By Julie Standfield
In the last of our series of resilience related blogs, I wanted to focus on the value of increasing our resilience levels for our very own sakes; ignoring the role we do, the relationship titles we hold (Mother, Father, Son, Sister etc), other people’s needs and expectations of us, and just focus on our own needs and wants.
Why is developing higher resilience levels so important to all of us, no matter who we are or what we do?
In a nutshell, everyone suffers from stress, moments of self-doubt, feelings of failure and sadly most of the time, we create our own suffering. Whether we are a stay at home Mum or the CEO of a multi-million pound organisation, we all suffer from stress and worries mainly brought on by ourselves and how we choose to react to triggers in our lives. Let me give you some examples to bring this idea alive.
Kay, a 35 year old stay at home mum with 2 children under the age of 5 is stressed pretty much all of the time. From the minute she gets up, she literally doesn’t have a second to herself and is constantly breaking up toddler squabbles, making endless meals that are rarely eaten, wiping up spills/noses/bottoms, and being subjected to watching ‘Frozen’ for the 50th time since the DVD was bought last week.
Her husband, Jon, silently shakes his head in despair at how worked up she and the kids are when he gets home at night, after all, he’s been the one out at work all day, dealing with a team of senior managers who seem incapable of making decisions without referring to him, worrying about the profit margins on the new line they are due to start marketing next week, and commuting to and from London on the train that never has enough seats.
Kay wants him to come in and take over the kids for an hour, whilst Jon wants to sit down with a glass of wine and just chill out for a while. The resentment builds up and they end up fuming silently with each other, wondering how they would like to swap lives for a day and see how easy it really is!
Let’s look at the suffering that Kay and Jon create for themselves – it is all in the mind-set and attitude towards the events that they experience every day.
Kay’ stressors include: putting two toddler’s needs before her own on a constant basis, feeling like she doesn’t have any time to recharge, boredom dealing with the repetition of watching the same film time and time again. These are the overt stressors; the covert stressors probably include a change in identity level as a result of becoming a mother, isolation from adult conversation on a regular basis, balancing spending money on trips out versus managing a tight budget on a reduced income, to name but a few.
Jon’s stressors are probably more familiar to those of us who work – expectations of colleagues and managers at work, the need to prove your skills and performance to justify your value to the organisation, tiredness from commuting every day, dealing with politics, having to work with people you wouldn’t choose to talk to if you had the choice, and very probably the responsibility of carrying the household finances whilst Kay is at home with the kids, not to mention dreading coming home to a stressed wife and whiny toddlers every day.
So how exactly are they creating their own suffering?
Like all of us, they have attachment to their values and beliefs. Kay believes that being a good mother is incredibly important and she has this idealised image of the perfect mother, baking cupcakes whilst the children play happily, the children eating vegetables and fruit with a smile on their faces, going out for countryside walks in bright sunshine, spending time reading educational books and taking the kids to the zoo/park/museum to turn them into curious and intelligent people, and her happy husband coming home to a beautiful home-cooked meal, excited children and after a seamless bedtime routine where the kids go to bed on time, happy and straight to sleep, she and Jon sit down with a glass of wine and chat about their lovely days and make plans for a wonderful, bright future.
This utopian vision that Kay has is, for the vast majority of us, unattainable and unrealistic, and yet her desire to achieve this leaves her feeling drained and like a failure, most of the time. Each day when she fails to achieve this standard of perfection, she reinforces her belief that she is a failure and her store of resilience depletes drop by drop.
So what can Kay do to boost her resilience levels?
Situational factors – these represent the environment and external elements that impact on us, so in Kay’s case, she is a stay at home mum of two toddlers, who is on a very limited budget. These are the facts of her situation. What Kay could do with these factors is to explore how she could get more support or variety into her situation to make life easier, such as exploring mutual child care swaps with another mum, maybe draw upon support from family and friends, joining mother and toddler groups where she can sit and share stories and experiences with other mums in exactly the same situation as she is in, letting the washing up sit undone for a few hours, settling for a frozen pizza for dinner, and not stressing out when the kids refuse to eat anything green for a week!
Personal factors – these relate to the characteristics of the individual, including their underlying personality type and attitudes. Kay is a bit of a perfectionist and has extremely high standards that she frequently fails to achieve, so she is constantly in a state of self-flagellation and self-criticism. Although our personalities are pretty much set in place by the age of 7, they are not fixed and unmoveable and people can and do change. The desire to change and willingness to continue working at it in the face of setbacks is the key to this working. What Kay can do is prioritise two or three areas that are really important to her to achieve, and focus on these, rather than on trying to make everything perfect, and experience small victories every day, rather than massive failures on an ongoing basis. It is much easier said than done of course, and breaking any habit (such as perfectionism) is a long journey that starts with baby steps.
Jon’s situational factors are pretty much dictated by his work life and he would gain bigger resilience gains by focussing more on his personal factors, starting with his attitude towards his life situation, his and Kay’s respective roles and responsibilities, and by being proactive in starting the tough conversations that will allow them both to express and resolve their concerns and frustrations with each other. If Jon’s attachment to his identity at work is a major factor, he is creating his own suffering in exactly the same way as Kay. Two different roles, valued in very different ways by society, but the same approach and factors affecting their resilience levels.
The bottom line is that like most situations in life, you’ve got to communicate well with the key people in your life when your resilience levels are low and be prepared to be vulnerable, ask for help or even just feel that someone cares enough to listen to you.
Low resilience levels affect all sorts of ‘normal’ people, regardless of job title, salary, educational background or social status. We may assume that a CEO is more likely to be stressed than a stay at home mum, but this simply isn’t the case. If we can work at getting our situational factors and personal factors into a healthy position, check in with our own standards and expectations and set realistic and achievable goals for ourselves, we stand a good chance of boosting our resilience levels rather than depleting them. Simply put,identify then let go of unhealthy attachments and manage your own suffering in a more conscious and kinder way. After all, you wouldn’t take anyone else to task for failing to meet these expectations would you? Give yourself a break, breath deeply, and start over.