When a serious illness or accident strikes it can be devastating. Whether it’s an acute event such as a motor vehicle collision, heart attack, or aneurysm, or a frightening diagnosis like cancer or diabetes, for most people, the first reaction is “How can this be true?”.
A sudden health challenge can make us feel cheated by life and betrayed by our body. Our usual sense of being in control can feel ripped away leaving us feeling emotionally destabilized and vulnerable. This can trigger an avalanche of emotions including sadness, fear, and anger and we may vacillate rapidly from one to another. In turn, these emotions can cause a multitude of questions. What’s next for me? What’s safe to do now and what should I avoid? How will I cope with losses, such as mobility, strength, or the ability to drive? How will I manage my job? And, most importantly, will I still be able to lead a fulfilling life?
The illness or accident can be such a marker in life that we might come to view life as having two distinct periods; the time before and the time after whatever occurred. Further, if unchecked, it can begin to define our identity and impact how we perceive ourselves and the choices we make. If this happens, there can be a great benefit in working through the emotional impact of what’s taken place as part of the recovery process just as we would undergo physiotherapy to help with the physiological aspects of healing.
While we cannot predict the future or prepare for any eventuality, it is possible to take steps now to build our mental and emotional resilience so that should illness or any other serious challenge arise, we are well placed to deal with it and have a better chance of recovery.
What is resilience?
Being resilient doesn’t mean your problems disappear; it means you can adapt effectively and deal with them. Resilience requires tapping into your inner strength, not giving up hope, and believing that no matter how bad things may seem in the moment that there will come a better time. Resilience means that even though you may feel difficult emotions such as fear and anger, you don’t allow them to take over your life. Instead, you keep functioning — emotionally and physically — and eventually can move on.
If you feel that you might not be as resilient as you’d like to be, here are some simple steps you can take to ready yourself for anything that life might throw your way:
1. Create a support network
When illness strikes, the support of good friends can be hugely beneficial. Assess your network now. Do you have people around you who truly care for you? If not, make time to foster relationships and, importantly, become the friend you’d like to have. As well, look for ways to grow your support network outside of friendships and family members, such as through volunteer work in your local community. Having people in your life that you can lean on during illness or other tough times can make a real difference to your ability to bounce back.
2. Take care of yourself
Be aware of your physical and emotional needs and make time to participate in things that make your life feel full and rewarding. It’s too easy to spend most of our waking life either working or thinking about work, but work can become suddenly very unimportant when a health crisis strikes. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and get into the habit of putting your physical and emotional health at the top of your priorities.
3. Stay hopeful
A serious illness can feel overwhelming. Try to approach it one day at a time. Where possible, set daily goals to help you feel a sense of control and achievement. These could be simple things such as spending quiet time with a close friend, going out for a walk, or handing off a project to a colleague. It can be very difficult to remain positive when you’re not feeling well, but try to remember other times when you felt at a loss and how you overcame it.
4. Seek professional advice
Becoming resilient doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and practice. If you feel you’re not making progress, and especially if you feel vulnerable, you could consider speaking to a counselor trained in such matters.
Manon Dulude, psychotherapist, understands life’s challenges and how a serious illness or accident can be life-altering. Manon can provide you with strategies to help build your resilience and better cope with the tougher aspects of this uncertain life. Call 905.873.9393 to arrange an appointment.