Rebounding from setbacks is emerging as a key to good health.
Severe chronic pain from years of playing rugby forced Deb Hitt to the sidelines. The injuries, coupled with the loss of a sport she so loved, sapped her spirit, too.
“It knocked the air and the life out of me,” said Hitt, of Minneapolis. “I let the pain define me.”
After surgeries on her neck and lower back, her doctors urged her to try something new to deal with her pain: resiliency training.
Last fall, Hitt completed an eight-week course at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis, where she focused on eating healthier, getting enough sleep, exercising and meditating.
Today, she says she’s found joy again and is better able to cope with her medical issues.
“My interpretation of the pain and my ability to deal with it has greatly improved,” said Hitt, who regularly works out with a personal trainer who is also a physical therapist.
The ability to bounce back quickly and completely from setbacks is taking on new significance as a component to overall health.
A concept with roots in the psychology world, resiliency is now being embraced in broader circles for its role in promoting a sound mind-body connection. Classes are popping up at yoga studios, community centers, schools and in some hospitals.
“It’s becoming more popular over the last half-decade, as people are looking to accentuate the positive and improve resiliency as opposed to just reducing depression or anxiety or stress,” said Jeff Dusek, research director for the Penny George Institute.
People most often looking to boost their bounce-backability include cancer survivors and those suffering from chronic pain, depression and anxiety. But many others are turning to resiliency to help them deal with the pace and complexity of modern life.
“We are now in a time when we perhaps have a busier brain than we have ever had,” said Dr. Amit Sood, creator of the Mayo Clinic’s Stress Management and Resiliency Training program. “We have much more of a load on our head.”
Sood, who has studied the science of resilience for years, works with patients to improve their ability to rebound from life’s knocks. He likens the quality to the way palm trees respond to a storm.
“They really sway back and forth, they twist and turn, but they don’t break that easily,” he said.
Even the hardiest palm tree could not survive Minnesota’s far-from-tropical climate, so around here, he uses the metaphor of a willow tree with its “very flexible branches but very, very strong roots.”
Dr. Henry Emmons defines resiliency a little less poetically: “You get knocked down and you keep getting back up.” The Twin Cities psychiatrist worked to build the resiliency training course at the Penny George Institute and now runs his own program called “Pathways to Joy.”
As Sood explains it, some people are born with more resiliency than others, which means they have a lower stress response when faced with adversity and their thinking is more adaptive.
But Sood and Emmons agree that everyone can boost their resiliency level. Being aware of the kinds of food that help your brain chemistry, for example, eating more vegetables and whole foods while avoiding refined sugars, can help refill your resiliency reservoir, said Emmons. Getting enough sleep regularly is perhaps the most important way to maintain a high level of resiliency.