Note: much of the info in this post was cribbed from the excellent TED talk by Jane McGonigal. If you like this post, definitely check out her talk.
We all experience trauma (my definition: anything physical, mental, or emotional that causes significant stress) over the course of our lives. That stress can range from the minor – flat tires, stolen wallets, getting chewed out – to major – bankruptcy, divorce, abuse, violence, etc…
But people respond to traumas in very different ways. Some get locked in dysfunctional patterns after the trauma, commonly called post-traumatic stress disorder. Others go on to experience post-traumatic growth, where they use the trauma as a springboard to change their lives for the better and unleash their best qualities.
As seekers of healthy, happy lives knowing this leaves us with two questions:
1. Since we’re all going to experience trauma, how can we maximize our chances of responding to trauma with growth instead of dysfunction?
2. Is it possible to experience the growth without the trauma?
Each of us has four types of resiliency (strength): physical, mental, emotional, and social. The greater our resiliency the better chance we have of responding to trauma in a positive, beneficial way.
Furthermore the evidence suggests that by actively cultivating resiliency we can increase our happiness and extend our lifespan, even without the trauma.
So how do we increase our resiliency. It’s simple, though it does require some conscious effort.
1. Physical resiliency – (the body’s ability to withstand stress and heal itself) Increase it by moving your body. Exercise is great, but the bottom line is simply move more. Get up, walk (consider a pedometer), do anything, just move.
2. Mental resiliency – (mental focus, discipline, and willpower) Increase it by taking on tiny challenges on a regular basis and completing them
3. Emotional resiliency – (the ability to provoke powerful positive emotions) Increase it by experiencing 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative emotion you experience – in another words work to become a positive person; focus on the positive – keep a gratitude journal, make your media (books, tv, Internet, etc) “happy”, take breaks from negative people and situations, etc. By doing this you will dramatically improve your health and your ability to tackle any problem you are facing
4. Social resiliency – (connection with others) Increase it by experiencing support from friends, neighbors, and your community. Reach out to others and share your gratitude with them, (appropriately) touch others.
Sound familiar? These four resiliencies mirror the basic prerequisites of health we’ve talked about before:
1. Eat real food
2. Move your body
3. Get enough sleep
4. Manage your stress
To these we can now add:
5. Use your mind, conquer tiny challenges regularly
6. Focus on positive emotions – when you experience a significant negative emotion get in 3 positive emotions to counteract it (puppy cam anyone? Google Puppy or Kitten cam and get a quick shot of cute!)
7. Cultivate social networks of support
See, the recipe for health isn’t complex or confusing (despite the best efforts of doctors, governments, drug and supplement manufacturers, book and magazine publishers and more to make it so). Focus on these 7 and you’re 80% there. Of course if you have health issues, more work may need to be done, but these 7 basics always need to be in play.
The scientific literature suggests that by regularly working on the four resiliencies you will live 10 years longer than if you didn’t. A pretty sweet benefit for relatively minor daily focus.
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