If you had to talk about the worst day of your life, it would probably be the day you got fired or when something really tragic happened. Sadly, life does not always allow us to be prepared for uncertainties, yet we are often stronger than we think. Millions of years of evolution have gifted mankind with the ability to bounce back. Rebound is intrinsic to being human. Simply put, when hard times hit us – we got this!
Even in the current climate of lay-offs in Bim, and the economic pressures we are all under, we have to keep reminding ourselves that things are never as bleak as they seem. These times can begin to usher in a new opportunity to review our lives, renew our purpose and rewire all the ways we approach living. It’s a reboot. It’s a time to rev up our resilience in preparation to seize the grand moments fate is carving out for us.
New work in neuroscience actually shows that we can effectively adapt to change and that the brain is wired to do so. The more cognitively fit we are, the better we are able to make decisions, solve problems and deal with stress and change. It is our cognitive fitness that will allow us to break through stressful events.
If we dare to adopt a “stress-enhancing mindset”, we can fare better under pressure than those who don the “stress is debilitating mindset”. There are some critical steps to harnessing the creative power of stress and embracing it as a tool for helping overcome the inevitable challenges life throws our way:
1. See it – Identifying stressors is the first step in transforming your reaction. It is better to acknowledge it and label the stress we are facing than to keep it bottled up e.g. “I am stressed about going to get my yearly physical check-up.”
2. The second step is to own it – Stressors and the things that stress us count. It is a good gauge of the things that really matter to us.
3. The third step is to use it – The body’s stress response was only meant to alert us and not kill us. Stress, therefore, encourages peak functioning, helps us to grow and meet the demands we face.
When setbacks are viewed as powerful change agents, we can better assume an attitude of optimism. Then, any stumbling block can be seen as a changeable event and the mantra, “I can do something about this” quickly follows.
Studies suggest that our number of basic brain cells called neurons can expand as we age. This means that through our life choices and lifestyles we can maintain our adaptability – by learning new skills -like a new language, travelling to new places or even learning to play an instrument. As we maintain our cognitive fitness by trying things outside our comfort zone, the more cognitively fit we become and the better we are able to deal with stress and change.
The brain also loves the spontaneity and excitement that good play brings. Play engages and nourishes our highest level of cognitive functioning and ability to reason and understand the world. In fact, it is Albert Einstein who credits his ability to grasp profound insights to play. For this same reason, big companies like Apple and Google have installed play spaces for their employees because they understand how it develops people’s creative capacities and improves cognitive health.
It can be said that adversity distorts reality but crystallizes the truth. We do have some choice in how we rise out of the tough situations. It is not Seussian to use a setback to playfully reflect on our lives, knowing that the bigger focus should be on how we frame it and move forward. In the words of the late, great Bob Marley: when one door is closed, don’t you know, another is opened.
(Cherith Pedersen is a clinical mental health counsellor and expressive arts therapist)