Building Resiliency After the Disasters in Japan

The Japanese concept of gaman – strength, patience, discipline – is evident in the reactions of the people there to the cascade of disasters that have hit them: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear contamination. In the midst of widespread damage, they are grieving their tremendous loss of lives and property but are also determined to endure and already beginning to rebuild. With the tradition of working together and an attitude that “everything will be all right,” the Japanese people are hoping to move forward.

What can we learn from the people of Japan about resiliency in the face of tragedy? World events – and the 24/7 news about them – contribute to the anxiety and tension we feel on a daily basis. Without the effect of these outside events, the most frequently cited sources of stress in the recent American Psychological Association survey were money, work and the economy. Over one-half of the respondents also noted that family responsibilities and relationships were significant causes of chronic stress. Today, added to that, people are experiencing additional anxiety, though out of harm’s way themselves, because of the uncontrollable events that have hit Japan.

Coping with stress is important for building resiliency and maintaining our physical as well as mental health. Earlier this week on the blog we talked about four strategies to use when you are feeling overwhelmed. Here are five more suggestions for you to use now and on a regular basis:

Practice relaxation techniques. Set aside time for a regular routine of deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation or other stress reduction methods. Decide to put off worrying – much of what you may fear never actually happens anyway. Remember to be open to the healing effects of laughter.

Exercise several times a week. Only one-quarter of Americans surveyed by APA were satisfied with their level of physical activity. To increase yours, find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it – walking with friends, water aerobics, pilates or yoga classes, training at the gym.

Eat sensibly. Resolve to maintain a balanced diet of healthy foods rich in nutrition that serve as a natural defense against stress. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and limit your use of sugar, caffeine and cigarettes as they can contribute to anxiety.

Reach out to your support system. Ask for help. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with family and friends – they can validate your emotions. You may want to consult a professional counselor for a non-judgmental ear and guidance in sorting out your concerns.

Be patient. Know that you will recover balance and serenity at your own pace. As long as you keep taking steps to move forward, you will eventually reach your destination. Like one-half of survey respondents, you may find that listening to music, exercising, spending time with family or friends and reading are comforting ways to manage stress.

Close to one-half of those surveyed by the American Psychological Association said they experienced irritability and anger as a symptom of stress. The APA has compiled a stress tip sheet to help reduce these kinds of negative emotions. You can learn to manage stress and become more resilient when you practice the strategies we’ve focused on this week. Nevertheless your emotional recovery, like the Japanese, will take time. Support – both for yourself and what you provide to others – is valuable as you begin the process of rebuilding and restoring hope in these difficult days.

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