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Resiliency: Our safety net

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The other day while visiting the base exchange I met an old friend I hadn't seen in 20 years. We were stationed together at the Air Force Academy as young Airmen and we had dorm rooms only a couple rooms apart. He retired a couple years back as a first sergeant but his civil service job keeps him involved in the Air Force and its current events.

After a bite to eat and getting caught up on old times he asked me what I thought of this new Resiliency Program the Air Force was rolling out. I had to correct him on a couple things -- just like old times. First resiliency is not a program and second there is nothing new about it. We've been doing this stuff for a long time, we just didn't call it "resiliency." We called it looking out for each other.

So what is resiliency? Simply put it is our ability to bounce back after a stressful event. Metaphorically it is the safety net we all depend upon to catch us when things aren't going so well and help us recover. Just like a safety net catches a performer on the trapeze, our "resiliency safety net" not only catches us, but helps us bounce back stronger because of the experience.

Like any net, our resiliency safety net is composed of many strands. These strands represent our physical, spiritual, social and mental well-being. The more of these strands we have in our net the stronger or more resilient we should be. It is important to understand these components not just so we can evaluate ourselves but more importantly so we can evaluate how strong the safety net is for our co-workers, friends, and let's not forget our family members.

How physically fit you are impacts your ability to manage stress. We've all heard of a "runner's high." Well, when we participate in an aerobic or cardiovascular physical activity we trigger endorphins which helps minimize the impact of stress. If you're like me you may not look forward to going for a run but I always feel better for it after. And let's face it, sometimes just getting out of the office is helpful. Getting fit and staying fit is vital to our safety net.

How spiritual are you? By this I don't necessarily mean do you have a relationship with God, but for many that faith is critical with dealing with life's problems. For many, spirituality has nothing to do with a church but instead means do you know your purpose? Why are you here? Do you know where you want to be in five or 10 years? Just being confident in your ability to determine your own path through life equates to spirituality.

I think our social well-being or social support is one of the most overlooked characteristics with regard to our ability to deal with stress. Most of us know someone who disappears at the end of the duty day. I have heard several times when someone gets into trouble, "he was a really quiet person" or "we didn't see him too much after work." I joke with the Airmen when I say playing multiplayer alone in your dorm room is not socializing. Get out and talk to people. Invite your coworkers over for Sunday dinner. Go to a Sky Sox game as a unit. All very easy actions but not done nearly enough.

Stress is a normal part of life, but the differing ways we deal with the stress we encounter is critical. Mentally how you feel is critical to your ability to bounce back. Are you normally a happy person? What is your attitude like? Are you generally positive? People who have these tendencies generally are better able to deal with life's stressors. Now I'm not saying if you aren't one of these people you are doomed nor am I saying if you are a positive happy person you have it made. It is just one more thread in our net we must pay attention to. Many say this is the most difficult area to address and it's not. Find something that makes you happy. Get a hobby. Go fishing. Take dance lessons. If you can select an activity that combines two or more of the components, that's even better. For me I like to play hockey. I'm addressing the physical, mental, social, and for me, even the spiritual aspects.

Like I said, this is not new. When I lived in the dorms a few years back my co-workers always made sure I was taken care of. We played a lot of softball. I had dinner with them all the time. I was a member of a bowling team even though I threw more gutter balls than strikes. We simply did a lot together and just had fun! These were all things that strengthened my "resiliency safety net." So my question for you is this: what are you doing to not only strengthen your net, but to also strengthen the net for the people around you? You have an obligation to do so.