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Staying Mindful and Resilient During Times of Transition

Moira Mulhern, PhD

October 31, 2019

We face many transitions throughout life. Sometimes, when we are confronted by one of these changes, we choose not to follow through and go another way. Other transitions cannot be bypassed.

Cancer is a transition that, once diagnosed, cannot be avoided. After diagnosis, you go into action, receive your treatment and begin the cure. It’s a time filled with uncertainty, fear and hope. You hope you will complete treatment and live the rest of your life as a survivor.

You may experience a roller coaster of emotions. This is where having resilience skills comes in handy. If you have the skills to meet your transitions and move through them, you will come out on the other side stronger, wiser and more resilient. If you are resilient, your life will seem easier and more peaceful.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of whatever comes your way. Resilient people may be strengthened by their experience with stress.

Key characteristics of resiliency

Resilient people share certain traits, including optimism, hope, hardiness and the ability to identify and express their emotions. Decades of research identifies 10 key characteristics of resilience:

  • Ability to self-calm
  • Ability to self-replenish
  • Hope
  • Optimism
  • Hardiness
  • Sense of coherence
  • Exercise and other self-care
  • Non-judgment and self-supporting attitudes
  • Ability to express emotions
  • Social support

The good news is there's considerable research showing that people can learn to be more resilient. The benefits of resiliency training include greater personal balance, enhanced creativity, improved mood, increased effectiveness in the workplace and in personal relationships, and greater physical health.

However, resilience training is like exercising or reducing caloric intake for weight loss. It only works if you incorporate it into your daily life.

Improving your resilience

Resilience is about maintaining inner reserves and focusing on what you need in the moment. Actions you take in response to stressful situations play a central role in determining how well you maintain and replenish reserves.

Some of the best ways to calm and replenish yourself:

  • Try exercise. A 10-15 minute brisk walk can have an effect comparable to a tranquilizer.
  • Employ mindfulness. This is the ability to focus on the moment. Research shows that people who can do this are happier. If you are driving, focus on driving. If you are cooking, focus on the activities of preparing your meal. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breath, a word or phrase.
  • Apply relaxation. There are many techniques to help you relax, and deep relaxation greatly contributes to rebuilding your resources.
  • Use self-talk. Say calming and reassuring things to yourself. This can be considered a form of self-hypnosis, and is more powerful than most people think. Try it and observe the effects.
  • Visualize calming scenes. Imagine yourself in a calming situation, e.g., on a pristine beach listening to the surf, a beautiful mountain trail or next to a rippling stream. Find images that match your experience and interests.
  • Listen to a calming recording, music or voice. Select recordings that calm you and use them when needed to become more serene.
  • Connect with the energy of calming people. People range from those who are calming and comforting to those who aggravate your tension. When stressed, try to be around people who help you rebuild your resources and avoid those who make things worse.
  • Go into predictable calming routines. For example, something habitual that you love to do. One of the best ways to calm yourself and rebuild your resilience resources is to identify actions ahead of time that replenish you and be on the ready to put them to use when they are needed.

Through classes, activities and education, Turning Point, a community resource of The University of Kansas Health System, helps participants increase resilience so they may live life to the fullest, even while experiencing chronic disease.

Learn how to stay flexible and adaptable in stressful situations with these 10 helpful resilience tips from Moira Mulhern, PhD – co-founder and executive director for Turning Point.

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