"Resilience" On Our Minds

A resilient petunia grows from a  crack in the concrete. Photo by Brad Waters

A resilient petunia grows from a  crack in the concrete. Photo by Brad Waters

A Psychology Today article that I wrote two years ago, 10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient Peoplehas reached nearly 100,000 visits. That numbers says to me that “resilience” is on our collective minds and we want to know how we can be better at bouncing back from adversity.

Can you relate to the 10 Traits in this article?

Ten years ago this month, Hara Estroff Marano, Editor-at-Large for Psychology Today, wrote in her article The Art of Resilience:

“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs… It’s possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It’s possible to fortify your psyche. It’s possible to develop a sense of mastery.”

So how do we fortify our psyche to ride the waves of adversity rather than being pulled under by the torrent? How is it that some people handle incredible amounts of stress while others quickly fall apart?

Those who master resilience tend to be skilled in preparing for emotional emergencies and adept at accepting what comes at them with flexibility rather than rigidity–times are tough but I know they will get better. The old metaphor applies: resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane–they bend rather than break. Or, even if they feel like they’re broken for a time, there’s still a part of them deep inside that knows they won’t be broken forever. Here’s how they do it… CLICK HERE to read the 10 Traits at Psychology Today.

(original article updated May 18th, 2015)

Rethinking SAD: Creating A Winter Oasis

photo by Brad Waters

photo by Brad Waters

A departure from my usual career themed blogs, my latest at Psychology Today tells my own story of how I developed a mutual respect for the season of SAD. Does your mood or productivity change during winter months? Learn ideas for creating a winter oasis

“One thing I might find more frustrating than the polar vortex is the annual onslaught of mainstream news articles about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Only because it’s the same advice year after year: exercise, buy a sun lamp, and have your doctor check your Vitamin D level. Okay, did that, still feeling kind of crappy. So now what?

I think what bothers me the most is that the articles often contain cutesy phrases like “knock out depression”, “put the smackdown on SAD”, or “beat the blues.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling lousy I’m not exactly in the mood to jump in the boxing ring to deliver depression a TKO punch. And when we treat our “bad mood” like it’s the enemy, we might just be setting ourselves up for a long and difficult bout in the ring.

I believe our culture tends to make a fundamental error when it conceptualizes negative moods as intruders we must stave off. I believe we can do much better at seeing our whole spectrum of moods as parts of ourselves to be witnessed and experienced. What if we reimagine mood as more like a dance partner than a sparring partner? Allowing all of our moods to show up at the metaphorical dinner table, not as uninvited guests, but as wise elders with lessons to share.

Our moods and emotions are intertwined with the world around us, and the environment within us. I think of them as infinite invisible threads weaving together our behaviors with our memories, associations, connections to our environment, and relationships with one another. Each thread serves a purpose, has a story.

I recall one winter over a decade ago when I was feeling particularly mired in the long gray season. That was the winter I truly learned what it meant to witness and honor all of my moods and the messages of my body, as opposed to hating those parts that felt like suffering. I learned to witness and dance with the discomfort of a depressed mood without judging it so harshly for showing up on the floor.

This was the dance: Over the course of that winter, I worked with a counselor to redefine my rigid beliefs about winter and find a rhythm I could move to—personal ways to give meaning to the season. First, I learned how to witness, honor, and appreciate aspects of winter rather than blanket the entire season with resentment. Then, to notice and appreciate the messages my body was sending, and to give myself permission to accept a slower, gentler pace. Finally, I learned how to incorporate symbolic objects into my home that reference what I love about warmer seasons and long for in the winter. This, a process I now refer to as creating a winter oasis…”

Please click over to my Psychology Today blog to read the 4 steps for creating a winter oasis


Our Relentless Pursuit For The Secrets of Happiness

This May 2013 issue of TIME is all about happiness. It places new research alongside old stereotypes to reveal some game-changing myths and truths about happiness. Here are some highlights:

1. The pursuit of meaningful goals boosts our happiness. (“it’s about the journey, not the destination”)

2. That old saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” is now considered inaccurate. Modern studies indicate money does correlate to happiness, but there are some caveats. For example, “exhibitionist spending” (buying things to impress others) ends in let down.

3. “In a TIME poll, 60% of respondents said they do not feel better about themselves after spending time on social media, and 76% believe other people make themselves look happier, more attractive and more successful than they actually are on their Facebook page.”

4. Research by Stanford neuroscientist Sylvia Morelli: “”Being distracted reduces our empathy for others and blunts responses in the brain,” says Morelli. “So it’s possible that being distracted may also reduce our own happiness.””

Do these highlights tell you anything new or have you discovered them to be true in your life? Would knowing the latest research on how we approach happiness actually change your behaviors and mindset?

A Simple Relaxation Exercise

Photo by Brad Waters

Photo by Brad Waters

Without getting heavy into the why’s and how’s of mindfulness and visualization, I’d simply like to share a brief exercise you might try when you need a time out for relaxation. Whether you have three minutes or thirty, adapt this one to suit your time and space. Read through the exercise at least once and then practice the visualization.

1. Find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes. If you’re able, you might take off your shoes, slip into loose clothing, and stretch a bit to loosen up any tension you might be feeling.

2. Close your eyes and begin to take gradually deeper breaths that allow you to feel relaxation coming into your body. At this point you don’t need to be concerned with how deep, how many, or where the breaths are coming from. Just breathe.

3. Imagine that you’re sitting outdoors in a wide open space, where you’re seeing clouds overhead and hearing a light breeze around you. Sit in this place for as long as you wish, noticing the vast space that is so peaceful and natural. Engage your senses by noticing all that surrounds you. Feeling a lightness in knowing that you’re exactly where you need to be at this moment.

4. When thoughts come into your mind while you’re sitting, allow each thought to float through as though it’s one of the clouds you see in the sky. You don’t have to concern yourself with trying to get rid of your thoughts, or any pressure to attend to their message, just let them come in and out of your mind.

5. Think of your breath as though it’s the wind that’s gently blowing around you. Breathing in deeply, breathing out slowly, as though every breath is the wind that bends a blade of grass or rustles a leaf on a tree. Continue connecting with your surroundings with your gentle breath for as long as you wish.

6. At your own pace, when you feel relaxed and ready, bring yourself back to the space you’re sitting in. Gradually open your eyes to let in the light. Ground yourself in the space by noticing where your feet touch the floor or your back touches the chair. If you’d like, you might gently roll your shoulders, massage your feet, or rub your hands.

7. As you’re awareness shifts to your environment, you might set an intention for the rest of your day. Perhaps you’d like to say a prayer or express thoughts of gratitude. Then stand up gradually – making sure you have your balance – and take your next steps with this refreshed sense of relaxation.