Sunday, March 04, 2007

Resilience, Your Armor for Health

In my last post, Dr Specter's study on working class twins showed they aged faster than their affluent counterparts did. The explanation given by Dr Spencer was

"The greater psychological stress of being in a low social class, with more people above you in the food chain and less control over your life is the unseen hand that might mean more stress at the cellular level," and the "oxidative stress make telomeres shorten."

Does it mean that people under chronic stress are condemned to a life of unrelenting stress with no relief in sight? Is there a way out for these victims of stress? Fortunately, there is hope in resilience. Resilience is the ability to withstand life's ups and downs with equanimity. It appears that any thought we generate has its concomitant chemical and immunological components. If you have positive or negative thoughts you produce chemicals that have effects on your immune system. Some people who survive the onslaught of day to day invisible attacks on their psyche develop this buffer, resilience, which helps. The following are some of the helpful traits:

  1. Social support is important in developing resilience. The relationship of give and take helps all the participants as they share happy and sad moments together. Social support is like a spider's web. When a rent occurs, within a short time, the spider repairs the rent. This is seen even more in the Amish communities and African societies where the extended families live closer together and help each other in times of need. In our western world, where people may live far form their families, friendships developed at work, church and in their neighborhood may help to buoy them in times of need. Social support by itself may not be useful unless it is empathic and compassionate.
  2. We spend a lot of time thinking about our hurts yesterday and the uncertainties of our future. Resilient people let go of yesterday, because they know "today's seeds are tomorrow's flowers." If they worry so much that they are not able to seed their garden today there will not be flowers tomorrow. Thus they forgive, practice mindfulness and plunge all their energies into constructing something for the moment. This frees them from the arrows of tomorrow and the chains of yesterday. In other words, they develop flow and "wherever they are there they are."
  3. Resilient people realize they are the masters of their own fortunes and misfortunes. Every so often they look at their life to see whether there are things they can improve to enhance their health, relationships, promotion at work or qualify for a better job. Everything degrades in life and hence there is a constant need for maintenance to improve their coping skills and their employability in the job market. Being their own CEO's, they do SWOT analysis, looking at their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Where they are deficient, they take steps to improve themselves. They believe in James Allen's saying that "You cannot travel within and stand still without." Travel within today and your outer world will open up for you tomorrow.
  4. Jane had 3 girls and was happily married. Her husband had his own construction business. They were doing fairly well. I recently saw her at the Community Health Partners in Lorain doing her clinical training to be a registered nurse. Her husband's business collapsed and he became a drug addict. She was determined that she was not going to fall into the poverty trap so she started working in a nursing home and took classes at the local community college. For the past three years, she has been struggling to make ends meet but she said "His eyes are on the sparrows and I know He watches me." Her husband is nowhere to be found. Every so often she will get a call from him. She seemed calm about her situation as she has developed resilience and has come to terms with her life. I congratulated her and tears rolled down my cheeks as I left the floor. She has taught me a great lesson in resilience.

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