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Building Resilience

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I spent the last week on vacation with my family and had time to soak in some sun, relax a bit, and watch my kids with new eyes. Somehow while I was busy working, shuttling people about, and doing the daily errands of life, they managed to become these resilient people, determined to always move forward and challenge themselves. It made me proud, as a mom, but also curious about where that childhood sense of competition and grit disappears once we become older and set in our ways.

Our first vacation stop was an indoor skydiving facility in North Carolina. My husband and I had been preparing the girls for this adventure for a couple of weeks - promising them that they were going to fly! They were so excited. Once we were actually suited up and in the wind chamber, the magic of possibility vanished and the reality of their fears snuck in. Both kids were pretty terrified in the chamber and finished their turns in tears. I started feeling guilty that maybe I had expected too much of my children, and put them in a scary position. However, once all the turns were over, both of my children did the unthinkable. They volunteered to go again! With smiles! The instructor told me that in his experience, children either loved the experience or sobbed, but he had yet to see a child sob and then ask for more!

Anyone can be brave

when the risk is unknown,

but to understand fear

and then step back into it

takes true courage.

As adults, it's harder to come back from embarrassment, fear, or failure with an open heart. We often hold on to these experiences as wounds. We feel damaged by them. If we try again it's with trepidation or lowered expectations. Once we've had our heart broken, we're less likely to jump into love with abandon. Once we've failed professionally, we're less likely to take high risks in our next endeavor. This cautious approach to life may seem safer, but it also holds us back from achieving our best. So how do we, as adults, build resilience muscles to ensure we keep moving forward? How do we jump back in with a smile?

The best we can do is set ourselves up with the tools necessary for resilience to thrive.

  1. Be vulnerable! My children didn't hide their fear - they broke down and showed me everything they were feeling. By doing this, they were able to name the feelings they were having and take away their power. Professor Brene Brown tells us that only by "daring greatly" can we move forward in overcoming fear. Through her groundbreaking research, she links courage to vulnerability. One can not find courage without first daring to be vulnerable.

  2. Surround yourself with love! The more love you feel, the more willing you are to take risks and face fears. In fact, oxytocin, the chemical produced when people share physical love like hugging, cuddling, or sex is known to reduce fear and anxiety! Having a partner, a close family, or a community that supports you and fills your love tank can actually increase your willingness to take leaps and be courageous.

  3. Have a positive self image! The more confidence you have in yourself, the more likely you are to trust your instincts and get back on the horse after suffering a fall. Take time to journal about your accomplishments and strengths. Be curious about yourself - where do you naturally excel? What gifts do you bring into the world? Find a way to celebrate the things that make you unique, and you will find yourself trusting more in your decisions and actions.

  4. Keep perspective! When my clients come to me frozen with anxiety I ask, "What's the worst case scenario here?" Once they've identified it, we talk it through and usually are able to break it down into manageable pieces. We humans are able to create mountains out of molehills very quickly, and those mountains can become huge obstacles in our journeys. Taking the time to step back, examine the big picture, and break it into smaller, achievable tasks can be a great technique for managing anxiety and building up resilience.

Strengthen your resilience muscles regularly. Find a small way to be vulnerable daily. Hug someone you love on a regular basis. Celebrate your strengths whenever you can, and keep a reality check on those fears. The next time you find yourself coming up from failure, heartbreak, fear, anxiety... maybe you'll be that brave soul who volunteers to try again. With a smile.

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