We all know people who seem able to cope with whatever life throws at them; we see stories of soldiers losing limbs and then going on to walk to the North Pole, or run a marathon. Then there are people like Stephen Sutton, diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 15, who went on to raise £5 million pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust before passing away aged just 19 in 2014. What is it about these people that enables them to do what they do? The answer is resilience.
Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back when things go wrong. We all have resilience to a greater or lesser degree and the good news is that we can develop and grow our resilience, helping ourselves to feel stronger and more able to cope with life’s ups and downs. Here are some ways to help you build up your resilience.
Seeing a challenge, not a disaster
Resilient people see a difficulty as a challenge, not a disaster. When something bad happens, they don’t think,”This is awful. My life is in ruins.” Instead they think along the lines of, “This is bad, what measures can I put in place to help me cope with it?” By actively learning all they can about their particular problem, researching how other people have coped and then setting goals and developing an action plan of their own, resilient people are able to work their way through the situation and come out the other side feeling stronger.
Focus on the things you can control
You may not be able to control your body at the moment or when you are going to see the neurologist or the length of the waiting list for treatment, so there is no point worrying about it. The feeling of not being in control of our own bodies, let alone our lives, can be very distressing. Instead, focus on the things you can control. For example, you have control over what you eat and drink so make sure that you eat well and cut down on alcohol and caffeinated drinks. You also have control over how you think, which brings us to the next point.
Be aware of how your thoughts are affecting how you feel
Our thoughts, emotions and bodies are completely entwined. If our thoughts are negative, this has a direct impact on how we feel and even how our bodies work. If we think that something is awful and we can’t cope, we will instantly start to feel down and scared. Our stress response system will be triggered and we will perhaps feel nauseous, have clammy hands or even develop a headache. Our shoulders will hunch, we will look down at the ground and our breathing will become shallower. All this from a thought!
This isn’t about thinking happy thoughts of fluffy kittens, unicorns and rainbows. Nobody can think like that all the time. Instead, it’s about realising how negative a thought is and consciously changing it to something more positive. Instead of thinking, “It’s awful”, we could think “This is bad but I have dealt with bad things before so I can get through this.” Thinking in a more positive fashion changes the way we stand and breathe, helping us to feel better.
We can also trick our brains into thinking we are happier by smiling, even if we don’t feel happy. Try writing down your thoughts every day and look at ways of changing them from negative to positive. Say the new positive thought out loud a few times. Smile at everyone you meet, even if you really don’t feel like it.
Set yourself goals
We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and we all have those days when getting out of bed seems to be impossible. If you have commitments though, getting out of bed becomes much easier. Having a functional neurological disorder may make it difficult or impossible to work but that doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to society. You can volunteer for a local organisation that interests you (there are many opportunities of all sorts and for some you don’t even need to leave your home). Research has shown that helping other people has a very positive effect on your own health and well being.
If volunteering is not for you, think about learning something new, a language, a craft or skill. Make sure that the goals you set are specific, measurable, achievable, realist and timely (for more about this, research SMART goals. Note, terminology may differ but they all mean the same thing). Instead of saying I want to lose some weight, for example, work out a plan for losing a set amount of weight by a certain date. Whatever you decide to do, do it to the very best of your ability. That is what resilient people do.
Be kind to yourself
Treat yourself the way you would treat something very precious. Eat well, do whatever exercise you enjoy, get plenty of sleep. Talk kindly to yourself. Focus on the positive things about yourself, not the negative. You have FND but that’s just one part of you, it isn’t who you are. Surround yourself with people who care about you and who make you laugh.
The old adage about laughter being the best medicine is true. Laughing releases feel good hormones that lifts your mood. Get rid of the people that bring you down or who are not supportive. Remember, however, that their attitude may be due to a lack of knowledge. Take time to educate them about your condition and about what help and support you need. Be curious about yourself. Now you have time, find out what you really like. Try new things, food, music art. Read books that you wouldn’t normally pick up. Watch films or TV shows that are different to your usual ones.
Building up your resilience will help you enjoy the good days and cope better with the bad days. It’s not something that will happen over night but if you keep working on it, your resilience will grow and develop and you will feel so much better about yourself.