By Guest Author 17/11/2016


Karen Nimmo

Earthquakes. Aftershocks. Floods, slips, torn-up roads, wrecked houses and businesses: how much more natural disaster can we take?

New Zealand has been struck hard this week by nature’s forces. Sadly lives were lost, but we were shaken by the realisation that, had the magnitude 7.8 Quake hit in daylight, mass carnage was likely.

Look, we who’ve been affected tell ourselves, it could have been worse, many are suffering much more than we are. And it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to acknowledge your own struggle and admit that it’s upended your life, circumstances and plans. That it’s cost you, emotionally and often financially.

I learned this week of an elderly woman who lives alone in a Wellington suburb. She has been so frightened since the earthquake, she can’t sleep, she’s having nightmares, she’s tearful, every aftershock gives her heart palpitations, she’s too nervous to leave her house to buy food.

On the surface she has less than many to worry about: she lives in a dry, undamaged wooden house, she’s in good health and she has supportive neighbours. But it’s important to remember her trauma symptoms are as real as anyone else’s.

Trauma occurs when people experience threats to their health, safety and life. It can occur at the time of the event, or it can be delayed because people are so preoccupied with looking after their practical needs. In some cases the symptoms (which can include depression and anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, memory lapses, hyper vigilance, extreme rumination and the like) can rear up months, or even years, later, affecting health, work, relationships and quality of life.

Resilience is the New Black of the self-help psychology world because we all need to be able to cope with STRESS in a world gone crazy. We’re told we must show grit, we must bounce back from mistakes and disaster, we must grow and learn from situations that are, quite frankly, very, very crap.

Some people, for genetic, character and environmental reasons, are more naturally resilient than others. But the great news is that you can BUILD resilience, you can take what you’ve got and make it better.

Take this simple quiz to find out your base level resilience. Answer each question with Mostly, Sometimes or Not Often.

  1. In a crisis I am able to remain calm and focus on taking useful actions for myself and loved ones.
  2. I am generally optimistic. When hardship strikes I believe it’s temporary and that I will be able to overcome it.
  3. I adapt quickly to new situations and/or to change of any kind.
  4. I am able to find (appropriate) humour in most situations and I am able to laugh at myself.
  5. I can handle uncertainty; I don’t need to know for sure what is happening to calm myself down.
  6. When I feel stressed I have tried and true ways of calming myself down.
  7. I feel I have people in my life I can rely on and I’m not afraid to say how I’m feeling and ask for help.
  8. I have a healthy view of myself (I’d rate my self-esteem 7/10 or higher).

Results

If you answered Mostly to most or all of the questions, great. You are resilient and you in a position to help and support others.

If you answered Sometimes to most or all of the questions, you are doing ok but you should definitely invest time in building your resilience.

If you answered Not Often, take notice. Work on building your resilience; e.g. growing your self -understanding and having a good awareness of your strengths is a good start.

Research indicates the number one quality resilient people possess is ADAPTABILITY. That’s not a leave pass to be so laid back that no-one can count on you. It’s about being able to think flexibly, to quickly adjust to change (especially when it’s challenging). It’s about being realistic and practical and keeping or taking perspective about the difficulties you are facing.

American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck began his epic bestseller The Road Less Traveled with the memorable words: “Life is difficult”. I love that he spared us the optimism lecture. Sometimes life sucks. Acknowledging that is the first step to recovery.

Karen Nimmo is a clinical psychologist, she’s on Twitter @KarenOnTheCouch and karen@onthecouch.co.nz. This post originally appeared on Medium.