Even if you are the smartest, most talented and devoted woman, being a mom can be a challenging role. Yet, along with each challenge a mom faces, we are simultaneously blessed with new skills. I think one of the coolest things I’ve learned through the challenges is being a resilient mom. Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from or easily adjust to misfortune or change. The unique thing about resilience is that it is not a personality trait that a Myers-Briggs test will reveal, but rather it is rooted in our behaviors and beliefs, which is good news because that means anyone can learn and develop resilience.
No one truly knows if they are a resilient mom until they are faced with some type of obstacle, stress or adverse circumstance. It’s during the most challenging times that mom's resilient behaviors emerge or not. Unfortunately, most of us will encounter some type of hardship in life. I know I’ve experienced my fair share of major life changing events that impelled me to develop my mom resilience. Maybe some of you out there can relate that mom resilience is not something you were naturally good at executing, but it’s something you’ve developed over time as a result of life experiences.
Chronic and Acute Stress
In my deep dive into resilience I discovered that the first guy to really ever study the concept of resilience in an experimental setting was a guy named Norman Garmezy. His work found that the most symptomatic factor when it came to being resilient was the intensity and the duration of stressors in our lives. I found this to be a particularly useful discovery because stress is nearly unavoidable, especially for moms. Stress can look like or stem from just about any facet of life. For the sake of time, I’ll oversimplify things and divide up stress into two categories: chronic stress and acute stress. Chronic stress is enduring and it perseveres throughout life. Chronic stress can stem from a traumatic long term injury or illness, low socioeconomic status, sleep deprivation, or conditions of the home (e.g. violence in the home, child exposed to addiction or abuse, or like in my case, grief as a result of being a survivor of a successful suicide). Acute stress is brief and fleeting. It happens once and then it’s over. It can look more like spilling a cup of milk on the floor during dinner or coming down with a cold during flu season. No matter which type of stress we are experiencing, chronic or acute, we all have the same basic fight or flight stress response system.
Fight or Flight
The fight or flight response system is fairly complex, but at its core it’s meant to protect us from threats or danger.
In broad terms here’s what happens when we experience stress.
The amygdala, in our brain, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus communicates with the rest of the body using the autonomic nervous system in order to give us enough energy to fight or flee the stress.
The autonomic nervous system has the difficult task of maintaining constant conditions in the body called homeostasis.
There are two components of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system causes our adrenal glands to pump epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) to our bloodstream triggering physiological reactions like increased heart rate, alertness, deeper and faster breathing, and it even releases blood sugar and fats from storage sites to use for energy.
The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in when the stress has passed and it's time for the body to repair itself and return to homeostasis. When the parasympathetic nervous system is active the heart rate lowers, muscle movement in the intestines increases, and digestive hormones are released.
The systems are so integrated and act so rapidly that we are usually unaware of its workings.
Activating this stress response system too often by exposing ourselves to low levels of chronic stress puts a huge strain on our physical health because we never really are able to shut off the system that signals to the body that we are under stress.
This physical strain depletes us both physically and mentally. Re-framing the way we handle stress in our lives can make us less vulnerable to the negative impacts of stress.
Positive re-framing involves thinking about a negative or challenging circumstance in a positive way. For example, after a breakup with a partner you might think about the great memories you shared and the things you learned about yourself while you were in the relationship. Maybe you got laid off during the pandemic and you spend time thinking about how grateful you were to have such a good mentor at your job who can be a good referral for you in your upcoming job hunt. How you perceive your circumstances makes a huge difference in your ability to bounce back from the setback.
Re-framing my stress has helped me feel a greater sense of control of the circumstances in my life along with my clients. By adopting the belief that I, myself, and no other person or circumstance, influences my achievements and my abilities I feel empowered in the face of an obstacle. In formal psychology this is called having a high internal locus of control. Yes, some events in my life may be stressful or in some cases traumatic, but that does not make them negative experiences. The stress or the trauma has no power over the outcome of my life as a whole as long as I use the event as an opportunity for growth. Just like in motherhood, within each obstacle there lies an opportunity if you choose to look for it. Developing the skill of re-framing my perception proves to me that resilience can be learned. If I can learn resilience then I can teach my kids resilience.
Resilient Mom, Resilient Child
There is a growing understanding that children’s resilience depends significantly on the resilience of their caretakers. This makes perfect sense to me. Our children model our behaviors all the time. One thing I am certain of in my life is that I want my kids to be resilient. I want them to know how to bounce back from failure, grief, or adversity. It’s almost a guarantee that my children will face adversity in their lifetime. Knowing this truth makes me sad, because I know how difficult life could be for them at any given moment; however, teaching them resilience gives me great purpose in my children’s lives. Adversity is a great opportunity to teach my children responsibility for their actions and behaviors. I can teach them to perceive misfortune as a gift; a means to improve yourself, or the greater good of humanity as opposed to perceiving misfortune as ruin and defeat.
About the Author
Kelly Hater, owner of Mama Bear Domain, has over 15 years of coaching experience along with a B.S. in Health Promotion specialized in Exercise Science.
She specializes in helping clients overcome mom burnout, providing a clear, decisive plan that leads her clients on a path of success. Her clients no longer let mom guilt steal their identity and goals. Moms deserve to be happy and live a fulfilling life. She personally has overcome overwhelming struggles herself. Get the accountability needed to take action. As a mom of two she gets it. Get your E-Book Mom, Open Your Eyes to Self-Awareness.
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