Health 06 April 2020
Resilience, it's a word we are hearing a lot right now.
In light of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus), the uncertainty we are facing, and the global impact of this pandemic, it is more important than ever to take time to proactively build our resilience muscles.
Resilience is not a fixed trait but rather a set of habits, skills, and behaviors that can be cultivated and practiced proactively. When faced with challenges, big or small, those who practice resilience refuse to let fear hold them back, and they break through the barriers keeping them stuck to not only survive difficult times but to get stronger.
While things may be uncertain, practicing resilience provides quietness in the storm, allowing you to think more clearly, make better decisions, and proactively navigate the stressors ahead.
Here are a few ways to grow resilience in turbulent times.
Step 1: Practice Mind Over Moment
Mind Over Moment is a science-based strategy I developed that allows you to step out of reactivity to live intentionally. We spend an inordinate amount of timing worrying about the past or making assumptions about the future. Mind Over Moment utilizes the idea of mindfulness to help you become aware of your thoughts, feelings, habits, and behaviors in the moment, in order to steer yourself toward better responses and outcomes.
Mind Over Moment means making deliberate choices about your mindset and belief system because your beliefs drive your behavior. It means being intentional about building skills and developing habits that support resilience and emotional wellbeing.
Practice Mind Over Moment by sitting with difficult emotions rather than judging them, taking time to be still, and finding the beauty in ordinary moments. Gratitude, self-care, and acts of kindness are also ways to practice, each building resilience and cultivating positive emotions that can buffer stress.
Step 2: Don't Mind Your Brain
Your brain is an amazing organ. It can also be your worst enemy. As a protection mechanism, your brain has adopted a negativity bias that causes you to overestimate the negative (threats) and underestimate the positive (opportunities). In times of stress and uncertainty, your brain magnifies negative news, information, and perceptions to protect you.
We can offset the negativity bias by proactively seeking the positive. Be intentional about finding the good in people and situations. Take notice of little moments, appreciate small gestures, and communicate your gratitude to others. The more specific, the better. Your brain becomes primed to start finding the good stuff out there, and there is plenty of it — even in difficult times
One method I have for cultivating positive emotions is something I call "delicious moments." You can increase the likelihood of positive emotions by taking time to savor them. Every time you sit in a positive moment, you embed it more deeply into the neural structure of your brain.
Whether it is savoring the first sip of coffee, snuggling with your pups, sending a text of gratitude to a friend, or binging a new Netflix series, delicious moments are all around us if we just take time to experience them.
Step 3: Transform The Way You Think About Stress
Stress can feel like an unseen force, always in the background, keeping you on edge and unable to fully relax. When stress is acute, as it is right now, your body responds by preparing you to run out and buy toilet paper or head for the hills. This stress response increases inflammation, interrupts sleep, interferes with decision making, and impacts mood. Feeling out of control adds another layer of disempowerment and frustration.
You can shift your body's response by reframing the way you view stressful situations. In fact, a growing body of research has shown that our beliefs about stress and the way we cope are often more important than the stress itself.
Think about it this way. When you view stress as bad, you are more likely to cope in unhealthy ways, trying desperately to numb discomfort. This only serves to exacerbate problems. Conversely, if you view stress as your body preparing itself, putting on armor, getting ready for action, you are more likely to eat foods that give you fuel, exercise, and get plenty of rest. You can go into problem-solving mode, taking time to think clearly and strategically.
Pay attention to physiological and psychological responses like increased heart rate, tightening shoulders, and feelings of anxiety. This is simply your body giving you information, helping to prepare you to take action.
Step 4: Turn Fear Into Fuel
We spend an inordinate amount of energy focusing on the "what ifs" and worst-case scenarios. What is the best-case scenario? What will it look like when things go right?
By rethinking stress, you can harness that fear and anxiety and turn it into the fuel. Use this time to invest in projects you haven't had time to complete, try a new hobby, or take an online class. Take time to help others and serve as a resource to those who need it most.
Rather than become paralyzed by fear and anxiety, use that energy to propel yourself forward.
There is no better time to build your resilience muscle than when you are in the midst of uncertainty. Be deliberate about the messages you send yourself, the habits that you cultivate, and the actions that you take during these challenging times. Practicing resilience helps you do more than survive; it allows you to thrive.
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You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.
The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.
“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.
Shaping Her Career
Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.
"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."
After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.
As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.
How Did Acker Become A Judge?
In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."
Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.
Acker's Time Away From Home
Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.
Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."
She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.
“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."
“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."
Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."
Overcoming Racial Barriers
As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.
At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.
Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker
The Power Of Self-awareness
“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."
Know Your Support System
“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."
Learn From Your Experiences
“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.
“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.
Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.
This article was originally published May 15, 2019.