Mental Toughness for life's setbacks

Deepak Chopra defines emotional resilience as the ability to bounce back from life’s setbacks.  Regular readers of postworksavvy know that life handed me a setback just two weeks before I retired when I received a diagnosis of moderately severe osteo arthritis.  Despite denial, searching for second and third opinions, and bargaining with myself to avoid the inevitable, the best resolution for quality of life in retirement is total hip replacement.

As I prepare to face major surgery within the next month, I am aware that mental toughness will be an important component in recovery.   Having joint replacement surgery will lead to some level of psychological stress along with the physical trauma to my body.  How can I muster a mental attitude that will provide the best level of resilience and allow me to stay calm and engaged with the necessary rehabilitation?  What kind of emotional resilience will be required to help me move through the surgery, the hospital stay and the rehabilitation?

I know that I’m not alone in facing a situation that will tax my emotional resilience.  Whether it is a health problem, separation from a loved person through death or divorce, unemployment, loneliness, or any major disappointment that forces a change of plans or expectations, everyone will benefit from mental toughness.  It is this toughness that gives the courage to move through a difficult time.

Many life situations just happen but sometimes fate allows a certain amount of mental preparation.   All of us have reserves of emotional resilience developed by coping with various types of stress and adversity.  We can learn from the past — both from the times when we faced adversity with courage and also from the times when coping skills were deficient. When preparing to cope with one of life’s setbacks, the basics of mental toughness are worth considering.

Learning the facts is a good starting point.  Whether it begins with internet research or other reading, understanding what is ahead helps to anticipate and problem solve.  In preparing for surgery, I have been using consultations with my family physician, with the orthopaedic surgeon and with my physiotherapist to learn and to discuss questions.  As well the pre-op clinic at the hospital has provided checklists for changes in the home environment during the post op period while my muscles heal and I learn to walk again.  Yes, it is scary but so is the option of doing nothing.

Developing a realistic assessment of what is ahead is also important as a method for gaining perspective.    Various options are usually available for consideration. Preparing for the inevitable physical discomfort post surgery, understanding limitations that will be faced, and setting realistic goals for convalescence are strategies that I am using.  I am listening carefully to friends and acquaintances who have faced similar surgeries for their wisdom about recovery experiences. A recently retired friend who spent years working as a nurse in orthopaedics told me to get some surgical gloves to help pull up my socks post surgery — who would have thought of that?  Others have advised cooking meals and storing prepared foods in the freezer for the post op time when I will have limited mobility.

Emotionally resilient people maintain a positive attitude when faced with adversity.  No situation is unbearable.  In a past chapter of my life, a close associate used to remind me that no ‘pity party’ was necessary and that wallowing in negativity would only prolong the time needed to begin to problem solve and move forward. While I’m sure that there will be personal growth by facing this experience, I must confess that it is difficult, at times, to consider the positive aspects of a hip replacement.  Relief of pain, re-gaining ability to walk without a cane and re-gaining ability to climb stairs are obvious benefits.  So when I begin to feel sorry for myself, I focus on my expectation of a good outcome and the benefits of good mobility so that I can travel and get on with the retirement plans made before this diagnosis.

By maintaining hope and optimism about the end result  — including the quality of life that will be restored, I am building mental toughness for those days when challenges will be faced.  Knowing the track record of the surgeon and the hospital provides a level of confidence.  Learning of the numbers of people who have fully recovered and have resumed an active lifestyle  gives encouragement as well.

Finally, I plan to draw on my network of social support including my family, friends and neighbours who have generously offered to help me.  Having relationships with people who care about you and drawing on their encouragement helps when facing any setback.  All of us have been in the position of caring for others during times of loss or illness.  This is the time to call in the chits that you have earned when helping others.  Difficult as it is for me to swallow my pride and admit that I will need some help, I know that many people are there to provide various resources:  listening, encouraging, commiserating, advising — not to mention providing physical help when needed:  shopping, cooking, driving, etc.

Emotional resilience is something that all of us can develop.  No matter what life setback that must be overcome, it can be a smoother passage.  Understanding the facts, realistically assessing options, using support systems and staying hopeful are techniques that I am currently using.

I am interested in learning what has worked for you when coping with adversity. How have you built your own capacity for mental toughness?

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7 Replies to “Mental Toughness for life's setbacks”

  1. Michael Robinson says: Reply

    As a Christian involved in a small way in the ministry of healing in the name of Jesus, I would be looking to Jesus to heal me. He still going that all over the world today in thousands of lives every day. I clap the medical profession they do a wonderful job, but only recently a dear friend had a severe hip problem and he was taking up a voluntary taxi job, which he could not do unless he received a real healing from Jesus so he asked him and now he has no pain and he is going wonders with his new job.

    1. Hello Michael,
      The story of how your friend was healed is wonderful. Miracles do happen and we must be grateful.
      Be well,

      1. peace by peace says: Reply

        Thank you for you kind reply I take this opportunity to believe you will have a wonderful Christmas and a great 2014.

        Every blessing,

        Mike and Pam Robinson

        1. Thank you for your good wishes. The Christmas season is a wonderful time for each of us to express gratitude to others. Your support in reading my blog posts and sending comments is appreciated.
          Be well and celebrate Christmas with all of the joy, peace, and love that was meant for all to share.

  2. I’ve known several people who have had new joints – both knees and hips. All have been quite pleased with the outcome. My friend with the new knees is backpacking again!

    1. Good to hear the success stories. I understand that the hip replacement is easier than having a new knee. Nonetheless, I am feeling some apprehension as the surgery date approaches. Stay tuned…………Jeanette

    2. Thank you for your encouraging comment. Many people have written to me with similar feedback. After November 19, I will write about my own experience — hopefully it will be a good one. Blessings to you, Jeanette

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