If there’s one thing we believe, it’s this: You can’t annihilate stress; it’s simply part of life. What you can do is shift your response to stress, and through that process, build up resilience to it. But I think we can take it one step further. What if stress isn’t just an ill to manage, but something with a big upside? What if the experiences that cause you the most stress are actually your biggest opportunity to develop the innate resilience that makes you terrifically strong?
Here’s an example. At age 15, honor student and varsity track athlete Danielle Orner noticed a bump on her leg. Long story short, Danielle was diagnosed with bone cancer. Chemo treatments left her too weak to attend school or play sports, not to mention bald. But she didn’t let any of it bring her down. As Danielle describes in her TEDx talk, she covered her bare head with body glitter and fake tattoos. She followed up the amputation of her lower right leg by learning to walk on a prosthetic leg and starting a public speaking tour about how to survive difficult times. She was the poster child of resilience.
Then the cancer came back, this time in her lungs. The scans, surgeries, and treatments lasted an entire decade. Danielle was sure the suffering would break her. But it didn’t. Instead, these experiences helped her grow into her strengths and gifts. She’s now a writer, actor, speaker, and yoga practitioner (and five years cancer-free).
Danielle Orner exudes resilience and courage. But this is what really matters: Her story proves that stressful challenges are what allow resilience to spring forth from deep within, whether you’re facing disease, a tough work situation, or family struggles. Here’s how to tap into your innate resilience so you can bounce back stronger when life throws its inevitable punches.
Stop seeking perfection or normalcy. After each round of bad news, Danielle wanted nothing more than to live the normal, cancer-free life her peers were living. Who could blame her? But when she stopped fighting against the current of her life—and she stopped trying to “pass” for normal—she began to unearth her resilience. She stopped believing that her life had to look a certain way, and that freed her up to not only accept herself, but also to make better and smarter choices that helped her heal.
Try this. Examine your beliefs about happiness. Are you telling yourself you’ll be happy or make time for what brings you joy once XYZ is resolved? Once the right circumstances arrive, or when you’re a better parent or employee? You’re moving the goalposts of your resilience with every one of these thoughts. Try questioning and revising these beliefs them instead, because your peace or joy doesn’t depend on perfection or normalcy.
(Read more on how to deal with the beliefs holding you back.)
Experience something new. How often do you hold yourself back from having a new experience, in fear that you’re not good enough, thin enough, smart enough to have it? Danielle tells a story of walking into her first yoga class as an amputee and being sure the instructor was going to kick her out. An amputee? Do yoga? Of course he didn’t, and over time yoga helped heal her mind, body, and spirit.
Try this. Sign up for a new fitness class. Try a new outdoor activity. Take on a different responsibility at work. Cook a meal you’ve never had before. Even play a new board game with your family! Any new, cool thing you try shows you can learn, grow, and change. This helps see yourself in a new light and refill your emotional and spiritual wells, an important facet of resilience.
(Read more on how to get over your fear of working out.)
Pick just one thing that makes your life better, and give it the spotlight. There’s scores of advice online about the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. But when you’re in the throes of chaos at work or home, that advice often falls on deaf ears—and rightfully so. Who can really muster the energy to take a good fortune inventory when you face conflicting deadlines at work or the entire family comes down with the stomach flu?
Try this. Ditch the list. Instead, think of one very important thing that you DO have and imagine what life would be like without that thing. The simple answer is, a whole lot worse. There is always something to appreciate, so until the storm blows over, turn your attention to that one good thing, think about all the ways it makes your life better, and feel your energy rise.
(Read more on the power of gratitude to bolster resilience.)
Perhaps you aren’t dealing with a serious disease. Maybe work and family are your stress triggers. Either way, you have this in common with Danielle: you are both more resilient than you think. And those stressful things you face? They are what’s cultivating your extraordinary strength. You (and your resilience) got this.