By: Patrick K. Porter, PhD
On September 14, 2018, from my brother’s home in Alabama, I watched the television in horror as Hurricane Florence dismantled my hometown of New Bern, North Carolina—the town I had grown to love. Once the storm had passed, and I saw the aftermath on the news, I wondered how we would rebuild the historic little city I’m proud to call home.
I was worried about my property and the homes of my employees, friends, and family. I worried about BrainTap’s corporate headquarters and the downtown businesses, primarily run by local merchants. Would they have to shutter their doors due to property damage and loss of income?
Prior to Hurricane Florence, I had often written and spoken about the importance of resilience in managing daily life, but the storm’s devastation, and what I witnessed in the following weeks, provided a whole new meaning to the word. I realized that the world sometimes has plans for us that we cannot foresee. When tragedy strikes, or things fall apart, how do we pick ourselves up and move forward?
I now think about resilience in a new way. New Bern wasn’t the first town to go through massive devastation from a natural disaster. The families who lost everything along Coastal North Carolina were not the first to suffer great loss. What I realized is that resilience can be derived from adversity. A shared hardship with others helps us gain empathy, and it gives us the opportunity to get back up stronger than we were before. When faced with tragedy, towns rebuild better than ever, and families recover and grow closer. In these ways, we gain resilience.
Fortunately, there are also people with resilience who show us the way. One such person is Bonnie St. John, who had her leg amputated as a child and still went on to become the first African-American to win a medal in the winter Olympics for her performance on the ski slope. While non-resilient people might choose to wallow in self-pity over their handicap, or feel less than, Ms. St. John didn’t let anything hold her back from achieving her dream. She says, “People fall down. Winners get up.” The message is clear—if you give up, you can’t win.
HealthCorps, a non-profit founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz, is a proactive health movement helping to lead the fight against obesity by teaching mental resilience to teens. Dr. Oz says the key to a long and happy life is resilience. “Life is not always easy,” he says, “but you can manage it.” Everyone faces hardship, but if you equip yourself with the tools to handle life’s challenges, you can overcome any obstacle.
The scientific community is getting on board with promoting resilience as well. Research from the areas of neuroscience and psychology show that small adjustments in daily routines, including what we eat and drink and how we think and interact with others, can fight the forces that sap our energy and happiness.
For some, resilience seems to come naturally, but for many of us it takes more time and effort. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a natural disaster for you to gain resilience. Anyone can learn how to acquire the health benefits of resilience, some of which include less stress, lower risk of heart disease, and less depression and anxiety.
Here are the simple steps you can take to build your own resilient brain starting today:
- Keep your body strong and healthy. Choose a diet of real food such as lean protein, vegetables and essential fats.
- Nurture your social connections. This doesn’t mean more screen time. It means making real connections and spending quality time with friends and family. These relationships keep your heart and brain happy, which improves your ability to cope with stressful situations.
- Keep a positive outlook. Get up, brush yourself off, and trust in your brain’s capacity for finding a solution to any problem.
- Spend a few minutes every day focusing on positive mental reinforcement, such as we do with our BrainTap headset and audio-sessions. You’ll balance your brainwave activity and stimulate neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to create new connections and rewire itself. This is important when learning a new behavior such as resilience because it allows the brain to adapt and change with you.
In the weeks following the worst flooding in our town’s history, I witnessed scores of people working together to meet the city’s goal of reopening 70% of the downtown businesses in four weeks. Friends and neighbors came together to show the world that we may have been knocked down, but we would not stay down. Residents of New Bern chose to be resilient and came together to rebuild the town.
Exactly one month after the devastation of Florence, New Bern celebrated MumFest, a popular fall festival held in our historic downtown—with more than 70% of the shops and restaurants repaired and open for business! That, my friends, is resilience.
Suffering and setbacks can breed anger or strength and character. It’s your choice. Embrace those bad days. You just might learn something from them. To discover how BrainTap can help you develop resilience, click here.