What Cancer taught me about resilience…

FlowerBack in 2014 I was working for a very large organization and during a performance review my boss described me as resilient.  Honestly, up until that moment I had not heard that word; let alone in the context of myself.  It wasn’t long after that that I was diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer.  My world in that moment changed forever… As I’m typing this there are tears of emotion in my eyes because I know cancer changed how I show up in the world and has inspired me to make the world a better place through the work that I do and my experience in it.

Cancer humbled me.  It made me see the world with empathy and compassion.  It impacted my physical and my mental health and, it made me ask the real questions.  Life is a gift not to be wasted.   “But I’m only human after-all, don’t put your blame on me” – as song by by Rag’n Bone Man.   Don’t put your blame on me.  Yet when someone is struggling we say that person must be weak.  They are just not tough enough.  We are human after-all…

When I returned to my job in 2016, things were different, I was different, and my work place was different.  I struggled to keep pace and the headwinds I faced in the organization had become exhausting.   Pre-cancer I would have accepted the challenge and soldiered on, telling myself I was fine.  Not a year after my return to work, I was let go from my job.   I don’t tell you to seek sympathy, I merely want to illustrate that life is not always smooth sailing.   So what makes some people better at handling those headwinds…Bend

It’s known as resilience.  Resilience is defined as one’s ability to successfully cope with adversity and/or the ability to bounce back.  Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay describes resilience as a heroic struggle. -“it’s really a battle not a bounce, she says.  “Resilience is NOT a trait. It’s NOT something you’re born with. It’s NOT something you just have,” she says.  Resilience is an acquired skill.    It is being able to adapt and respond positively to stress and misfortune (Psychology Today).  Responding positively to life’s challenges can be a CHALLENGE… staying positive and adapting is not easy, but I’ve learned that following these simple tips can help you build resilience.

  1. Acknowledge that your struggle is real and perhaps hard
  2. Acknowledge all the ways you are already coping because you probably have some great tools
  3. Be an active participant in the way forward, don’t wait for others to fix it
  4. Identify and use your strengths
  5. Asking for help is NOT weakness
  6. It’s also okay to be selective on who you ask…
  7. Give yourself permission to take a mental break – maybe through exercise or a walk in nature
  8. And (OMG) be easy on yourself – we can be our toughest critic.   (IDEAS.TED.COM)

In life and at work we can be facing an overwhelming amount of pressure and stress – good or bad.  Your brain can become overloaded just like your physical self.  It’s important to recognize and give yourself permission to express what you need – I’m at my limit or I’m doing the best I can.  I need a moment to recharge, to take that walk at lunch, or run that bath when the kids have gone to bed. There are no medals for soldiering on.

If asking for help in your personal life is difficult just think what that might feel like in the workplace.  Telling your supervisor that you’ve reached your limit and you can’t do any more.  I think in many organizations where they’ve downsized and/or right sized there are people doing more work in the same amount of time, dealing with the pressures of life and are struggling.

One U.S. (Employers’ Health Coalition) study found that lost productivity from presenteeism was at least 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism. Using this figure, it is estimated that presenteeism could cost Canadian businesses 15 to 25 billion dollars per year. Presenteeism occurs when employees are physically present, but due to an unaddressed physical or emotional issue, distracted to the point of reduced productivity.  (Workplace Strategies for Mental Health)

Mild depression, which is influenced by life stressors within and outside of the workplace, is particularly common and is costly to employers given its high prevalence and high aggregate productivity loss (Allen, Hyworon, Colombi, 2010). Nearly half (47%) of working Canadians ‘agree’ (15% strongly/32% somewhat) that their ‘work and place of work is the most stressful part of their day and life (Ipsos Reid, 2013).

For many of us seeing how broken we are rather than seeing how strong we are, is part of the problem.  An employer may see someone struggling and are afraid to step in.  Resiliency starts with each of us, we need to take an active role.   However, employers can also take an active role by creating a supportive work place.  This could include programs that provide support to employees who are care givers, in grief, perhaps burnt out, training leaders to deal with crisis response, wellness programs focused on mental health, or introducing Mental Health First Aid.   No one should go it alone.  Let’s work together on building resiliency in our lives and in our workplaces.

For more information on workplace strategies go to Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s