Resilience

The following is an excerpt from Joan Borysenko's book, It’s not the End of the World: Developing Resilience in Times of Change.

"Let’s take a closer look at how stress and resilience work. Think of a rubber band. When it’s stretched, there’s stress on the rubber. But when you release the stress, it snaps back into shape. That’s the most basic kind of resilience. But if the rubber band is stretched for a long time, it begins to fatigue and is more likely to give out.

The same is true for the human body and mind. We give out when we’re stressed for a long time. Studies estimate that 75-90% of visits to the family doctor are for conditions caused or made worse by stress. These include headaches, digestive disturbances, infertility, memory loss, heart problems, allergies, high blood pressure, immune disorders, blood sugar control for diabetics, back pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and many other illnesses.

When an emergency calls for sudden stretching, most healthy people can rise to the challenge. Imagine that you’ve just tripped over the cord to your computer and it goes flying off the table. Without having to think about it, your body releases adrenalin and you have the sudden agility of an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. With a little luck, you can even catch that laptop! Your sudden athletic prowess is due to an automatic overdrive system called the fight-or-flight response that kicks in for survival purposes. When the emergency is over, your “rubber band” relaxes and you return to a resting state of balance and ease.

But what if the stressor doesn’t go away?

After all, life is much more complex than flying laptops with short trajectories. The fight-or-flight system evolved before chronic stresses like those of a company seeking a bailout in a struggling economy, families juggling mounting credit card debt, or losing your pension just as you’re ready to retire. If you can’t release tension, then stress becomes chronic and you become more prone to illness, depression, anger, and anxiety. And instead of enjoying life as the creative adventure that resilient people perceive it to be, you get sidelined and stuck."

Imagine, under chronic stress, your rubber band no longer snaps back during the formative years of life? Or the rubber band simply breaks.

Mentoring children and adolescents to release tension and develop resilience, through connection and with compassion, is key to their mental health and our collective enjoyment of the creative adventure of life.

Melissa Shadforth