Surviving Winter – 5 Dimensions of Resilience

It’s been a cold, unrelenting winter here in Calgary. As I write, the temperature is a frigid -27 ‘C, with wind chills at -39’C. For American readers, that’s -38.2 Fahrenheit! My son walked 10 minutes home from a friends’ place. He had multiple layers of thick winter clothing – for a Canadian teen, highly unusual and unnatural! Usually it’s an open winter jacket no matter the cold! He looked like an overstuffed Easter egg! Upon his return, ice crystals lined his eye lashes and brows.

The interesting thing about Calgary is its Chinooks – warm air, coming from the ocean over the Rockies, can see rises in Iciclestemperature within hours of 15-20 degrees. We enjoy a yo-yo of weather consistently through the winter (a killer for migraine sufferers). Surprisingly, my perennials return each spring, able to bear these extreme fluctuations. As a gardener, I’ve learnt the stronger they become during the summer months – with deep roots and sturdy stems, the greater their chance of winter survival.

And that makes me wonder, what is it about us as expatriates (who have regular doses of transition – often more than we anticipate or desire), that allows us to thrive the winter weather of our souls? Those times when we feel the extreme challenge of life and wonder if we’ll suffocate… or survive?

Last blog we looked at 6 Keys To Understanding Resilience and found that there’s no resilience without challenge. Neither is there a scientific formula – each of us has different ingredients for resiliency. Today we look at…


Emotional Resilience1. Emotional: Transition – whether it be deployment, redeployment, repatriation, home leave or home assignment – brings with it emotional upheaval. Dis-equilibrium. There’s stress from loss and the instability of change. Learning to accept feelings and cope with emotions are an important ingredient of resilience. In his best-selling book, The Resiliency Advantage, Al Siebert, PhD, writes that “resilient people adapt to new circumstances and thrive in constant change.” They have confidence they’ll bounce back in time.

2. Physical: This body we’ve been given is all we have to express who we are. Each of us has physical limitations and strengths. Living in different environments and climates, eating unfamiliar foods and drinking unfamiliar water, can be challenging. The immune system needs to adapt. Learning to honour your physical body and finding ways to build its capacity is key to resilience. Nutrition, sleep, hydration, and exercise are musts for physical well-being.

3. Intellectual: “We are what we think”, so said wise King Solomon. Resilient people chose empowering perspectives and are aware of their thought processes – from problem solving to seeing situations from other people’s viewpoints. Mental resilience comes from thinking like an optimist, even in adversity. Over-generalizing (basing assumptions on just a few pieces of information) and catastrophic thinking (the tendency to assume the worst) are important to resist.

Eggs in Hands4. Spiritual: Feeling connected to something bigger than yourself is vital. Spirituality involves beliefs, values, and identity that give a sense of purpose and vision. These elements define the meaning of experiences, how we behave ethically, and persevere through challenges.

5. Relational: Developing and keeping trusted friendships is the last dimension of resilience. Knowing how to communicate inter-culturally, being sensitive to the needs of others, and allowing a comfortable exchange of ideas, views, and experiences allows old relationships to be kept and new relationships to be built in expatriate life. The most intimate relationships we have – those of family – need to be safe, supportive, accepting and honouring. This provides an oasis for family to live in a healthy and secure environment.

There is a dynamic, organic interplay between each of these dimensions. We have been created this way. Good health — and a regular routine of healthy habits — are foundational to both mental and emotional resilience. Spirituality promotes meaningful connections with others and healthy life style choices. It also allows for emotional strength and mental well-being. Tools that aid in emotional stability allow the body to stay healthier. You get the idea!

Each of these dimensions can either be a source of resilience or not – a strength or weakness in stressful times. Psychologists agree that some people seem to be born with more resilience than others. But they also assert that it’s possible for all of us to cultivate more of it. Knowing and understanding yourself is key to nurturing your resilience.

Questions to ponder:

– In challenge, how is each of these dimensions affected in your life? What holds strong? What tends to fall apart?

– Right now, what number would you give each dimension? (1 being weak and 10 being strong)

– Which is your strongest dimension? How have you developed it over the years? What makes it strong now?

– Which is your weakest dimension- the one that seems to ‘take on’ the adversity more than the others? What’s the truth about the weakness? The lie?

– What one would you like to pick as key to strengthening your resilience quotient now? What one step do you wish to take towards strengthening it?

Daily habits and practices count big time as you build resilience in each of these areas. I encourage you to tap into the dimensions that are strong and find resources to build up those that need strengthening. As a gardener, I take time to nourish my perennials during the summer months so they can survive the winter. As expats, nurture each dimension of your being in easier times, so that when adaptation to adversity is needed, you will be strong!

Becky Signature 2


  1. Linda A Janssen says:

    A thoughtful piece Becky. Just as you note the interplay among the five dimensions of resilience, I would say that we can each have both strengths and weaknesses within each, not simply one or the other. Your thoughts?

  2. Expat Family Resilience Coach says:

    So true, Linda! Strengths and weaknesses emerge, depending on our vulnerabilities and choices, within each dimension. Often the season we are in makes a difference as well. For instance, as a younger mom I find myself more vulnerable emotionally, especially at those relocation times when I had 3-4 kids that were having meltdowns on top of mine! Now that I’m in midlife, my physical dimension is dragging somewhat! And some days… or weeks, we can surprise ourselves to find the depth of strength that is present and can be tapped into. What have you personally found in your expat life? Even now as you repatriate?

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