"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you." Ralph Waldo Emerson
For several decades Kashmir valley has been the scene of numerous traumatic and tragic events that have, over time, influenced the minds of its people. This is probably one of the reasons that have led to changes in behavior and even sometimes in personalities of individuals that have been exposed, in one way or the other, to these conditions.
It is often very difficult for people to deal with the after-effects of a traumatic experience. But especially when there is a chronic ongoing stressful situation combined with acute traumatic incidents, normal stress reactions can transform into bigger problems leading to emotional imbalance and difficulties in dealing with the normal elements of daily life.
Mental health has an impact on the well-being in all major aspects of one's life – socially, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Everyone is unique in this regard and the challenge – especially under the difficult condition of living in a chronic conflict zone – is to stay mentally healthy by keeping the right personal balance. Very easily the individual can get unstable as the balance may be tipped too much in one direction.
There are events that have an impact on people, often forcing people to change the way they perceive their lives. The weight of these occurrences can be really high and sometimes very difficult to manage. How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? Trauma, violence, serious illness or the loss of a loved one are a few examples of difficult life experiences. It is seen that many people respond to such circumstances with an overflow of strong emotions and a sense of indecision. In Kashmir it is a widespread phenomenon.
How people cope with difficult situations depends on their resilience and protective factors. Resilience describes the ability to adapt to adversity, like traumatic events or problems. With time, one generally adapts well to the jolts and stressful conditions. To be able to cope involves resilience, an ongoing process that requires time and effort to engage in, and it involves taking a number of steps. It is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or other significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health ailments, or workplace and financial stressors. Resilience helps to recover from difficulties and to move forward. It helps you to "bounce back" from difficult experiences. Although the feelings of sadness, grief or anger still exist, it will be easier to overcome problems and maintain a healthy psychological and physical way of functioning.
A person with a high resilience shows healthy, normal behaviors despite the incident or problem experienced, performs competently in stressful situations, recovers from a trauma after a traumatic event and uses the challenges in life for personal growth. Resilience depends on protective factors like supporting relationships, self-confidence, a positive self image and well developed communication skills. People with a high resilience learn from their experiences while managing difficult situations. That has a positive impact on coping mechanisms in the future.
Resilience is normal. People normally demonstrate resilience. Many individuals who have suffered from traumatic conditions have bounced back to rebuild their lives. But resilience is not a fully working gift people receive by birth; it is often necessary to develop skills to become more resilient. There are different ways to achieve this.
Being resilient is good and does not mean that the person is not experiencing difficulty or distress. Emotional misery and sadness are common in people who have suffered trauma in their lives. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned, acquired and developed in anyone.
How does one develop resilience?
Developing resilience is a personal journey. All people do not react the same way to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. People use different strategies. Some variation may reflect cultural differences. A person's culture might have an impact on how he or she communicates feelings and deals with adversity.
One important factor is the establishment and maintenance of good relationships with family members, friends, colleagues and other people around. Participation in family gatherings and engaging socially may prove to be a good activity in one's life. Social contacts have a positive impact on personal well-being.
When a crisis or a stressful event occurs, it is not helpful to see it as unbearable. Stressful events are part of our life. The way of thinking about these events has a big influence on how people react to them. If problems are seen as a challenge, coping with these kinds of situations will be easier. Ignoring problems never solves the situation. Being active and planning a solution are more useful.
While developing goals it's important to consider small and realistic steps for achieving the chosen goals. Avoid making a catastrophe out of the situation. To see the bigger picture and be focused on the long-term perspective is a good protection from being overwhelmed. Optimism and confidence in your own abilities to solve problems strengthens your resilience.
In general, an optimistic outlook into the future contributes to a strong resilience. Additionally taking care of yourself and being aware of your own needs and feelings are a good preparation to help you deal better with difficult situations.
Among children a good resilience can be created. A good interaction between parents and child, a good structure in the family, high educational stimuli and activities, and parent's support prove to be very helpful for children. The positive effects can be seen in the educational outcome, like in good school performance. Resilience has a big impact on the personal well-being and can protect from mental health problems like depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder.
The people of Kashmir have been experiencing the effects of a long, protracted conflict. The unfolding events and developments across the region have been severely testing on the resilience of many people. There have been many occasions where people were trapped inside their homes for long periods, for instance during strikes or curfews. There have been many instances over the past years when everyday activities and normal life suddenly came to a grinding halt.
These circumstances put a big challenge on the shoulders of the people experiencing these conditions. Such a situation leaves an individual more vulnerable to psychological problems, to cope with these disturbances in such a situation demands a high level of mental strength or resilience. As mentioned earlier, different individuals can respond differently to these testing conditions and people living in Kashmir do not have a different story to tell.
Mental health is the springboard for resilience. Accessing mental health services like those offered by Médecins Sans Frontières can help a person rebuild and obtain this ability. MSF has been active in helping out people in bouncing back to their normal way of living.
To conclude, there is no escaping stress, but there are ways one can learn to handle stress better when it is present, and to 'bounce back' faster from its impact. Learning to become more emotionally resilient can dramatically improve one's attitude in the face of inevitable stress.
(This article has been Witten on behalf of An article by Médecins Sans Frontières. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders is an international humanitarian medical aid organisation working in more than 70 countries worldwide. MSF is neutral, impartial, independent, and not linked to any political party or governmental body. Our teams provide emergency medical assistance to people in need, irrespective of their nationality, race or religion. In 1999 MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)