| Lesli Butler |
Our brains are neuroplastic, which means through awareness of thought, we can change the way we view ourselves and view the world. Not just now, but over the course of a lifetime, our brains are able to change and evolve. By evolution, our brains are neuroplastic so we can bounce back from traumatic experiences. So, by nature, we are resilient beings.
Dr. Darlene Mininni PhD, health psychologist and author of The Emotional Toolkit, teaches 5 resilience strategies that are preventative and prescriptive. After becoming familiar with her strategies, I realized I had learned and used most of them in one of my most challenging, yet transformative chapters of life.
The first tool, effective forecasting, Dr. Mininni describes as the ability to envision how we will feel in the future. She related it to a familiar Bible scripture-- ‘this too shall pass’ or the Buddhist idea of impermanence. Both are a reminder that even though the present may suck really hard, it won't last forever.
Sometimes though, it seems impossible to envision a future where we feel better. Personally, I've experienced times in my life where I really couldn't envision feeling better in the future. At the age of 22, I found myself dependent on alcohol, depressed, and failing out of university. I had disconnected from friends and family. Completely isolated and struggling with mental illness, my future did not look positive. I struggled with thoughts like "Do I want to exist anymore?"
Humans are bio-psycho-social beings. All three areas are integrated and affect one another. In my darkest hours, I was mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially deprived. To be resilient, we need to address all parts of ourselves.
The turning point for me was when I reached out for help and checked myself into a rehabilitation center for addiction and depression. Before arriving at the treatment center, I imagined connecting with other people there that had gone through similar experiences to mine. I had not even met these people yet, but the idea of possibly connecting with them gave me the ability to envision feeling better in the future. The sense of connection created a vital hope in me.
Connection is the second tool of resiliency; any form of human-to-human connecting creates longevity in life. Connecting to other people triggers our parasympathetic nervous system which calms and relaxes us.
In treatment, I did connect to other people and I also started connecting to myself through writing-- the third resiliency tool. Many studies have shown that expressive writing leads to a higher functioning immune system. Writing out your deepest feelings and thoughts empowers your body physically! Explore your writing and reflect on what you can do to empower yourself.
The fourth tool, and one of the most valuable I learned in treatment, was from a tai chi teacher. Before treatment I used alcohol to blur out my thoughts and emotions; in essence, I was trying to escape my present condition. The tai chi I did in treatment gave me a way to be present with myself gently instead of destroying myself.
I asked the teacher what else I could do to maintain this kind of peace. He instructed me to count my breaths until I reached 10 and if I lose track, just start over. At the time, I had no idea that what he was teaching me was mindfulness meditation.
Eight years later, I can still remember counting my breaths while laying in bed at the rehabilitation center. It was a powerful experience because it stopped the story of worry and self-blame I had going on in my mind, and created space for the present to unfold. Research shows, to be present for as little as 10 minutes a day the brain will change in just 10 days.
When I left treatment and continued to recover from alcohol dependency and depression, I learned from others who had walked through suffering and trauma of all sorts that gratitude is one of the most nourishing tools for a resilient being. Our lives are made up of small moments. Research has shown, to be grateful in those small moments creates well being even in the the lives of those who have life-threatening, chronic illness.
I’m grateful for the sounds of cicadas on mid-August nights in Indiana. The vitality I have in life now from using these tools of resilience has actually changed me;, I feel more confident in my ability to bounce back, and I can envision a future where I feel amazing. Then, when I start to struggle again because, inevitably, I will; my first thought will be towards resiliency.
Lesli Butler is a certified yoga teacher and full time student at IUPUI studying Neuroscience. She enjoys reading, cooking, cycling, and travel. Her best moments in Indy are spent belly laughing with friends and eating shared food.