Resilience: Learning to bend but not break in the ebb and flow of life

Lori-Anne Sharp, ANMF Assistant Federal Secretary

I was extremely fortunate to hear the inspirational and witty Malala Yousafzai speak in Melbourne last December.

Malala gave such a powerful address and generously shared her remarkable story about her life under the Taliban regime in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Malala who is now 21 started blogging at the age of 11 to campaign for the rights of girls to receive an education.

At the age of 15, while travelling home from school on the bus, Malala was the victim of a targeted attack and was shot twice, one bullet narrowly missing her brain. After the attack, Malala made a remarkable recovery and is now studying at the University of Oxford. She continues to campaign for the right of every child to go to school and is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Reflecting on Malala’s inspiring story and her ability to adapt and overcome the worst of situations encouraged me to reflect on the importance of resilience.

So, what does resilience actually mean? It is not the ability ‘to just move on and get over it’. It is also not about being unaffected by life’s hardships. Resilience is the ability to accept and work through whatever challenges cross our path and the ability to move on and accept normality again. The ability to keep functioning, and to bend instead of break. The good news is that research indicates almost 80% of humans are resilient. For many nurses and midwives this may not be surprising, as we witness on a daily basis the remarkable strength and recovery of those we care for as they experience and work through traumatic or life changing events. Caring for these people can also place considerable demands on nurses and midwives and can contribute to stress, emotional exhaustion and burnout, all of which have negative impacts on our wellbeing. Recognising that there are situations that may compromise resilience is as important. We know that trauma can adversely affect us, but it can also be the catalyst of change and become a base on which strength is built.

We have seen many acts of resilience in the public eye in the last year. Apart from those affected by natural disasters, another that stands out is the resilience of the LGBTIQ community during the recent postal survey. We witnessed an unnecessary plebiscite of Australians to decide the fate of a group of people for the basic right to marry whom they love. The discriminatory and at times hurtful debate during this time had significant impacts on mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTIQ community. We witnessed an extraordinary show of resilience and forgiveness from a group of people whose families and way of life was judged, discussed and voted on by an entire country.

When reflecting on other examples of resilience, an individual who stands out is Indigenous singer/songwriter Archie Roach. Archie was part of the Stolen Generation, and never had the opportunity to reconnect with his birth mother before her death, a story he has shared with his audience when performing. His strength and capacity to forgive and share his story through song is compelling. His resilience is evident, and he demonstrates that despite hardships in his life he is able to remain positive, provide hope and contribute richly to life through his songs and storytelling.

Because of the challenges faced by nurses and midwives daily, it is important that we learn to be resilient. The resilience of nurses and midwives contributes to better patient care and outcomes, and generally has a positive impact on both our professional and personal lives. We all have the capacity to build resilience in ourselves and there are some proactive steps we can take that may assist in building on that protective layer of resilience. Some of these include fostering opportunities for wellbeing by building strong relationships in daily life, working towards a work-life balance, maintaining adequate sleep, striving for a balanced diet, investing in regular exercise, showing compassion for ourselves and others and developing emotional awareness. It may sound like a long list, but many of you will be achieving these things already.

It is impossible to prevent all stressful situations, as they are a part of life, but it is important to try to accept that there will be circumstances, which are out of our control. Keeping a long-term perspective, remaining hopeful and trying to keep a positive attitude will all help build resilience.

Coping with adversity and life’s challenges takes strength and resourcefulness. As much as we need the ability to cope and overcome, we also need the support of a close network of family, friends and colleagues.

Generous hearts and listening ears from those around us can make all the difference, and the value of support in achieving resilience cannot be underestimated.

As we embark on a new year in 2019, no doubt there will be both exciting and challenging times ahead for us all. Let us hope that we have the strength and necessary supports around us to go forth, recover, contribute, grow and be our best selves.

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