Resilience on a scale large and small

If you follow the news (and have been able to hear about anything outside of the nonstop political drama), you may have heard about the 7.0 earthquake that shook Alaska on November 30th. Centered near the city of Anchorage, the quake occurred at 8:39 AM Alaska Daylight Time and lasted about a minute, bringing structural harm to the city and surrounding areas. Substantial road, water and gas line damage brought a normal work day to a halt while emergency plans were activated and protective measures were taken at schools and hospitals. Tsunami warnings were issued in the nearby coastal areas where people were evacuated for a short time, while waiting to see if the threat was real.

Alaska DOT & PF

Alaska DOT & PF

Much of the Anchorage area remained closed for the following week to repair roads, water and gas lines and check the safety of bridges. Amazingly, there were no reported fatalities and return to normal life for residents happened in record time. In a mere 72 hours after the earthquake hit, the roads that were destroyed were repaired and back in use by the public.

As it so happened, my travels brought me to Alaska in October and I was120 miles from the epicenter of the quake when it happened. While 120 miles may sound pretty far away, it didn't feel that far away. I was near the coast and watched as the entire town mobilized into tsunami evacuation action plans. Was I scared? Of course I was- this was totally new for me! But, I was also fascinated by the way everyone responded so smoothly to the potential risks ahead. It was pretty incredible to see everyone seamlessly execute the emergency plans to keep themselves and others safe.

In the following days, I had the chance to talk to several people who have lived here in Alaska and experienced events like this before. It was so interesting to hear the personal experiences for each person, but I was more impressed with the overall mindset of the people who live here. It seems most people emphasized the importance of having a plan in place for this kind of event, but also being confident that they can handle whatever happens (I am learning that this is a strong trait in the Alaskan community). I continued to see this sentiment echoed with each media report of the state recovering from the damage. As a result, the city and all of the surrounding areas were able to recover quite quickly and be back to “business as usual” in a short amount of time.

It occurred to me that this is the perfect example of showing the quality of resilience on a large scale. Resilience is defined as, “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, inferring a toughness and ability to “bounce back” after some sort of injury or insult. While it is amazing to see this on such a grand scale, it reminds me how each of us can strive to strengthen this quality on a personal level. Being resilient requires strength and flexibility- two seemingly opposing attributes. But, when practiced together, it allows us to stand strong in the face of adversity, be flexible in finding answers to potential problems and bouncing back when we get knocked down. In psychology studies, people who demonstrate resilience tend to be optimistic, able to see failures as learning opportunities and be positive in their outlook on the world. Developing resilience helps us grow and learn in ways we could never predict and to reduce psychological stresses that contribute to anxiety and depression.

But what does that mean if you are not naturally optimistic? What if you struggle with seeing the upside of failing? That doesn't mean you can't grow your resilience. It simply means that you can look for ways to practice flexibility, optimism and strength in your every day life. Even small efforts can help us reshape our brains to be more geared toward resilience.

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This every day practice looks different for each of us. I tend to struggle with flexibility in my thoughts more than anything. I can be a great planner, with a strong ability to carry out the steps of the plan, no matter what. However, I have found that when something doesn't go as planned, I can have a rigid thought process that closes down my ability to be resilient. In these situations, I have learned to look for ways to be flexible and creative so that I can bounce back from adversity. I found that meditation helps me find this softening in my mindset and spending time in nature reminds me that strength AND flexibility are needed to survive. The bamboo I keep on my shelf is a visual reminder of these qualities.

There are so many ways to regularly practice being resilient. Hopefully, some of the links included here will remind you how to access your own resilience (and here is one more, I couldn't help myself). At the very least, maybe you are reminded of what is possible when we bring our resilience into our daily lives. As always, feel free to reach out if you need help finding a way to train your strength and flexibility and to increase your own resilience.

I am wishing each of you a wonderful finish to 2018. I hope that 2019 is your best year yet.

Be well!

Jennifer Leonard