Birgit Bauer explores how "Sisu," the Finnish concept of resilience and determination, can help her manage multiple sclerosis (MS).
A few years ago, I went to Finland, right up near the Arctic Circle. Everything about it was impressive, from the scenery to the people and the culture. It was only for a few days in November when the dark polar nights were too long and the days too short, but despite this, those few days have made a huge difference to my life.
One thing that really caught my attention was how calm the Finnish people are. It seemed like they were completely content with themselves and their world, which was very foreign to me then.
My trip came just after a relapse from my MS, and I didn't trust myself or my abilities. Finland represented an opportunity to leave my life behind for a few days and find a new perspective. And I did – in the little-known Finnish concept of "Sisu."
What is Sisu?
For those that have yet to come across it, Sisu is a characteristic of Finnish culture. There isn't a direct English translation, but Sisu focuses on how Finnish people live, think, and succeed.
It's about accepting things as they are and working through uncomfortable times with stoic determination. It's about inner strength. Often used synonyms include hardiness, courage, bravery, tenacity, willpower and resilience.
Why we should adopt the Sisu mind-set
The practices of Sisu offer many learnings that we can adopt in our everyday lives. For those of us living with a chronic disease, it can offer a mind-set that helps deal with the uncertainty and unavoidable change that we must regularly cope with. Sisu can give you the tools to help you manage.
Although, at times, it may feel easier to give up and admit defeat, Sisu teaches the power of perseverance. It encourages a shift in mind-set - one that brings the power back to the individual, showing us things can change if we decide to change them.
How Sisu has helped me
Since my trip to Finland, I have used the concept of Sisu to help me cope with my MS. Let's just say stress and MS do not combine well.
1. Defining my needs
Firstly, Sisu has taught me to sit down, take a deep breath and evaluate a situation when things become overwhelming. I was recently looking for a new physiotherapist and felt stressed about undertaking this daunting task.
Instead of worrying about it, I decided to create a list of my requirements that would explain my needs clearly. This changed my perspective on the situation and allowed me the space to think about precisely what I needed and how to move forward.
This kind of thinking creates a more positive "can do" mind-set, which enables me to see a path through a challenge.
2. Taking things step by step
Some problems need to be solved quickly. Sisu teaches me that by taking things step by step, I can move forward swiftly without becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of a task. I have learnt that this process is personal and differs for everyone.
My personal challenge during the last few months was a professional one. Work events got cancelled from one day to the next, and I had to stop travelling. We had to reorganise our schedules and find remote ways of working together. We started by setting up a digital working environment, but this wasn't always easy.
I talked with my team to find valuable tools for working remotely, and we set times for regular meetings. I then started reorganising my working day to fit into this new schedule. I sat down, created a To Do List, highlighted the priorities, and began to work through them step by step.
This process helped me to adapt to this new way of working in a very short time without feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
3. Seeing the positives
For me, it's all about seeing the good things in life despite how "bad" things might seem. Seeing a difficult situation as an opportunity for change allows me to live a better, more fulfilled life despite my MS.
I trust myself more than before, reducing my anxiety around all aspects of my life. It allows me to overcome challenges and be more relaxed and kinder to myself. It also stops me from slipping into depression.
I have started to appreciate the small things, like being able to go online or into my own little garden. It's about seeing the opportunities in the situation rather than the obstacles.
Sisu is a philosophy, a mind-set that can help make life a little easier. It is by no means a cure for a disease, but it can teach us how to manage the challenges we face throughout life.
It focuses on being thankful for what we've got and making the most of our situation. It's about finding joy in the small things. As the world gets tougher to navigate, we can all do with a little more Sisu in our mind-set.
NPS-IE-NP-00689 February 2023