September 3, 2020

How to Build Resilience

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Alejandra Juarez, sales executive of New Directions Behavioral Health. Together, they discuss ways we can build resilience.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • The meaning of resilience.
  • How building resilience is a lot like building a muscle.
  • The impact of hopefulness during difficult times.
  • Seeing the positive in the challenges we confront.
  • Ways we can share support and empathy with others.
  • Finding outlets to ease our stress.

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is a Healthier Michigan Podcast episode 62. Coming up, we discuss how to build resilience.

Chuck Gaidica:
Welcome to a Healthier Michigan Podcast, this is a podcast dedicated to navigating how we can all improve our health and well-being through small, healthy habits we can start implementing right now. I’m your host Chuck Gaidica and every other week we sit down with a certified health expert, others to help us navigate and take deep dives into topics that cover nutrition, fitness, and a whole lot more. On this episode, we’re talking about resilience and what we can do to strengthen it.

Chuck Gaidica:
With me today is a sales executive at New Directions Behavioral Health, Alejandra Juarez. Good to have you with us, Alejandra.

Alejandra Juarez:
Thank you for having me, glad to be here.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I’m glad you’re here because you’ve got so much in your professional life where you kind of surround the edges of behavioral health with New Directions in your position in sales and I know that you are deeply passionate about this idea of treating the whole person. For goodness sakes in this era we’re in now, where we’re moving through this new pandemic era, we’re all kind of asking questions about ourselves, our family members, our kids, how do we stay resilient when we’re facing issues that we’re all facing? But this is interesting because you’ve got a unique family background where you have yourself had to deal with integrating behavioral and physical health care all in the same way.

Chuck Gaidica:
So I want to let you share some of that story because I think outside of your professional life, what you’ve experienced personally really does set the table for this discussion about resilience and behavioral health.

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes, it was an interesting situation where at the beginning of my career, while I was focusing on medical benefits and overall health, my family was confronted by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis for my mother. That really made me clearly see how overall health is so deeply tied to emotional well-being. Although there’s a lot that we could all read about statistics, about mental health and that connection to overall physical well-being, to have it unfold in front of your eyes, just lends a very unique perspective and really helped me in my professional development connect the dots between physical health, emotional health and how individuals navigate difficult journeys in their health.

Chuck Gaidica:
So how young were you when you learned of your mom’s diagnosis?

Alejandra Juarez:
Well, I was in high school when my mom was diagnosed, but as I began to grow as an adult and have more ability to recognize the challenges that my family was confronted, I just started to notice more of that connection and in my experience really began to see that perhaps the challenges my mom was facing were not just ones of a illness diagnosis, but of an emotional stressor that she was also having to grapple with.

Alejandra Juarez:
Of course, being in the medical field as a consultant for medical benefits, telling this story has been incredibly important to being able to demonstrate to the communities that I’ve served, how that link is so intertwined and how we really can speak of treating illnesses without addressing emotional well-being.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. It’s so nice of you to be willing to share the story because your context, while it may be different for a lot of us, I watched my mom and dad go through separate situations I’ve shared before on the podcast, lost both of them last year to separate illnesses, but my mom was Alzheimer’s. Over the course of about six and a half years, you see similar things to what you’re discussing in a whole different context with MS. So are you the only sibling, were there others in your family that were being impacted your dad as well, et cetera? I’m not sure who else was there with you in this journey.

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes, I’m the oldest of three children. I think that as the oldest in my family I really took to heart being able to support my dad and my mother and my siblings along that process. I think that when anyone is struggling or going through a journey of a chronic disease, something that they may not be able to fully recover from, it just puts into play a great deal of dynamics into family, well-being, financial and everything that really is impacted when illness is driving some of those family dynamics.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. It’s interesting to me that we tend to think of storms of life that kind of pop up and they’re all fast moving and they move through and then they’re done, but that’s not the case for every family. I mean, it really is something that storms can come and sit awhile and just kind of spin around and you’re living with them for years, some do move through and they cause damage in a family life or in your own resiliency, and then they move on. But we’ve used that word right from the top resilience. Well, I guess, how do you define it? What is it and what is it not?

Alejandra Juarez:
Yeah, you’ve brought up an excellent point. I think that we see life present different life challenges. Some may be short-lived and some might stay with us a little bit longer, but the way that I define resilience is being able to recover from adversity or difficulties, a sort of toughness that people can build through healthy habits and putting into place some best practices to growing and developing this resiliency that we’re speaking of today.

Chuck Gaidica:
Were you able to see and even experience with your own family’s dynamic and your mom’s illness, a way to funnel your energy? I mean, you’ve talked about this connection or I guess the way for you to even explain in your sales position, you’ve got real there there. When you talk about experiencing something where you able to funnel some of your angst, maybe in a certain direction that gave you more peace and comfort and resilience, did you see that occurring in your own life?

Alejandra Juarez:
For me, I felt that it was empowering to go through this experience and being able to focus on my work in advocating for behavioral health that was an important outlet for me because I understood that I couldn’t be the only person having to support a parent through a difficult medical event. In knowing that I wasn’t the only one experiencing something like this, it really gave me the strength to bring to the forefront a topic that I feel that for a very long time we’ve been hesitant to speak of and that is mental health and overall well-being. Of course, nowadays this has become more commonplace. I think we’re making great strides in removing the stigma and topics like resilience are coming to the forefront because individuals want to understand how they can be happier and healthier and really recover from the many challenges that life presents us.

Chuck Gaidica:
Then there you are starting off in high school, but I witnessed this with my own dad and then eventually my siblings, I’m also the oldest of three kids in my family, but you’re a caregiver. Now the circles radiate out right from your mom’s illness to others around her that are being impacted by that, you included. So you’re trying to pay attention to yourself and yet you’re also looking at others thinking, oh man, each one of us may be effected by this differently. Somebody may fall to their knees and cry over it and you may be stronger and resilience comes from it. You know what I mean? It’s tough to figure out how to help people. Sometimes maybe you just need to sit and chat with them, that’s all you can do.

Alejandra Juarez:
Absolutely. Lending support to those that are struggling in their health, whether it be physical or emotional is such a great way to be there for them. It helps them best align where they find themselves and know that they are cared for and loved. I feel that approaching all matters with regards to health, with a great deal of compassion and support is truly important and needed by those that are in the journey themselves.

Chuck Gaidica:
So as we look at this idea again of behavioral health, I think you’ve mentioned mental health and it goes out from there, it could be anxiety, depression, there could be issues with drug addiction, substance abuse, et cetera. But behavioral health in today’s world has that taken on any kind of different meaning or is it a broad category that’s the big umbrella over a lot of different things?

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes. To simplify the definition, it’s an umbrella term that covers mental health and substance use. But I do believe that in recent times, the terminology has changed in efforts to remove some of the stigma that had affected the understanding of mental health and substance use. So being able to place the word behavior in the term behavioral health that encompasses these health topics really lends to individuals to be empowered and understand that they can make changes in their lives to improve their own health.

Chuck Gaidica:
So resilience is good for us to build, it kind of reminds me of the idea that I need to go do some sit ups or pushups or something as part of my workout, how do we look to build resilience in our life? Then how can that new muscle of building resilience really help affect our mental health and our outlook on life in general?

Alejandra Juarez:
That’s a great way to look at resilience. I too believe that it’s a muscle that you can practice and train and become stronger at. Good practices that individuals who have this resilience or toughness will put into place is just being able to look at different situations and detect the cause of their problems so that they can address them. People that are in tune to their emotions and can manage and move forward by taking actions that help address the problem at hand. Of course being able to stay calm in stressful situations and being realistic about the challenges that we face are great characteristics of resilience.

Chuck Gaidica:
So if you’re flexing that muscle and using it, you may know intuitively that you’re getting better at being resilient, but what would be some of the characteristics we would see in ourselves or in someone else? What would be some of the flags that go up saying, man, this is really working I’m feeling better. I guess that’s one of them as you’re walking through a storm somehow, but what would you say are some of the other things we should be looking for that it’s working?

Alejandra Juarez:
I think that when someone is presented with the life challenge, if they are able to trust themselves as they navigate that challenge and see the positive in what they are confronting and know, they’ll make it out the other end, that is a good sign that you are building on your resilience. To trust themselves, to give themselves the empathy that is needed to navigate through those challenges is of great importance and be able to motivate themselves.

Alejandra Juarez:
I think that when difficulties arise, it’s very easy to take a step back and say why try, why move towards in this direction? I think that when individuals practice resilience, they are living a daily habit of positivity. Being able to speak of affirmations in their daily life, focusing on the positive, being able to find humor in certain situations, I know that I utilize that a great deal to overcome some of the challenges that I’ve confronted and turning failures into positive lessons so that the next time you are confronted with a similar challenge, you have a set of tools to draw upon and be able to confront the next challenge ahead.

Alejandra Juarez:
What I’ve learned in my experiences that life throws a lot of curve balls at us and sometimes those are going to be small daily stressors, or they may be more intense life challenges that can leave profound effects on our lives. All of those requiring us to be resilient and stretch us to different degrees.

Chuck Gaidica:
It’s interesting as you describe it, because you think of this idea as a life being filled with changes, change is the one thing that’s always constant and here we are in this new world and trying to figure out when we’re going to come out the other side. I remember back in the day I was a little guy, I had a favorite uncle, my dad’s brother, he lived right upstairs of us, inner city Chicago. He passed away suddenly at age 39. I mean this was my hero. This was the guy I’d made snowman with and did all, went to see movies with.

Chuck Gaidica:
I remember being at the funeral and somebody used a line that we’ve all heard over our lifetime, why do bad things happen to good people? It’s a good line to use in certain circumstances, especially when that person was a good person. As I got older, I would use that line myself and then I discovered that the line comes from the name of a book, a title of a book and the title of the book, which is written by a rabbi, actually rabbi Harold Kushner. The title of the book is When Bad Things Happen to Good People and one of his premises is it’s just a matter of time before something bad is going to happen. Life, as you put it, is going to throw you a curve ball and so resilience becomes critically important because he’s saying it’s not a why it’s a when.

Alejandra Juarez:
Absolutely. You brought up some great points and I think that we can all very much relate to what you’ve shared with regards to losing a loved relative, your uncle in this case. Although it is a matter of time before we confront challenges, I think that there is an optimism that we can hone in on in knowing that when we practice being resilient and when we’ve overcome one challenge that we can move on to the next challenge that comes our way. I think that optimism is something that I really hang on to.

Alejandra Juarez:
Practicing gratitude is also a component of that for me. I think that when we’re able to experience maybe a loss that causes grief in our lives, being able to reflect on what we are grateful for and the time that we had with that loved one and the experience that they lend to our own lives is something that I find a great deal of comfort in. Of course, resilience is something that can really help us navigate some of those very real challenges, like losing someone.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Back to your analogy or the one that we discussed together, the idea of it’s like working out or flexing a muscle, this idea that if you’re practicing positive thoughts, you’re really experiencing and going out of your way to be in gratitude to what happens even in the smallest of things in your life. I think we’ve got to be patient with ourselves, don’t we, about how we’re building that muscle of resilience because it doesn’t come overnight. It’s like saying, well I’d like to drop 40 pounds and I’ll do it by next Thursday, not realistic. Don’t beat up on yourself because it just didn’t happen that fast.

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes, absolutely. Putting good practices into place and building healthy habits is a matter of making small changes that you’re consisted on. But although resilience does need to be practiced to build it to be stronger, I think that there’s a lot of hope in knowing that this is not something that you’re either born with or born without. The thing that gives me great optimism is that everyone can become more resilient. If we can be more self aware and be adaptable and learn best practices to navigate adversity through, we can really find ourselves on the other end of those life challenges in a better, more positive way.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Yeah. It is tough when you’re in the middle of the dust bowl of the thirties or the COVID pandemic or whatever it is. It is tough for a lot of people to look out and realize that there is a brighter tomorrow coming. It does seem like patience is a real virtue, that you’ve really got to stick with that idea of being positive because someday we did come out of the dust bowl, we did come out of a recession, we did come out of a depression and we’ll come out of this thing too.

Alejandra Juarez:
Absolutely. That’s where hopefulness and a positive outlook can really help us navigate these difficult times. I mean, I know that in the last several months, looking at all of the news and the statistics and the information, it was a bit overwhelming. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. So of course, sticking to those healthy habits that have helped me navigate difficult times has been very important. We know a lot of people began to practice more hobbies that allowed them to disconnect. So maybe cooking or maybe finding exercise routines that they were able to do at home. All of these things, allowing us to clear our minds, focus on the positive and really strengthen our ability to cope with crisis and different adversity.

Chuck Gaidica:
So, if I’m prying too much I want you to tell me, but, we didn’t hear the rest of the story and I don’t know if we heard even the first half of your navigating this new normal with your mom having MS. But how was her journey? We’re hearing a bit more about your journey, was she able to navigate the treacherous waters of life with MS with a positive attitude or were you seeing it affect her in a different way?

Alejandra Juarez:
That’s an interesting question and I think that with regards to any chronic illness, you’re going to have an ebb and flow of how you’re doing physically, how you’re doing emotionally and no day may be the same as the last. So I think that since MS is a condition that lends to a lengthy journey, I would not be able to classify it as one. I just know that with this condition, there’s just a great deal of physical challenges and those physical challenges do present different emotional challenges themselves.

Alejandra Juarez:
So my mother’s doing well, but of course, this is something that she’s going to have to continue. I just feel very lucky that in my professional experience, I’ve been able to learn so much about that mind and body connection, so that I’d be able to be a better support to her in this lifelong journey that she is now going to be facing.

Chuck Gaidica:
Can we touch on that a moment it’s not necessarily related directly to MS or Alzheimer’s or any specific disease, but the idea that there is a connection between mind and body. So even if your body or vice versa, some diseases attack the mind. If one of those components is suffering, there are still ways to bolster. For some I’ve seen men with Parkinson’s go to a boxing class and all a sudden they’re able to walk better and there’s something firing off in the brain that wasn’t before. There is a connection there that if you exercise even the physical part of you, it helps the mental health part of you.

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes, that’s a great way to illustrate that mind and body connection. I think that because one affects the other, there’s more evidence of this. I think that as a society, we’re really starting to see clearly that you can’t speak of health without thinking of physical health and emotional health and putting into place all those practices that will help your emotional wellbeing, but your overall health as well.

Alejandra Juarez:
Exercising is such a powerful tool to supporting emotional wellbeing. I’ll share that running is one of my favorite things to do when I feel elevated stress in my life. So perhaps I have a big project up ahead, or perhaps there’s a life event that happens and for me to be able to lace up and get out there and run is a great stress reliever. Not only is it good for my mind, but I know that it’s good for my overall health.

Chuck Gaidica:
I have to tell you for me, that was well probably for 25 years I was never a long distance guy, but I was like the three mile a day guy, grab a dog, lace up the shoes and got to go. But I found that outlet as well in things that wouldn’t seem as, well we wouldn’t categorize them as exercise, for me gardening. I could get lost for two hours in the garden. I mean, literally pulling weeds and when I’m done, I’m like, wow, that was great and it’s just my thing. I mean, I know it’s a lot of other people’s thing too, but it doesn’t always have to be the physical activity as much as it is letting your mind sort of drift away.

Alejandra Juarez:
Absolutely. We have a wonderful setting here in Michigan that allows us to go into nature and just be able to spend some time de-stressing and removing ourselves from our daily environment and finding an escape where we might not have to go on a very lengthy hike but we do know that spending time in nature or outdoors, or like you shared gardening has shown significant improvements in individual’s health.

Chuck Gaidica:
It’s funny we went down that path, forgive the pun, but tomorrow morning, my brother is in from up North and the first thing we’re going to do is meet at 9:00 AM and go for a walk. It’s either Maybury State Park or Kensington Metro Park just to connect and just to go out and just to chat and that we could do it in my family room, but why not get out there? You’re right we live in a beautiful state and sometimes we take it for granted

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes. Like I said, it’s the landscape that we have. Many of these areas to explore are in our own backyard and having the opportunity to be near the water is another thing that I certainly don’t take for granted living in Michigan. I’ve lived in a landlocked state before so I certainly think that there’s value in being able to see different aspects of nature. The reality is, is that I even sometimes just like to sit in my own backyard and look at some of my own efforts in planting and gardening and being able to find a reprieve from daily life in that process.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah and you’re bringing it back home to the idea as we’ve discussed a little bit today that it can be in the little things. I have to admit that sometimes that’s the case for me, but I think I’ve met people that everything that’s going to give them a release or they’re going to look for, has to be this grand, this big moment where the sun comes out after the storm and there’s a rainbow and well, no, maybe it is just sitting in the backyard with a cup of coffee and looking at the birds. I saw a hummingbird today and I’m sitting there marveling at what he’s doing, just flying around and I’m thinking, what a peaceful life, no worry about a 401k or a car payment, just a hummingbird and I’m having a ball watching him. It was just so peaceful.

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes, absolutely. Our own backyards or our neighborhoods, or the many local parks that we are lucky to have at our disposal, certainly can create avenues for us to find these habits for us to practice healthy living and be able to build that resilience.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, before we start to wrap things up with some specific takeaways, I do want to ask you a question because you seem like you’re the perfect coach. I know you must be extraordinarily gifted as a salesperson, but you would be a wonderful person to walk alongside people. That’s a blessing that you’ve got that gift that you can do that. But when someone who may be listening right now has got a mindset that isn’t quite positive or has just been given a diagnosis, something critical in their life, how do you shift? What is your suggestion as to how somebody stops and literally shifts so they can get on that new path to resilience? Are there tricks that you can imagine that we can use her or things that you’ve witnessed in your own life, experiences, that can help us downshift and move on to something more positive?

Alejandra Juarez:
Well, it’s interesting that you ask that because I think that for me, professionally and in my pursuit to be someone who is supportive to others who are facing life challenges, I think the best thing that we can do is listen. I think that if we listen to those that are confronted with a life challenge and give them the space and room to really explore their own feelings about what they’re going through, you’ll be able maybe not necessarily tell them something that they need to do, but give them the space to share in their emotion or share in the difficulty that they’re experiencing. I just think that there’s no greater skill than listening thoughtfully so that people can express what they’re going through.

Chuck Gaidica:
No, that’s really great advice because I know as a type a guy, I’ll just admit it, that often listening can come off, if it goes on for a while, as being a bit on the boring side. Where I think I need to mansplain, I need to step in and go listen, here’s how I would fix it. It is the way I’m wired and having five kids, I know that they look to dad sometimes for advice, but I’ve also learned in my lifetime to dial that down and listening is far more powerful.

Alejandra Juarez:
Yes. Listening is powerful. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to perhaps share in our own experience with someone who has approached us to find support. But I think that it is important to being able to fully understand the place that someone may be coming from.

Alejandra Juarez:
I’ll share with you that I recently went through a loss within my family. Many times before that people had reached out to me sharing in their own grief and loss and I knew in those times when I had not yet experienced grief in that way or a loss in that way, that all I could do was listen, because sometimes you just don’t have enough perspective to give the best counsel and to really understand what someone’s going through. So for me, when I’ve been unaware of what someone really is going through, or when someone goes through something that I, myself, am not familiar with I just go back to listening and providing words of support. Just reminding those individuals when appropriate that things will be better and that every day can be different and that there are things that they can certainly do to arrive at a better place.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I think you gave us a big takeaway there and Alejandra Juarez I know that you must be a masterful sales executive, but I’m telling you, when you step into Alejandra life coach, you need to let me know because you are also a masterful encourager. You just are gifted in that department in life, so I hope that you exercise that muscle with others in your life as you’re sharing with us today, because you’re a joy to talk to.

Alejandra Juarez:
Well, I appreciate that so much and it is my pleasure to be able to find myself in a situation that through my own experience, I am able to share with others support and empathy and show them that there is a way to overcome some of the challenges that life presents us with.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, thanks so much for your time today, and I hope you will be well and your family too.

Alejandra Juarez:
Thank you so much. Thank you for allowing me to join you today.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, our pleasure. Alejandra Juarez, who is a sales executive with New Directions Behavioral Health, but as you heard, she needs to be a life coach. She needs to help us all out. We’re glad you were with us today. Thanks for listening to a Healthier Michigan Podcast is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like our show, you want to know more about a check us out online, a healthiermichigan.org/podcast. You can leave reviews there, ratings on Apple podcast or Stitcher. You can get new episodes, old episodes on your smartphone or tablet, and you can subscribe to us at Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. I’m Chuck Gaidica, be well.