admit it; things have been tough. Really tough. Between major competing crises (racial justice, economic destruction, political unrest), we have all had to muster up more resilience inside of us than we may have thought was possible. Daily, the New York Times reminds me of the crises that continue to rage on. And don’t even get me started with the “T” word that rhymes with “dump.”

Resilience in My Family

Someone I’ve been thinking of lately is my grandmother. She had to flee from World War II. She described this feeling (using my own words) of jumping in fight-or-flight, because that was her only choice. She had to immediately switch into survival mode, not getting stuck in the sadness and loss of her home and past, but focusing on the movement of the present. 

When I tell her about my own struggles, she tells me to “wrap teflon around yourself and you’ll be able to stand anything,” which I translate as a protective force around me to make it through psychic adversity. I picture her mom hiding precious heirlooms inside the lining of her coat, running from the place she called home. We can all wrap psychic teflon around ourselves, and now, more than ever, we must.

This feeling, this fight-flight-or-freeze, is what our bodies and our emotional selves are currently experiencing and have been experiencing through many intense situations in our lives. And unfortunately we have been under consistent undulations of this mode for (conservatively) almost a year. 

Our cognitive processing/prefrontal cortex (aka rational brain) knows that this isn’t WWII, and that we aren’t running with heirlooms stitched into our coats. However, our body doesn’t know that, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s normal.

Evolution and Stress

It’s easy to forget how fast the modern world has exponentially evolved while our carbon bodies do their best to catch up. Sometimes it feels like running barefoot after a shooting star. 

Picture our nomadic ancestors: they had to put up with a lot, and because of their resiliency we are all here today. Before the advent of major technology we see today, they had to rough it out, day after day. They were bad-asses, and guess what, we are too

The things they had to put up with were distant from what first world countries now have to deal with: quite literally, a constant stream of life or death situations. So picture this, running away from the lion is still running from the metaphorical lion, except the metaphorical lion is all of our stress, fears, terror, and an invisible virus that epically put all of humanity to a standstill. And our bodies equate one with the other, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s normal. 

Watch this awesome video about the stress cycle from Dr. Emily Nagoski on how to process the fight-flight-or-freeze response, as well as how it relates to being female in this world, which she details in her new book Burnout: The Secret To Solving the Stress Cycle.

Emotional Whiplash Related to Competing Crises

In relation to the stress response cycle, please consider that as certain stressors start to dissipate (such as again believing in the functioning capability of government) you may experience what I term emotional whiplash. By emotional whiplash, I mean that sometimes when we are floating in a pot of water, if it heats up slowly we might not notice when it’s boiling. But when we take it off the stove and it begins to cool, we may feel like we’re flipping out, not realizing quite how bad it was as it roared toward boiling. 

How to Fight Emotional Whiplash

If you feel reverberations of emotional whiplash in the coming days, weeks, or months, please consider the following: 

  • Be patient with yourself. It’s normal to feel stressed (including fatigue, physical illness, sadness, apathy) when things begin to return to “normal.” You’re emerging from a persistent state of stress.
  • Actively and consciously take care of yourself. How can you make your body feel safe, comfortable, and calm? Be creative.
  • Reframe negative thoughts to be more positive. For example, consider the strength and resiliency you have developed over the past year. That strength won’t disappear–you can utilize the resilience you gained for the rest of your life, including this moment.
  • Connect with others to share processing what happened for the past year. Focus on being true to yourself when you talk with others about your experience. Practice being a good listener by hearing others out.
  • Recognize that you may feel like you could have handled things better. Remind yourself that you (and the whole country) were being pummeled with stress. You were doing the best you could with the tools you had.
  • Utilize mindfulness and meditation to help calm your mind from buzzing in anxiety and rumination. Consider the app Insight Timer as one option to access meditation at your fingertips. 
  • Finally, remember that you’re human! Embrace the imperfections of life, and focus your energy on healing and connection.

Dr. Nagoski was also interviewed by Dr. Brené Brown on Brown’s Podcast Unlocking Us. Click here to listen.

Conclusion

Something it brings me solace is thinking of the pure power and resiliency of the human body. And let me be clear, the collective trauma and threat of the virus is absolutely, 100% real. In addition, I think that coming back to our instinctive, homosapien sense of resiliency can help us through troubled times. 

There are lots of therapy tips and tricks to do this (see other and future blog posts), but for now I ask you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and channel the resiliency that we all have within us.

Tell yourself: I am a nomad who can survive everything that comes my way, including terrifying threats. This pain, this terror, this stress will eventually end. And although I don’t know when it will end (let go of expectations, that will make you feel worse), I do know, it will end.

Final note: if you’re feeling overwhelmed during this time and you recognize that it’s affecting you, don’t hesitate to reach out. Perhaps stress, anxiety, or sadness are affecting your work, relationships, or sense of self. Therapists can help you process stressors in your life, gain insight, and build skills to live a better life.

 

What would you like to hear about from our therapists? What are you looking for guidance with? At Best Therapies, we are committed to trying to help as many people as we can, because folks need it, right now. Write to us, and we will use your thoughts for future blog posts. Be well.

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