Sowing strength for the long run
In the spring of 2018, Christopher K. received a call that changed his life forever. His brother had passed away at the age of 27, and he needed to leave Berlin immediately to fly back to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Over the many years I’ve known Christopher, I’ve always been impressed with his spiritual resilience in the face of such adversity. He has navigated his loss with grace, fortitude, and steadfastness. Losing a family member is a seismically tragic event, but many of us have experienced challenging moments in life. Whatever the source, like Christopher, we can draw on the same type of spiritual stamina—the ability to call on calmness under turmoil—to help us not only survive but thrive in an unpredictable world.
First, what is our spirit? We can think of it as our life force, which we express in the ways we relate to the world through our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
“Spiritual stamina means having the ability to navigate the highs and lows of life with flexibility, openness, and acceptance,” says Natalie Hirsch, a psychologist based in Melbourne, Australia. “It does not mean that difficult times become absent or nonexistent; spiritual stamina helps us to create space for such challenges and to manage them when they arise.”
Confidence helps us feel ready for the experiences that life throws at us, and it also helps us try again if things don’t work out the first time.
Instead of focusing on what this event is taking away from you, think about what it can bring: new knowledge about yourself, others around you, or the world we live in, which will help you move with more ease next time.
“I try to focus on the sense that loss can deepen you in beautiful ways,” says Christopher on resilience after loss. “It brings you closer to those around you and the beating heart of the world.”
Working toward a goal can help you to cultivate positive energy. For example, in the years following the loss of his brother, Christopher focused on putting his energy into his climate policy work, which he said gave him a much-needed sense of purpose.
Spiritual stamina allows us to seize back control over our own lives, but it’s important not to get too caught up in narratives about individual resilience. In society today, there are many oppressive power structures that affect people’s lives, particularly those with historically marginalized identities. Dismantling these requires structural, not individual, change.
You can cultivate spiritual stamina in many ways. Firstly, says Hirsch, prioritize self-care and activities that bring you back into balance, such as a daily walk, meditation, maintaining healthy and well-balanced dietary patterns, or sustaining a regular sleep routine.
Positive self-talk can also help you build spiritual strength; a study focused on athletes found that motivational self-talk helped them develop better technique and have less variability in their heart rate while performing.
Physical and mental exercise can also improve mental strength, calmness, and self-confidence. Make time for regular workouts and yoga sessions and consider taking up brain games such as crosswords or Sudoku.
Another great way to increase spiritual stamina is by planning ahead, whether that means work tasks, meals, or childcare: the more organized you feel, the easier it is to stay grounded when challenging situations arise.
Finally, know that you don’t need to go through hard times on your own. If you are feeling overwhelmed, lost, stressed, or scared, talk about your feelings with people you trust. Science shows that it will make you feel better.
For Christopher, an important component of his resilience has been cultivated through therapy, as well as his “sense of place and community in Berlin.” Hirsch also recommends nurturing important relationships in your life and seeking out professional help as needed for further guidance and support.
Spiritual stamina can help us endure tough situations to a certain extent, but pushing ourselves past our physical, mental, and spiritual limits is a key driver of burnout, a condition characterized by emotional exhaustion and detachment. If you’re worried about burnout, talk to a trusted care provider.
“Spiritual stamina increases feelings of calm and reduces stress, which helps to regulate the nervous system,” says Hirsch. Practices to strengthen your spiritual stamina, such as physical exercise, have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve memory, cognition, and self-esteem, which, in turn, is linked strongly to happiness and initiative-taking.
In this way, we can understand spiritual stamina as a virtuous circle: its various components are mutually reinforcing, helping us live healthier, happier, and more resilient lives. [END]
Isabela Vera is a writer and researcher. She’s the founder of Feminist Food Journal, a magazine dedicated to a feminist food system. Find her on Twitter at @isabelajvera or @femfoodjournal.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one-quarter of Canadians reported experiencing high stress levels on most days (with women more likely to report feeling stressed).
This type of chronic stress can have detrimental impacts on our physical and mental health, increasing our risks of cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, depression, and anxiety, and it can also have a negative impact on our relationships.
Healthy stress management practices, including spiritual stamina, can help reduce stress levels.
The next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, try replacing any negative self-talk with positive affirmations: