Ride the resiliency slopes

  • Published
  • By Capt. Cary Tolman
  • Air Force District of Washington Judge Advocate
Life has smooth parts, bumps, turns, and sometimes even icy patches. Every person on that hill needs to find a way down, no matter what his or her experience level is in negotiating the terrain. Some people are better equipped to tackle the large bumps while others are content to try to avoid them. Some people are not at all equipped to handle the terrain and prefer to take their skis off and slide down the hill. No matter the ability level, every person on that mountain needs to get down the hill.

Like the ski hill, we all have obstacles in our daily lives. It's part of life. Like the ski slope, those obstacles can range from a difficult boss, an accident on the beltway that makes us late for work, or an argument with our spouse. These are the ordinary day-to-day stressors that we all deal with as part of our everyday lives. At times, those day-to-day stressors give way to more significant, sometimes traumatic events that can have devastating and long-lasting effects on us, such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness or the stresses associated with combat.

The mechanism we use to deal with the more distressing events that life throws at us is called resilience. Resilience is the ability to work within the face of adversity and come out stronger on the other side. It is the ability to bounce back from difficult or traumatic experiences. Resiliency is a skill set developed during the course of life that includes thoughts, behaviors and attitudes employed when dealing with stressful situations.

Not everyone reacts to trauma in the same way. According to the American Psychological Association, the most important factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships both inside and outside the family. Additional factors associated with resilience include the capacity to make realistic plans and carry them out; having a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities; possessing communication and problem-solving skills; and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

In its pamphlet, "The Road to Resilience" (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx), the APA recommends 10 ways that we can build resilience. Here are a few of those skills and how we can relate them to our everyday lives.

1. Accept that change is a part of living. There are events and circumstances in life that are beyond our control, no matter how hard we try to make it otherwise. By accepting that changes in our lives must occur as a result of an event or circumstance outside of our control, it frees us to concentrate on those objectives and goals that are within our control. Additionally, it encourages us to set new goals for ourselves to keep in line with the change.

2. Keep things in perspective. It is important to try to keep stressful or traumatic events from being blown out of proportion, even when we feel that the pain or stress is never going to end. By employing a long-term view to situations and putting them into the context of a bigger picture, it can provide a greater perspective on the situation. As the old sayings go, "time heals all wounds" and "this too shall pass."

3. Maintain a hopeful outlook. By being optimistic about your future, you become empowered to believe that the best is yet to come. One way to achieve this is to try and visualize what you want your future to look like and then set reasonable, attainable goals toward that future. Even when it's hard to visualize an end to the pain of the event, maintaining a positive, healthy outlook is a small step toward helping to ease the burden.

4. Take care of yourself. Participate in activities that you enjoy doing, whether it's going to the gym, taking a walk in the woods or getting a massage. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is another way to help keep your mind and body healthy so that you are prepared to cope when adversity strikes. Exercising is a great way to ease stress, as is taking a walk through nature or doing something nice to treat yourself. Good physical health lends itself to good mental and overall health.

5. Resilience also requires flexibility and balance in life as you deal with the emotional rollercoaster that comes along with stressful and traumatic events. There are many resources available to help us fill our boxes with tools to ease the pain of traumatic situations. These resources include the chaplain, support groups, books, on-line resources and mental health providers. There are even resiliency applications for smart phones available both for purchase and for free. Each of these resources offers varying degrees of support along with varying degrees of professional expertise and help in building our resiliency tools.

Whether you face the slopes of life head on or you slide down the hill, the point is to reach the bottom of the hill. With the right resources and approach, even the sliders can someday become the triple black diamond skiers, bumps and all.