In This World You Will Have Trouble (Part Two)

June 22, 2015

This is part two of a blog series from CARE for AIDS African Operations Director, Ryan Arnold: 

There is a lot of research being done about resilience, and there are many suggestions, and there is not a “one-size fits all” solution to making yourself more resilient. There are, however some basic principles that can help everyone. In the TIME article, there is a list of ten things that can help someone improve resilience. I want to discuss three of them before giving the full list.

First, research has shown that actively facing the things that give you stress teaches your body to respond to stress positively. This could mean anything like making that phone call, or actually sitting down and making a budget, or accepting your HIV-positive status. The way you choose to respond to stress changes the way your body chemically responds to stress. It is literally mind over matter.

Second, studies have shown that having a “strong network of social support” is critical to resilience. As Dr Stephen Southwick of Yale School of Medicine says, “very few highly resilient individuals are strong in and by themselves. You need support.” People exposed to stressors in a lab have lower heart rates and blood pressure when a friend is in the lab with them. We need people we can trust and who understand us. This makes the CARE for AIDS program important for people who have been ostracized due to their HIV-positive status. Whatever skills our clients may gain in the empowerment program, the biggest benefit comes from sitting in a room with 79 people from their community who also have HIV. When they share a meal together after the seminars, friendships and networks of support are formed. In the long run, this is more valuable then the candle-making or any other skill they learn in the seminars.

Lastly, scientists suggest that developing a strong ethical code to guide daily decisions goes a long way in preventing stress or dealing with difficult situations. This need becomes especially important when living in a society that rewards corruption, and when living with a virus that is surrounded by so much stigma and negative assumptions. At CARE for AIDS, we use the principles of the Bible to help our clients develop a strong sense of ethics that is coupled with forgiveness and grace.

In the end, we can give our clients all the skills and knowledge in the world, but if they don’t have the mental ability to overcome the stress of their situation, and do something with them, then we have given them nothing. If you are familiar with the CARE for AIDS program, you see that we offer our clients more than just skills. We not only provide them with health knowledge and business, life and social skills, we also offer them community and the hope that is found in the gospel of Christ. This is truly a powerful combination, and is why we repeatedly see transformation in the lives of our clients. When we consider the teachings of the Bible, we are reminded that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, this world and its troubles have been defeated and are passing away. We are told to “take heart”, because, though we will experience trouble in this life, we are ultimately not defeated by it – this can give us peace in the face of trouble (John 16:33). This truth was not mentioned in the TIME article, but I believe is crucial to developing resilience (or perseverance, if we want to use biblical terminology).

Though my experience in Cameroon was difficult at times, and occasionally left me feeling broken, it never broke me permanently. It made me stronger. This is because I had my faith to rely on, as well as my community of fellow Peace Corps volunteers, and as time went by, the community of my neighbors and friends in the village. The experience taught me to think differently about what it means to be human. There is a lot I could say, but in relation to this discussion, I would say that something that makes us human is not a living standard (though, I believe we should work to improving living standards and access to care around world). What makes us human is our ability to find beauty, life and friendship in any situation. Also, I have seen that humans have a distinct ability to adapt to any situation, and to carry on.

In closing, here is a list of “Ten Tips for Resilience” from the TIME article:

1. Develop a core set f beliefs that nothing can shake.

2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful traumatic thing that has happened.

3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.

4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.

5. Don’t run from things that scare you: FACE THEM.

6. Be quick to reach for support when things go haywire.

7. Learn new things as often as you can.

8. Find an exercise regime you’ll stick to.

9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.

10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong – and own it.