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Resilience takes work.
So much is said and written about resilience within the scientific and popular literature today that it can become confusing, even to the point of disagreement about how to define it. Are there genetic components that probably give some folks an edge simply by their birthright? (probably yes). Are there childhood experiences that can make it more difficult for us to be resilient adults (probably yes). Are there psychological profiles and biomarker clusters that correlate with how resilient or not an individual seems? (probably yes). Are there anatomical brain differences in the primary stress circuits of the brain (amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex) that may effect resilience? (again, probably yes).
All of the research that is now being done in these areas, including here at Headington, is rather exciting. In time we will know much more and with more certainty how all of this ties together. But we don't need to wait until a gold standard is reached before we can personally address the issue of resilience. There are already enough hints that indicate you can do something to improve your resilience, regardless of the hand you were dealt in life. The emphasis here is on 'do'. Resilience is not a passive sport. The more passive you are the more stuck you are with the that original hand you were dealt.
The more active and disciplined you are in following the hints and leads that are available, the more you can move beyond that hand to being more resilient. You are not going to get there by simply reading this blog post and thinking about it.
So based on the hints we have, what can you do now? In this and subsequent blog posts I'll go over some of the key suggestions based on the convergence of various fields of research.
Action item #1: Improve the quality of your social connections and support. Bruce McEwen, one of the most renown neuroscience researchers of our time, writes about the importance of what he calls 'social integration'. This is defined as "an individual's effortful engagement in social engagements and relationships, cognitive construal of her or his communality, and identification with diverse social roles." (McEwen, 2011). Say what?? Essentially Bruce is saying that research from many diverse fields all support the notion that having deep and varied social connections help us to have healthier and even longer lives. More importantly, the intentional effort to improve our social connections and support is essential. No matter what attachment style and relationship issues we emerged from childhood dragging along with us, we can take proactive steps from where we are to improve our resilience in this area.
So even if you are out on deployment in the weeds somewhere, make the effort to connect to those deployed with you, with staff from the local office, or folks from other NGOs in the area. Make use of the amazing connectivity that is penetrating more and more remote areas to keep in touch with friends and family at home. Yes, Skype can be frustrating at times, but what do you expect for free? If you are on an unaccompanied post, realize when you get home that you will have to make the effort to fit in with your spouse and family. They will warm up to you faster if you accept this and don't pout or complain about your reception. Accept the fact that you are going to be the one who initiates reconnecting to friends when you get home. Sure its not fair, but for rather complex psychological reasons it just is what it is. Remember we seem to get resilience 'bonus points' for making the effort, so do it and be the one to collect them.
I was painfully shy as a child for a variety of unhealthy factors, most beyond my control. While at times still my default position, it has been worth the effort to pursue the social integration McEwen talks about. ...
click here for an overview of resilience written by our Director of Research, Dr. Galen Buckwalter
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