Jeff Zeizel is the guy you meet on the worst day of your life. When your bank is robbed at gunpoint. When your father is hit by a drunk driver. When your kid overdoses from drugs. And while he's someone no one really wants to meet-he's a trauma specialist-he's a terrific guy to spend time with.

I've been exploring Singapore, so my buddy, retired U.S. Army Col. Tim Nye, did the honors and interviewed Jeff, who had some amazing things to say about surviving the unimaginable. It's a terrifying subject, but there's good news:

Anyone can build the resilience they need to survive hard times.

Jeff is a clinical social worker and the man law enforcement and first responders call when someone is in need of psychological first aid. For fun he runs marathons-he's up to 20 and counting.

Mayhem at the Boston Marathon

Surprisingly, it's the thing he does to relax that forced him to become his own patient. On April 15, 2013 he and his son, Austin, ran the Boston Marathon. Jeff told Austin to set his own pace and meet him at Heartbreak Hill and they'd run to the finish line together. He got as far as Kenmore Square when a cop stopped him.

"You have to turn around. A bomb went off," the officer said.

You can only imagine what swam through Jeff's mind at that moment. A bomb? How could this be happening? Where was Austin? There was talk of people having been killed and maimed. Carnage. Jeff heard the words but couldn't process them.

That's when his resilience training kicked in. He remembered that first reports of an incident are always wrong. "Ninety percent of the information you get during a traumatic incident is incorrect," Jeff says. Then he worked on turning off what he calls "automatic thoughts"-when your imagination runs away with you and you go to your dark place.

Next he reminded himself:

  • Take it one step at a time.
  • Don't forget to breathe.
  • Remember, things will work themselves out.
  • AAA: Action alleviates anxiety.

"I'm not usually the one affected by the trauma, but I realized there were all these other people who were upset and hurt," Jeff said. "I could help them by administering psychological first aid." He wanted to be part of the 10 percent of people who-like Colonel Nye-act as "sheepdogs" and run into danger to help others.

Your Resilience Toolkit

So how do you build the resilience you need to survive the toughest times in your life?

It's important to build skills so that during those times when the adrenaline takes over and words fail you, you can still act. Here are the qualities you need:

  • Optimism: Look for your blessings and make the most of them, even in a bad situation.
  • Sense of humor: A good laugh is important to alleviate stress.
  • Sense of purpose: You can get through anything if you're making a contribution.
  • Altruism: Knowing you made a difference builds positive feelings.
  • Moral compass: It's important to know your True North.
  • Spirituality and faith: Knowing in your heart you will get through this to a new normal.
  • Social support: Camaraderie can help you get through the worst adversity.
  • Role modeling: Influencing others inspires us to be the best version of ourselves.

And lastly, make your bed. Believe it or not, coming home to a freshly made bed picks up your mood and helps you transition from the problems of the day.

Life isn't always fair, but any Spartan knows that a bad training day or a lousy race doesn't mean it can't be great. By building our resilience, we can make sure we can get past the bad times and really appreciate all we have. Like finding out that your son escaped being injured during the bombing. Some very bad days can also be very good.

Published on: Jun 3, 2016
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