Building Resilience

Building Resilience

Ann Luban, Director, Jewish Community Services

The weather outside is turning colder, we change the clocks this weekend which means less hours of light each day, an election that threatens to tear our country apart is underway, and we are living through a global pandemic that, despite all of our wishes, is not going away anytime soon.  While we can change little of the world around us, we can build up our resilience, our ability to adapt and cope with our situation. 

Psychologist Naomi L. Baum*, suggests we start by checking in with ourselves – on a scale of 1 to 10, how stressed am I? How relaxed am I?  She then suggests we engage in deep breathing exercises – hold our hands over our hearts, close our eyes, breathe in slowly through our nose, hold, breathe out slowly through our mouth.  Repeat.  Now check again – do I still feel as stressed?  Or do I feel even a little more relaxed?  Dr. Baum suggests we take deep breathing breaks throughout the day, and/or engage in other mindfulness exercises. 

Next, take a few moments to write down 5 things, big or small, that you are grateful for (the sunrise, a hot cup of tea, a phone call with a friend, or something bigger like your health, your job, your home).  If you can’t think of 5, start with 3.  And actually write them down.  Numerous studies have shown the positive effects of gratitude – feelings of greater happiness, better health, better relationships, and an increased ability to deal with adversity.  Try keeping a notepad by your bed and take time each night to write down what you are grateful for from that day.  Pay attention to how you feel after a week, a month, and more.

Another building block of resilience is self-compassion, defined by Dr. Kristin Neff as kindness towards one’s self, which entails being gentle, supportive, and understanding. Let’s not beat ourselves up when we make a mistake, or fall short of our expectations of ourselves; let us treat ourselves the way we would treat a friend, and care for and nurture ourselves, especially during these difficult and challenging times.

Resilience also involves hope – through the darkness we must remember that we will get through this, as others (and perhaps we ourselves) have survived difficult times before this.  We must find what sustains us, what excites us, what energizes us, what connects us to one another.

Another source of our resilience comes from our faith and traditions. For the past three years, Rabbi Deborah Waxman has hosted a podcast about Jewish teachings on resilience, called Hashivenu, which she describes in this article, Keeping the Faith: Resilience in the Jewish Tradition.

If all of this seems overwhelming, Talia Levanon*, the Director of the Israel Trauma Coalition, suggests we ask (and answer) ourselves these four questions each day:  What am I grateful for?  Who am I checking on?  What expectations of normal am I letting go of?  What kindness am I doing for myself today?

While you are building your resilience, please remember that we at JCFS are here to help and support you.  We offer individual and family counseling, weekly and monthly support groups, one-time educational and support programs, financial and vocational assistance and more. Call us at 855.275.5237 or visit our website.

*Thanks to Dr. Naomi L. Baum and Talia Levanon who shared their expertise during the 2020 JFNA General Assembly.