As a therapist and life coach who is all about helping people grow, I work with many of my clients around cultivating resilience.
What is Resilience?
Merriam-Webster defines resilience as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
A death or major loss, a move, a change in career, starting school, a new baby or the blending of a family, the beginning or ending of an intimate relationship; these things are extremely challenging, but sometimes it seems like we can spring back rather quickly and with minimum effort, and at other times it can be a herculean task to simply get through the day.
How resilient you are determines whether you'll bounce back easily after a challenge, or whether it will lay you flat.
The Source of Your Resilience
All of us, all humans, are resilient in some way. We can not help it. The adage that the only constant in this crazy life is change proves true time and time again. We must be biologically programmed with this mysterious quality to adapt, right? Well, as with most things, it is a little more complicated than that.
I have come to understand resiliency as a complex interplay between biological, psychological, and social or cultural aspects. So, why do people differ so much in their ability to spring back at different times in their life? Maybe we can break it down:
Biological: For me, eye color always comes to mind when we start discussing biology; however, our genes contribute to who we are in so many powerful and unexpected ways. Genetic predispositions, including adaptive or maladaptive traits and behaviors, may start spontaneously with us or may have been passed down through generations.
Psychological: If psychology is the study of the mind and behavior, then we can expect this category to include your thoughts, perceptions and emotional responses. Do you hold high personal expectations for yourself and others? Are you finding an internal voice that is more critical than it was in the past?
Social: What were you taught? What is the right behavior and wrong behavior in a particular situation? What were the rules in your home or with your peers? Our socialization certainly impacts the way we process information, sometimes whether we would like it to or not.
This is complex stuff! It might even be impossible to tweeze these categories away from each other, probably why you cannot find a magic pill at your local pharmacy that results in perfectly adaptable coping.
How to Become More Resilient
Increase awareness of your vulnerabilities. Maybe you are coming off a series of what felt like perpetual loses; you just could not catch a break. Maybe you have transitioned into new, unfamiliar roles in your relationships or at work and your confidence has been shaken. Maybe you lost your main support person or system. Maybe you have experienced a history of loss, betrayal or trauma. Maybe your health, your sleep, your thoughts and your approach to life is feeling hopeless. Whatever your background or your current experience, growing personal awareness is helpful.
Although being resilient is intrinsic to the human experience, it's also a skill you can build with constant practice. It is not about ignoring the negative stuff in the world. In fact, if we deny our emotions or experiences, we can lose important information and lessons they have to teach us. Through awareness, we can start to understand if our thoughts, circumstances, biology, or a combination of the three are leading us down a difficult road, one where it is harder to get back on track. Personal awareness can result in an alarm, a call to arms, or indicate it is time to rally.
Here are some tips on how you can practice personal awareness in your everyday life:
- Remind Yourself of Your Strengths and Abilities
- Coach Yourself Through Hard Situations With Affirming Self-Talk
- Take a Little More Time to Engage in Self-Care; Take Extra Good Care of Yourself
- Participate in a New Experience
- Help Others or Volunteer
- Practice an Attitude of Gratitude
- Nurture Your Relationships
Reach out for help. Maybe you are reaching out for yourself or maybe you are reaching out for someone you love. It can be hard to push past the high expectations we hold for ourselves, or perhaps come from someone or somewhere else. We need to create an environment where reaching out is not seen as weakness or failure but the opposite; healthy striving. This may be particularly challenging if you have a history of being resilient in other situations. Being brave and saying “I need help” can be the first step to more resilience.
Being open to support from others is a strength because adversity will happen. Connection can result in increased meaning, help us cope with current stressors, and result in more resilience. Embracing that others want to help and that you are worthy of love and support can shape your identity and build up your confidence to feel capable of navigating the next challenge.
Trust the process. Maybe you’ve heard this phrase. I certainly use it with my clients, and honestly, I know how frustrating it can be when all you want to do is feel better, now! Tension builds when we work towards our goals but don’t see automatic results. It can feel painful to sit with our current thoughts and circumstances, especially when it feels like they’ll never change. So how can you cope in the moment, with the ultimate goal of building up your resilience? I’ll leave you with a few more tips:
- Have a meaningful conversation with a good friend. Sit down and talk about the challenges you are navigating and maybe if you feel ready, start exploring ways to improve the situation or at least feel better about it.
- Find a therapist who can help you explore the reasons you have a particular goal, why it matters, the fear associated with failure or success, and help you focus on the process, not the outcomes.
- Pursue goals that align with your values.
- Use your skills, like interpersonal effectiveness, communication skills, and;
- practice good self-care
- Be kind and gentle with yourself. Change takes time.
I’ve noticed that resilience has been a buzzword recently, particularly on college campuses. Hopefully, this discussion on resilience has provided a strong base of understanding as well as helpful tips on how to increase resilience in your own life.
Remember, support is out there. Keep striving!