by Monica A. Ross, LPC
Continuing on with this series of blog posts on the topic of resilience, the next thing that I found in all of the literature on mental health regarding resilience was the importance of having at least one person in one’s life that one can connect with. One of the grand challenges of social work in the 21st century is to tackle the issue of social isolation. It’s an ever-pressing issue.
For example, in 1950 22% of adult Americans were single, 4 million US adults lived alone, and that was 9% of all US households. Today >50% of adult Americans are single, 31 million live alone, and that is 28% of all US households (from an interview by Ray Suarez with Eric Klinenberg on PBS NewsHour in 2012).
In terms of older adult Americans, the US Census Bureau estimates that “[i]n 2050, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to be 88.5 million, more than double [the] projected population of 40.2 million in 2010.”
Game designer Jane McGonigal in her TED Talk, “The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life,” says some people have the perspective that playing games is time wasted. It was a hospice worker who got her thinking about how to address the idea of regret through game design. The hospice worker I think she is referring to in the video is Bronnie Ware, who wrote a book called Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Jane addresses each of the top five regrets of the dying from a game design perspective (in parentheses excerpted from her talk):
Top Five Regrets
1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard (play games with children)
2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends (stay in contact and stay connected through apps like Words with Friends)
3. I wish I had let myself be happier (relieve anxiety and boost mood with certain apps)
4. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings (create an avatar)
5. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
Jane, in relating her story and what got her interested in tackling this issue of isolation, talked about how she had a concussion that resulted in a traumatic brain injury or TBI. The TBI caused a related depression and symptoms of suicidal ideation. So she turned to her strength—game design—and created a simple game that she then played with family members.
This process lifted her depression somewhat while she continued to work through her other symptoms. She called the game SuperBetter. What Jane and her healthcare providers were trying to facilitate was an antidote for regret—post-traumatic growth.
Those four types of strength leading to post-traumatic growth are:
1. Physical resilience (don’t sit still)
2. Mental resilience (willpower works like a muscle)
3. Emotional resilience (the ability to evoke curiosity, love, positive emotions)
4. Social resilience (get more strength from friends, neighbors, touch, reaching out to one person you care about every day)
This all makes perfect sense that in order to become resilient, a component of which is being able to connect with others, or at the very least one other, a person must first work towards becoming more fully present and accepting of self. That includes working on all of these other facets of self—the physical parts of ourselves, the cognitive or mental parts of ourselves, and the emotional or feeling parts of ourselves.
In a review of other texts, I found that we are more likely to activate a stress response in the body and are more at risk for a disease related to stress if one of the following is present: 1) if we feel as though we have little control over whether or not we experience the stress, 2) if we don’t know how long the period of stress will last or at what intensity, 3) if there are few outlets for our frustration regarding the stress, 4) if we have a sense that the presence of the stress means that our circumstances are going to worsen, and 5) if we lack social support for the strain caused by the stress (Sapolsky, 2005). Again, we see the importance of social supports.
Another author, Linda Graham (2013), notes that there are several things needed for social or relational intelligence including the ability to ask for help when needed, the ability to set limits and boundaries, the ability to change our behaviors if they are leading to conflicts in relationships, the ability to repair ruptures in relationships, and the ability to develop the capacity to forgive.
In other words, we need to step into our independence in order to become more fully interdependent. Once that is accomplished it leads to things like lower stress levels and better boundary setting, but also the ability to ask for help when needed. And all of this facilitates enhanced connection with others.
Graham, L. (2013). Bouncing back: Rewiring your brain for maximum resilience and well-being. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Sapolsky, R. (2005, December). Sick of poverty. Scientific American, 293(6), 92–99.