– Genetic predisposition
– Life stressors
– Coping strengths and resources
There’s not too much we can do about the first one.
Life stressors — well, some people seem to have more than their share, but you live long enough and life will get you — through illness, loss, stalled ambitions, financial worries and more. Sadly, people with trauma or troubled childhoods often experience more of these stressors later in life, as a factor of impaired neurological development, impact on health and susceptibility to lifestyle disease, as well as socio-demographic challenges.
It’s the last category we can do the most about – our strengths and resources for coping. And I think most of us need to redefine what coping means and looks like. For many in the Western world, coping is seen as an ability to “push through,” to keep going at all costs – skipping meals, missing sleep, neglecting movement and friends and time outdoors, whatever it takes to meet the high expectations we set for ourselves.
What if coping looked like being really honest with yourself and those closest to you about how you feel and what you need? What if it meant knowing when to say “no” and being able to do that with your heart open, guilt-free? What if it meant slowing everything down and reworking your expectations for yourself and your life, earning how to truly be present in moments rather than continually chasing after new ones?
Resources can be personal or social, as well as financial and tangible. If you are blessed with a good network of friends and family, remember to invest in it, nurture it. If things are light in that area, think about how you can develop some meaningful new connections.
The most powerful resource you have at your disposal, however, is you. We often get so caught up dealing with problems, we forget to acknowledge, develop and keep our attention with our strengths. Sometimes, when the chips are down, this is all we have – character strengths such as our determination, grace, compassion, clarity of mind and creativity.
Spending time developing these strengths is not just a helpful behavioral strategy. It changes your brain function and structure so that it responds more easily with helpful strategies rather than stressing out and shutting down. It strengthens your immune system and can even affect whether a gene that you carry for a certain illness gets turned on.