NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER
Françoise Adan danced and clapped along with the audience to Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will Survive”: “As long as I have love to give, I will survive. I have all my life to live, all my love to give, I will survive.”
“This is my song. I love this song,” Adan said.
Then Adan shifted the energy. She guided the Amphitheater audience through meditation, to find a comfortable position, to close their eyes and pay attention to their breath as it was, and try not to change anything. Then she said to visualize an image of peace, whether it was a word, symbol, or an area or person they loved. Then she asked them to silently repeat a simple affirmation: I am peaceful and present.
Then Adan told the audience to open their eyes.
“Today, I will share with you some tools and some tips to build your resilience,” Adan said. “I will give you hope, but I will also challenge you with a call for action.”
Adan is the chief whole health and wellbeing officer for University Hospitals, as well as the director for the UH Connor Integrative Health Network based in Cleveland. At 10:30 a.m. Aug. 24 in the Amp, Adan discussed the foundational pieces of resilience, which start from self-care and end with compassion, and how people could build this skill within themselves. This was the second lecture of Week Nine’s theme of “Resilience.”
Adan has worked as a psychiatrist for about 25 years, with around 35,000 hours spent one-on-one with patients.
“People are incredible. They taught me so much and still amazed me by how humans are resilient. People get beaten, betrayed. They feel scared, anxious, overwhelmed, anxious, guilty, sad and so much more,” Adan said. “Somehow, they emerge. Somehow, they stand back up. Somehow, they move forward and, often, thrive.”
Over those years, she learned resilience is the “ultimate equalizer.” She defined resilience as the ability to bounce back up, adapt and cope.
“I’ve seen people having everything, but, at some point in their life, in some circumstances, they don’t know how to cope anymore,” Adan said. “I’ve seen people who have nothing, who live in incredible circumstances, but, again, somehow, they find the courage, the resilience, just to take one more step.”
She also said resilience means refusing to be the victim. Resilience means choosing to spend energy on finding a solution, rather than blaming others or themselves. Resilience is a skill, which means people can get better at it.
This all starts with self-care — and the most important word in that phrase, she said, is “self.”
“I know, often people don’t like this word,” Adan said. “We take better care of our car or dog or work or friends or children than ourselves.”
People have to take care of themselves on their best days and, especially, she said, on their worst. Self-care means doing the basics, like eating more vegetables, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep. The U.S. especially needs more sleep, she said, because 70% of the population is sleep-deprived.
One of the biggest aspects of self-care is managing stress, and the first way to cope with anxieties that Adan delved into was mindfulness. She said 80% of primary care visits are due to conditions either caused by stress or exacerbated by it.
She then quoted Mark Twain: “I had a lot of worries in my life — most never happened.”
This is where mindfulness comes into play.
“(Mindfulness) is to be in the present as an observer. We’re not in the past. ‘What could have happened, would have happened, should have happened,’ often leads to regrets and sorrow,” Adan said. “We’re not in the future, the to-do list, the worries that lead to anxiety. We are in the present, as an active observer.”
Mindfulness allows people to see problems as they are, instead of amplifying them.
The second way to manage stress is to realign priority. As inspirational speaker Virginia Brett said, “ ‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Adan conceded that it is tough for her to say no.
“What I do,” Adan said, “is I don’t say yes right away. So what I do, I say, ‘Let me get back to you tomorrow.’ It gives me an opportunity to think. ‘Do I really want to do this? Do I feel like I have to do this? How does that fit in my schedule in my life?’ ”
Unlike checking a pulse or blood pressure, resilience has no surefire measure. The best way, Adan has found, to check a person’s “resilience pulse” was to ask them two sets of questions. The first: “When I am at my best, when things come easily, when I’m in my zone, how do I feel? How do I behave? What do I do?”
“For me, when things come easily, I have a great sense of humor,” Adan said. “I have a good sense of perspective, and it’s easy for me to make decisions.”
Then she asks the opposite: “When I’m at my worst, when I feel I can’t take it anymore, when the next step just seems too much, who am I? How do I behave? Where do I feel it?”
“For me, easy, I’m someone I don’t like,” Adan said. “I am judgmental, cynical, critical, impatient. Everybody. Is. So. Slow!”
Self-awareness, she said, is the key to creating resilience. This means knowing what makes us feel better, and what makes us feel worse.
“Most of us, as we are not in our zone, when we are acting at our worst, we actually do more of what’s hurting us, instead of what’s helping us,” Adan said.
Resilient people, she said, have three main characteristics. The first is that they accept life as it is — which, she said, gives people the ability to move on and not think of themselves as the victim. Instead, people who accept life as it is can spend more energy trying to change it.
And the second characteristic is that they are positive, which Adan said is the “unstoppable hunt to look for what is right.”
Having a positive mindset is not the same as being optimistic, though.
“We all know the analogy of the glass half-full or half-empty. We all know that seeing it half full is better, but positive people go even beyond that,” Adan said. “Even if there is not that much water, there’s still a glass. There is no glass? I have my hand. I can make a cup.”
The last characteristic of resilient people is they have purpose. This doesn’t mean they have a world-changing plan, like curing all diseases, she said, but small purposes, like being a good neighbor or friend.
She quoted Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning: “When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“I have a fancy title. I have a great job. I have a good income. And at the end of the day,” Adan said, “ ‘I have all my love to give, all my life to live,’ and for me, that is my purpose — to be loved and to love.”
The last step of resilience is compassion. Compassion is different from empathy, though, because empathy, she said, means envisioning oneself in another’s shoes, while compassion means doing something to help.
“The amazing thing is being compassionate, being a listener, looking at someone in her eyes, smiling, is actually replenishing yourself,” Adan said. “So, people who are compassionate experience less burnout — not the other way around — which, to me, is incredible.”
She then shared one of the most important lessons of her life. In 1993, Adan interned at the Cleveland Clinic, and during one shift she hadn’t slept in 24 hours because of her work schedule. One of her patients was a 23-year-old mother of five children with three different fathers, who had a heart infection because of drug use.
“I am exhausted and depleted and, you remember how I am (at my worst) — cynical, judgmental, feeling completely hopeless, and hopeless for her and for me,” Adan said. “I feel no ability to help her.”
The doctor stopped her and said, “Do you think she woke up yesterday and thought, ‘I’m going to screw this up’? We all do the best we can.”
“That moment was literally life-changing for me; realizing that this was where she was at that time. Having compassion was not only going to help her but help me,” Adan said. “The reality is we all do the best we can, sometimes great, sometimes not so great.”
Compassion, she said, also means taking care of oneself.
“There is absolutely zero research confirming that beating ourselves up for whatever else we didn’t do is going to help us. Zero,” Adan said. “But we do it over and over and over again.”
She ended her lecture by talking about her time at Chautauqua. When she entered the front gates of the Institution, it was like she was entering a dream, where every stranger she passed looked her in the eye and said, “Hello!”
Then she asked the audience to think about this question: What is one thing from this summer they learned, and are willing to take back into the wild?