Claiming Our Resiliency
This editorial is part of a special series on Women in Dentistry for Women’s History Month.
By: Dr. Tieraona Low Dog
In a culture that places a premium on success and accomplishment, it can be challenging to escape the pressure to be perfect. We run ourselves into the ground to avoid making mistakes, and when we do (because we’re human beings), we can’t help but feel like we’ve failed. Why didn’t I try harder?
WHY CAN’T I BE STRONGER?
I’ve always found how an individual handles their mistakes to be far more telling of their true character. In life, it’s about getting up, dusting ourselves off, owning our part, asking forgiveness when appropriate, and then moving forward with hearts open and heads high. It is through our response to life’s challenges that we truly embody our inner warriors.
In the wellness world, health is often equated with balance: eat a balanced diet, life-work balance, and a balanced lifestyle. While there is certainly a place for “balance” – the truth is that life is messy – something is always going to come along that knocks us off our center. That’s why the key to well-being may be more closely related to resilience than balance. Resiliency, from the Latin resilio, means to bounce back. When we are off balance when we shift off course, how quickly can we regain our center?
INNER WARRIORS OF THE WILD
Living on this wild and beautiful land in northern New Mexico, I am constantly witnessing resiliency in action. We share this space with bears, mountain lions, coyotes, deer, elk, foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, raccoons, birds, and countless other creatures, giving us ample opportunity to observe the delicate balance between predator and prey. We have trail cameras that give us a feeling of closeness to the animals. We’ve even named all the bears, as they visit us daily. This kinship that allows us to share their land safely is one of the great gifts of my life.
But nature can be harsh. Like when Hercules, a new large black male bear, killed one of Zoey’s cubs (the other ran off ) so that she would become receptive and able to mate before the summer was over. But Zoey fought hard for her cubs. Hercules’s victory was hard fought. Witnessing these sometimes-brutal ways of the natural world keeps me in touch with the order of the universe. And it provides a valuable perspective, helping me accept the idea that death is a part of life. Connecting with nature lets me see the inner warrior spirit of the animal world and helps me understand what that means for my own fight.
FINDING MY INNER WARRIOR
I first discovered my resiliency when I began studying Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial art, in Richmond, Virginia. It wasn’t long before I was training 15 hours a week. I watched as my body and mind were transformed, performing in ways far beyond anything I ever thought possible. Hundreds of sit-ups, pushups, front/side/roundhouse/spinning heel kicks, blocking, punching, doing forms and sparring every day. I was surprised by how far I could push myself: beyond the exhaustion, strained muscles, and bruised shins. This was my first brush with finding my inner warrior—that spirit that drives us forward when we don’t think we can go on.
Martial arts taught me that I was the roadblock, that it was my limited belief in self that kept me from thriving. “I’m not strong enough, not flexible enough, not fast enough, not good enough.” NOT ENOUGH were words I had to learn to replace with “I AM” ENOUGH. When I learned to summon the warrior within me, I learned that my spirit was strong. And it would need to be.
RESILIENCY IN THE FACE OF ILLNESS
In 2013 I was told that I had terminal cancer that had spread throughout my pelvis and into my liver. The oncologist said, “with treatment – a year, maybe less.” Wow. What do you do with something like that? Well, I underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. It was hard. There were many moments I thought I would die. There were moments I thought death would be easier. The whole process was physically and psychologically brutal.
Now, more than six years into remission, I think about the great gift Cancer brought into my life. I learned to separate my feelings from my essence. I feel tired. And I am strong. I feel scared. And I am fierce. I feel sad. And I am blessed. I learned that my feelings come and go, but the essence of who I am is unshakable. Along with a deep and tremendous faith, I also recognize that all those years doing martial arts, honed my inner warrior, helping prepare me for some of my darkest days.
HERBS FOR BUILDING RESILIENCY
Plants can be powerful allies when it comes to building resiliency. Here are just two of my favorites.
Rhodiola, an herb of the far north; growing in dry, arid, cold places. Its roots give energy and strength to both the body and mind. Beloved by the Vikings, it is an herb of power. It is my go-to herb for those who are feeling tired, run-down or having difficulty concentrating. It’s an adaptogen, meaning it supports your body’s stress response.
Science suggests rhodiola may act as a botanical antidepressant, with one study showing it worked as well as the prescription medication sertraline (but with fewer side effects). I’ve found that rhodiola is wondrously helpful for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and it has even been shown to ease symptoms of a condition that’s affecting more and more of us—burnout.
Maca root has a history of use dating back more than 2000 years to the indigenous people of Peru, and it is still widely consumed in that region today. Another adaptogen, maca is prized for its ability to enhance endurance and build stamina, helping you face life’s obstacles with fortitude. In challenging times, maca can give you the strength you need to power through.
Aside from bolstering overall resiliency, maca may also improve sexual health. Researchers at the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that in women experiencing low libido as a side effect of prescription antidepressants, those who took maca reported significant improvements in sex drive. In addition, researchers are finding that maca has favorable effects on sperm quality and can help relieve menopause-related symptoms. Maca is all about vitality.
You were born resilient. No matter what you’ve been through or are going through, within you is the ability to overcome adversity. You have the strength to get through those days when nothing seems to be going right. When all you can see are your failures, and it’s hard to remember your victories. There will be those dark nights of the soul when your faith is tested, and your confidence is shaken.
During these difficult times, I encourage you to remember that it is through adversity that our character is shaped and formed. Avoiding or running away from challenges doesn’t give meaning to our lives, but discovering our values and virtues as we struggle through them does. When we’re forced to dig deep, we tap into reserves of power we never dreamed we had. Our inner warrior rises to meet us, and we’re able to face hardship with strength and grace.
DR. LOW DOG’S PRESCRIPTION FOR ENHANCING RESILIENCY:
- Cultivate healthy, mature relationships. We all need people we can turn to for help and who can turn to us for the same.
- Spend time in nature. Take a couple of 5-minute walks outside every day.
- Get organized. I have read and gifted to hopelessly disorganized friends both Sandra Felton’s Organizing for Life and Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern.
- Make time for relaxation. Practice your breathing exercises every morning and night. Listen to soft, soothing music. Take a bath. Get a massage.
- Read something inspirational. The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo and Thirst by Mary Oliver are two of my favorites.
- Get counseling if you are stuck. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you reframe how you think about life.
- Make being active a part of your daily life. Join a yoga class, get a pedometer and work up to 10,000 steps a day, and stretch while you watch television.
- Write down one thing you’re grateful for before bed. The grocery clerk who smiled at you, the spouse who made dinner or did the dishes, the child who loves you, or even the sun for shining. Practice gratitude.
- Eat healthy. Good nutrition will ensure your body is getting what it needs to function optimally. Take a multivitamin every day.
Dr. Tieraona Low Dog earned her medical degree from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She has been invited to speak at over 600 scientific/medical conferences, authored six books and appeared on CNN and ABC’s 20/20. She is a frequent guest on the Dr. Oz Show and NPR’s The People’s Pharmacy.