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Five (More) Strategies to Building Emotional Resilience

In my most recent blog, I presented five research-based strategies that can help us to develop and strengthen our emotional resilience – our ability to ‘bounce back’ from stressors. In this post, we explore an additional five research-based strategies that can help us increase our emotional resilience:

Have Social Support:

All of us need to feel that we are not alone. Social connectedness to others releases oxytocin which calms the mind and reduces stress. Reaching out to others is not a sign of weakness, but instead an acknowledgement of knowing your own limitations and that you value human connection. In times of difficulty, reach out to others and ask for help. Reaching out to others and asking for their help is often a gift you give to them. Think back to how you may have felt when you helped a friend. We feel useful, and resilience builds for both the giver and receiver.

Be a Lifelong Learner:

Learning is not just for the young, it is also for the “young at heart.” By constantly growing your mind and adapting to new information about the world, you remain mentally sharp. Ask yourself, “Am I stuck in my ways?” Be open to new ideas, meeting new people, exploring new interests, learning new skills. Learning does not have to always be a major accomplishment, such as learning a foreign language, but can be as simple as trying a new recipe.

Change the Narrative:

When something bad happens to us, it is common for people to ruminate about the experience, the decision, replaying it over and over again in our mind and re-experiencing the pain.

Instead of replaying a choice or event, explore new insights that resulted from the challenge, rather than simply ruminate. One way to ‘change the narrative’ can be expressive writing. For several days, write freely for 20 minutes about one situation that is bothering you – no agenda, no questions to answers – simply write about the thoughts and feelings you have about the situation. When we focus and give our thoughts structure and attention, we can gain new perspectives. We process the event which can help give us a sense of control.

Focus on Self-Care:

We will have a hard time being emotionally resilient if we are physically exhausted or poorly nourished. Take care of yourself – schedule an annual check-up, eat (mostly) healthy foods, get moving with exercise, limit caffeine, and spend some time resting or relaxing. Turn to online options such as Youtube, to find short, guided relaxation videos; a 10-20 minute relaxation video can be like mini-vacation.

Control your Destiny:

While we cannot control what happens in the world or what other people do, we have control over how we respond and think about a situation. It is not the situation that causes the stress or anxiety, rather, our reaction to the situation.

Have you ever noticed people in their cars stuck in traffic? You can have one person calmly listening to the music on the radio, waiting patiently, while another driver is fuming, pounding the steering wheel beeping his horn. Same situation, two totally different reactions.

One way we can help ourselves is to say “I have a choice how I’ll respond” every time we face a challenge or difficulty.

When you feel overwhelmed by stress, try one of these strategies, or one of those previously discussed. Each small step you take can help to build your emotional resilience.

For those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the last of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. View the previous entry here. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

Five Strategies to Building Emotional Resilience

In last week’s blog post, I discussed emotional resilience as our ability to bounce back and adapt to life’s stressors. In this post, I will explore five research-based strategies that can help to develop and improve emotional resilience.

Be an Optimist

This does not mean the “rose colored glasses,” but a realistic optimist. Someone who looks at any negative experiences around them and sees what is relevant to the problems they are facing. The realistic optimist disengages from the problems outside of their control and turns attention to problems they believe they can address. Acknowledge the problem, but then see what, if anything, about the problem directly impacts you and that you can work on. Be realistic about the world, and confident in your abilities that you can make positive changes to problems within your control.

Find a sense of purpose and meaning in your life:

Resilient people have a mission and purpose in life that gives meaning to the things that they do. When tough times roll in, they feel a greater purpose is behind them, propelling them forward. That purpose can be that “I go to work to provide for my family” or “my role is to care for my loved one.”

We can also start to develop our purpose in a small way. Over the next week, identify your focus. Take the time to acknowledge how you want to spend your time and energy. It could be as simple as “I’m going to call my friend because he’s been feeling down” or “I’m going to donate to a charity I believe in.”

When we have a purpose it nourishes us.

Face your fears:

When we avoid something we are afraid of, the fear inside us grows. When you face your fears, the intensity of the fear lessens. We cannot just talk ourselves out of the fear, but we have to address the fear one step at a time.

As an example, if we have a fear of speaking in public it can be helpful to begin addressing this fear by starting a conversation with a neighbor, then working up to giving a toast at a dinner party, each time taking a bigger step towards your goal. During this ‘exposure therapy’ we start to change the negative associations we have to situations or objects, being able to believe “that wasn’t so bad. I can do that.”

Be adaptable and flexible:

Resilience is figuring out a new way to behave when your old ways of behaving are not working or are not accessible any more. We have the power within us to make new choices, to try new ways of reacting. Resilient people use a number of ways to deal with stressful situations. They are not stuck on using one way of coping. Instead they shift from one coping strategy to another as needed. Imagine having a variety of tools in your toolbox to fix a problem.

Practice spirituality:

In general, we might say that spirituality includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, involving a search for meaning in life or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness. Some people experience their spiritual life through a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue affiliation. Organized religion can provide structure, community, and meaning or identity. However, there are many ways that we can practice spirituality. Maybe through prayer or personal conversations with a higher power. Nature or art also provide for an expression of our spirituality.

Next week, I will share five more research-based strategies that you can use to help develop and improve your emotional resilience. However, for those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the second of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. See the next entry here. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

Stress & Anxiety: Understanding Your Reaction to and Recovery from Stressors

Are you an Oak or a Willow?
We think of the oak tree as a symbol of strength and resilience, the tall and mighty oak! But consider what happens to many an oak tree when fierce storms come through. They topple, their branches get broken, they get uprooted.

But what about the willow tree? Their branches will never easily break no matter how strong the winds are; this tree is a survivor. Adaptable. Flexible.

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” ― Robert Jordan

When stressors, the ‘storms’ of life, come blowing in, how do you react? Which ‘tree’ are you? And more importantly, how can we develop more of the willow’s ‘flexibility’? Stress is defined as the body’s reaction – and that can be physical, mental, or emotional reaction – to any change that requires an adjustment or response. So something happens in our environment which causes us to react., for example, we lose our job, we feel uncomfortable wearing a mask to go out, we’re dealing with a financial problem. Sometimes it is easy to ‘roll with the punches’ and deal with the stressors; and, then other times, not so much.

Our ability to adapt to, respond to, and recover from stressful events in our life is our emotional resilience. The word resilience comes from the Latin word for ‘resilio’ which means ‘to bounce back or rebound’. We are being emotionally resilient when we exhibit traits like resourcefulness, flexibility, or perseverance. We have little control over many of the unexpected life events that come our way, a sudden illness, death of a loved one, a car accident, a business failure; however we can develop skills, the emotional resilience, to weather the storms.

Ways to Build Emotional Resilience:
1. Be an optimist
2. Find a sense of purpose and meaning in your life
3. Face your fears
4. Be adaptable and flexible
5. Practice spirituality
6. Have social support
7. Be a lifelong learner
8. Change the narrative
9. Focus on self-care
10.Control your destiny

Over two additional blog postings, I will further discuss these ten research-based strategies that can help us to develop and improve our emotional resilience. For those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the first of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC