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Even good events can cause stress — and call for resilience

By Karen Shirer, associate dean, Center for Family Development

Work and home have been both stressful and exciting lately. At work, this spring has been filled with budget planning for 2019 and responding to grant opportunities. Meanwhile, day-to-day work continues.

Crocus flowers pushing through snow.

In my family, we are anticipating the adoption of a new grandson any day now. In late March, my older daughter, Lizzie, and her husband learned that a birth mother selected them to adopt her soon-to-be born son. Although totally unexpected, we are delighted with the news.
All this prompted me to reflect on the importance of resilience in dealing with stress in our lives. Family Development considers resilience important enough to name a program area after it — Family Resiliency, led by Mary Jo Katras. And the Military Family Learning Network Family Transitions Team focuses on helping military families become more resilient.

Resilience is crucial in dealing with both everyday stress and stress caused by special circumstances. Even positive events, such as the coming arrival of a new grandson, can be stressful.

Learning about resilience

I have focused on resilience on the individual, family, organizational and community levels since the early 1990s. Most recently, I worked on a literature review on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and post-traumatic growth (PTG) to support the development of learning events focused on PTG. Resilience shows up in the literature on trauma, PTSD and PTG. From this review, I learned several important concepts relevant to stress and resilience:

  • A resilient individual typically maintains relatively high levels of psychological and physical functioning during and after a traumatic or very stressful event. In other words, resilient people are able to weather traumatic or stressful events without developing serious problems like PTSD.
  • Resilience has several definitions. People are described as resilient when they “bounce back” or “bounce forward” after adversity, when they resist unhealthy coping behaviors, or when they “reconfigure” their thinking to rebound and change. You likely have used all of these approaches as you have dealt with adversities in your lives.
  • People can develop resilience and it can be taught. In fact, through community engagement and direct education, many of you in FD give people tools to develop their resilience. For quick tips on building resilience, see this blog post from Very Well Mind.

Following are more tools for building resilience to share with your learners, partners and communities.

Building resilience through social networks

Social support and networks are an important ingredient in growing resilience. Earlier this year, the MFLN Family Transitions Team offered a series of learning events on using social networks to build resilience in military families. The events include two webinars and five podcasts.  Go to this webpage to access these resources. Although the primary target audience for the learning events were military family service providers, the presenters (Bob Bertsch, North Dakota State University Extension, and Jessica Beckendorf, University of Wisconsin Extension) also made the events applicable to Extension.

Practicing mindfulness to build resilience

The Center for Family Development is providing an opportunity for staff members to participate, at no charge, in the Mindfulness at Work course offered by the University of Minnesota’s Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing. The six-week online course begins in mid May. I’m told 30 of the 50 slots have already been filled, so act now if you want to take the course as part of the FD cohort. Here’s the link for registration.

Making resilience personal

As I noted earlier, my family is welcoming a new grandson this month via adoption. For those familiar with adoption in Minnesota, you know that an adoption can be reversed during a period of time following the adoption. This fact has led to stress and anxiety for us all, especially my daughter and her husband.

My advice to her is to love that baby boy with their full hearts, minds, and bodies while they have him in their care whether it’s for two days or until he grows up. He will carry that love with him for the rest of his life.

Practicing mindfulness to build resilience

Practicing mindfulness is an excellent way to build resilience. In fact, studies indicate that mindfulness enhances both physical and emotional resilience. Learn more about mindfulness programs offered by the University of Minnesota’s Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing. And watch this 5-minute video from the center guiding you through a grounding meditation session.
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