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How to Build Resilience: Normalizing Struggles Versus Eliminating Them

Snowplow parents prepare the road for kids. Responsible parents prepare the kids for the road.

Resilience is built not by eliminating struggle, but by normalizing it.

Teach kids to see obstacles as temporary hurdles. — Adam Grant


My son suffered a concussion in February. He is still dealing with the symptoms. He is going to school part-time and not going to his beloved rowing practices. It’s been rough. He is getting discouraged. He even wishes he could go back to school!

The healing process for a concussion involves doing a lot of nothing. Resting your brain. He is sensitive to light and noise. He has a constant headache. We have curtains drawn and the television turned off or way down low.

Let time pass

In her book, Hope and Help for Your Nerves, Dr. Claire Weekes says to de-sensitive our nerves we have to let time pass and not let panic build when we encounter a stressor. A stressor involuntarily causes a magnified reaction within someone who is already sensitized, but our thinking and worrying about the original stressor and its bodily responses causes a second reaction that compounds the first. According to Dr. Weekes, we have to float through the obstacle/stressor and let time pass.

My son has had it with waiting for time to pass. He has had deadlines for school and rowing come and go. He’s missed events. He’s worrying about the concussion and its subsequent consequences. That does not help with healing.

Two rounds of reactions

As a person with high sensitivity in general, I understand too well the way worrying about the original threat or danger leads to even more anxiety and stress.

I’ve really appreciated Dr. Weekes way of making our body’s involuntary reactions to stress or a stimuli, normal, even if it feels like a rapid heart rate or heavy perspiration or knots in our stomach. She says those are the body’s normal reactions and that they are in preparation for fight or flight. Nothing to get worked up about.

I’ve done my best to stop my high alert reactions from exploding into debilitating fear or stress. Knowing my reactions are normal for someone with high sensitivity and that they most likely won’t kill me, helps.turbulent water

Float, don’t resist

There is no way to clear all the obstacles from our path. The struggles are normal as Adam Grant said in the above quote. Dr. Weekes says to not fight the struggle. Fighting feeds it. She says to halt and go slowly. Accept it and imagine yourself floating through it.

I imagine myself as a ghost-like being floating effortlessly through the problem and the resistance I want to put up.

Light occupation with others

It helps to keep ourselves occupied and to spend time with others. We can’t keep so busy that we are running from our problems. That is resistance or fighting. We need to stay lightly occupied and let time pass.

Staying engaged with others also helps our nervous system quiet. I know introverts might feel solitude is the better solution, but if our nerves our highly sensitized, often solitude gets filled with rumination. Rumination keeps us on high-alert. And returning to the busy world after a long bout of solitude often makes all the stimulation that much more intense.

Normalize and go lightly

As I type this, I am reminded of one of my favorite passages from Aldous Huxley, Lightly child. Lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. I think that is what Dr. Weekes means when she says to float through the obstacles and what Adam Grant means when he says to normalize the obstacles.feather light

I’ve talked to my son about his concussion being his hurdle for now and that we will get through it. I want him to keep that second reaction to a minimum and accept this current state. The less he worries the sooner he heals. The more he stays calm and rests, the sooner he heals. I want him to know everyone has obstacles. I want to prepare him for the road versus the road for him.

Do you compound your worries? How good are you at going lightly? Can you normalize the obstacles in your life or are you still trying to eliminate or fight them? 

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

Photo by Samara Doole on Unsplash

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

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One Comment

  1. Michael Buley March 25, 2019 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    Superb article, Brenda. Timely, for me.

    I like this a lot: “I’ve done my best to stop my high alert reactions from exploding into debilitating fear or stress. Knowing my reactions are normal for someone with high sensitivity and that they most likely won’t kill me, helps.”

    I laughed out loud … most likely, it’s true, my reactions won’t kill me — as intense as they often are, filled with panic, high heart rate, inability to sleep! Though laughing at it all right now, feels like it eases things a bit.

    A good thing to tell myself: ‘These emotions aren’t going to kill me. Calm. Chill. Slow down.’ I’ve made it through them thousands of times, I’ll do it again. And THEN … then assess things. Not easy. And worth shooting for.

    Normalize struggle. I guess normalize conflict, yes? It’s going to happen. It’s not going to destroy everything — which has been my ‘go to’ internal reaction to conflict: it’s over. Done. Toast. I’m toast.

    A lot for me to think about in what you wrote, Brenda. Thank you … very much.

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