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On Resilience: Reflections of a former cancer patient

On Resilience: Reflections of a former cancer patient

Penny Brill was one of my very first patients here in Pittsburgh and is one of the most inspiring people I know. It’s impossible not to be swept up by her optimism and passion. She is a violist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and is the founder of their Music and Wellness program. She’s also a board member of the UN-affiliated Music as a Global Resource. In 1999 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and learned first hand the powerful healing effect of music. This experience led her to want to share it with others. And share it she has, working to bring programs to Pittsburgh hospitals and preparing and playing special music for children in hospitals in Vienna, London, and Dublin.

The Tribune recently published an article about Penny and her work which you can read here.

We’ve talked often about what it means to be truly well, and I’m delighted to share this post by her on the topic of resiliency.

Resiliency

We hear a lot lately about stress and its effect on the body. But stress management discussions actually lead us to a larger question, which is: how can we as individuals become more resilient?

What do we mean by resilience? We know that some people, no matter what ill winds blow their way, manage to cope and recover quickly. Others see themselves as victims, feeling helpless and powerless in the face of adversity.

You may have seen this quote:

Whether a pebble

becomes a stepping-stone

or a stumbling block

depends

on what you do with it

You will have more power over how adverse events will affect you, and you can optimize your chances for a positive outcome, if you try some of the following:

Individual skills:

Cultivate a positive outlook. You can practice thought awareness; for example, do you notice that you often feel like a victim, or that you find you have things you can do to cope? You can transform unproductive into positive thinking, focusing on what is within your control to change. What can you try that might help?

Develop a toolbox of coping skills to reduce stress such as meditation, yoga or Tai ji. Take one minute breathing breaks. Try some kind of dance or other movement to music. Experiment with painting or drawing, writing, or making music. Is there something you have always wanted to try?

Practice self-care: get high-quality, sufficient sleep, eat healthy food and get adequate exercise.

Control your environment. Surround yourself with helpful pictures, music, and other sources of comfort or support. What can you change in your environment to help you reach your goals?

Simplify: What can you delegate or get rid of? What is the one most important thing you need to do? Would it help to turn off the TV, access to social media, the Internet and the phone, at least some of the time?

Practice problem-solving skills. Learn to identify obstacles and figure out ways around them.

Build competence and confidence in your strengths and abilities by setting doable goals and meeting them successfully.

Cultivate an ability to assess a situation realistically (You can learn to have a more balanced perspective.) Learn how to reduce distorted perception due to strong emotions. Learn how to manage strong feelings and impulses.

Develop and encourage mindfulness. Direct your awareness to what you are doing now, at this moment.

Identify support services: What people, Internet resources or books can help? Get help when you need it! Go to reputable doctors, and reputable websites!

There are ways to cultivate resilience on a family level as well. By learning to communicate well. Developing strong, supportive, nurturing relationships. Being flexible and adaptable.

Remember that change is a part of living (this is a quote from a Yom Kippur service):

Nothing ever stays the same

What we were and what we are

Give way to what we will become

And this is no choice

Except for what we choose to become

The question is not will you change

But how you will change

On a community level, look for groups where you have a sense of belonging and connectedness and a sense that your collective efforts can make a difference. This could be a support group, a choir, a religious group. What else might work: a craft group? a workshop? Reaching out to help others strengthens resiliency for you as well.

May your experiences be stepping-stones

May your path be filled with light

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The Nuin Center
5655 Bryant St
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
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