I recently heard a great story that I wanted to share with you. It’s about a woman named Genie Chance.
Genie was an American journalist and radio broadcaster, who was the first woman in Alaskan broadcast news. She is most famous for her coverage of the 1964 Alaska earthquake, a magnitude 9.2 and one of the most destructive earthquakes in history. Infrastructure was completely destroyed, and the only form of communication that still worked in the wake of the destruction was radio. At the time, Genie was working part-time at KENI radio. The KENI host who was supposed to report on the response and rescue efforts was spooked by the quake and had fled the city. So Genie jumped into action and spent 30 hours straight broadcasting messages on the radio. Her voice was a source of comfort and guidance for those affected by the quake, and those elsewhere who desperately waited to hear that their loved ones were safe.
Why am I sharing this story about Genie?
Well, for one, it is an inspiring and heroic tale of stepping up in times of crisis for the good of others. But it is also a story of resilience. Not only was Genie faced with one of the most catastrophic quakes in history, but Genie was also living at a time when women were even more underpaid, underrepresented, and undervalued. After her reporting on the quake, Genie was offered a higher position at a radio station. However, they would not agree to paying her what she deserved, so she declined the offer and ventured out on her own. Genie also faced problems at home with an abusive, alcoholic husband. And finally, Genie, like many moms even today, had to balance it all. Genie had three children who she raised without much help from her husband, all while pursuing her career. But despite it all, Genie persevered and went on to become not just a voice to guide those in crisis, but also a leader in her state legislature.
No matter who you are or what your background is, your usage of resilience has probably increased quite a bit over the past few months. Let’s examine the different types of resilience we use during our lives, using some of the data from the work by researchers at the Resilience Program at Penn University.
RESILIENCE FOR “OVERCOMING”
The hardship or the traumas you went through may cause you to form core beliefs about yourself and the world in general. For example, the obstacles you may have experienced during childhood such as poverty, neglect or abuse. These traumas may have led you to believe that you are unworthy of love or destined for a broken life.
Resilience will allow you to step away from this thinking.
For Genie, her resilience did not eliminate the struggles of living with an abusive husband. But by teaching herself how to analyze and change any non-resilient beliefs she may have developed, she became more resilient to the negative side effects of trauma and adversity.
Resilience is sharpened through emotional IQ (Peter Salovey and John Mayer): “the ability to monitor emotions, to regulate them, and to use emotion-based thinking to plan and guide your actions.” For example, take note of how you feel the next time you go through a break up. Are you upset because breakups are hard, or because you knew this would happen to you since you believe everyone ends up leaving you? One of them is a universal truth. The other is your distorted thinking, and an inability to modulate your emotions.
RESILIENCE FOR “STEERING THROUGH
Resilience also helps you to steer through the everyday adversities you face. From an argument with a loved one or an over demanding boss to unexpected cancelations of fun plans or an ever growing to-do list, you are constantly faced with challenges. On the river of life, in your little boat, you steer through and do your best to stay on course.
Genie did not let the struggles of working in a male-dominated field stop her from believing in her efficacy of supporting others through the crisis. And it certainly did not stop her from pursuing her dreams.
The essential strength here is self-efficacy. “Self-efficacy is the belief that you can master your environment and effectively solve problems as they arise.” As a key component of resilience, self-efficacy will allow you to deal with chronic stress. People with high self-efficacy will look for solutions until they change their situation.
They might learn a new skill, apply for a different job, or join a social group because they assume that this will help them find solutions. Your ability to tap into a higher self-efficacy will in turn help you steer your boat better, no matter how harsh the waters you face are.
RESILIENCE FOR “BOUNCING BACK’“
Major life-setbacks require a strong resilient push to bounce back. Maybe you’ve experienced a contentious divorce, significant loss of income, or another life-altering event. Whatever the case may be, this is when resilience must come into play.
Genie and her community in Anchorage, Alaska experienced a huge setback, both physically and mentally. They had to rebuild their town and their spirits. Which they were all able to do, thanks to their, you guessed it, resilience!
Right now, we are all experiencing another collective setback: a pandemic. On a global scale there is much resiliency work to be done. And on an individual scale, you need a high level of resiliency in order to bounce back from whatever setbacks this pandemic may have caused you. It takes every gram of resilience to recover as it can affect you on many levels.
Some people will temporarily develop symptoms like anxiety and depression that will remit themselves within a short period of time. Others might develop PTSD or other forms of long term emotional and mental suffering.
HOW TO BOUNCE BACK
Emotional agility: The capacity to pivot in the face of stress. This does not mean there is no fear or anxiety, but between the stimulus and your response there is space, and the way you respond in that space is your ability to gain control and make a difference in your recovery.
Task-oriented: Use this coping style in which you take step by step intentional actions to deal with your adversity.
Belief in your ability to control the outcomes of your life: Your actions move you forward because your actions reinforce resiliency. When there is a major hardship, the activation of that sense that tells you things are “out of control” is emphasized to keep you safe. So to counter that automatic response, ask yourself: What is in my control? And then, What is the next right thing I need to do?
When it hurts, say “Ouch!”: Acknowledge and express your pain as long as you also seek out the helpful resources that are available to you.
Use your connections to others: Find support from the people in your life. Most importantly, you don’t have to go through this resiliency journey alone. There are the people in your life who care about your wellbeing. Reach out.