Want to Overcome Life's Challenges? Learn How Resilience Can Help You Come Back Strong
We all face challenges and life-changing events. Situations like being impacted by a layoff, money problems, health issues, divorce, or the death of someone close to us can throw us off balance, leaving us feeling like we’ve lost control of our lives.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges and difficulties. Some people call it toughness, but you don’t have to be tough to be resilient. When I hear the word “tough”, I think about rough edges and a tough walled-off exterior.
You don’t have to build up a hard impenetrable shell that keeps out the world to be resilient. In fact, connection with others is a key part of building resilience. And resilience can vary - you may cope well with one challenge, but struggle with another.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as adapting well when faced with “adversity, trauma, threats, or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.” (1)
Here’s the thing… being resilient doesn’t mean you won’t ever experience stressful events and emotions. It does mean you have the capacity to adapt and move forward despite life’s challenges. And the good news is, in much the way exercise builds healthy bodies, there are things you can do to build resilience.
What Does Resilience Look Like?
Resilience isn’t an overnight fix. Think of it like a marathon that requires training, endurance, strength, and the help and encouragement of the people around you. It’s about adapting and persevering through the hard parts and coming out on the other side stronger than before.
When you lack resilience, you may pull back from connection with others, seek out unhealthy ways of coping, and get stuck in a cycle of worst-case thinking that leaves you feeling helpless, depressed, and overwhelmed.
Building resilience gives you the ability to manage and overcome life’s challenges without getting overwhelmed and without turning to unhealthy ways of dealing with the situation, like self-medication or withdrawal.
Here’s what resilient people do:
- They practice self-awareness: resilient people are conscious of stressful situations and their impact. They are aware of their physical and emotional stress cues and respond before losing a sense of control.
- They reach out to others in times of need: they build their connections with others and clearly communicate what they’re feeling and what they need. They aren’t afraid to ask for help and are willing to seek assistance from professional resources when they can’t manage the situation alone.
- They take care of their mind: resilient people know the value of their mental game and they seek out ways to manage emotions and negative thinking, including meditation and reframing their thoughts.
- They take care of their body: resilient people know the value of nutrition and exercise to help reduce stress and they get moving when anxiety starts to kick in. They also make good food choices in the face of challenge and don’t skip meals, which can lead to loss of energy.
- The seek meaning and purpose: resilient people use challenge, loss, or failure as opportunities to learn and grow. They find purpose by connecting with community, giving, volunteering, or sharing their experience to help others. They look for lessons that can be found in the experience.
- They embrace positivity: even amid challenge, resilient people look for the positives in any bad situation. They find a way to reframe their thoughts to highlight the good things in life and they focus on what they can control, instead of dwelling on what is beyond their reach.
How to Become More Resilient
You can build your resilience muscles over time with intention and practice. While there’s no magic formula that will take you from struggling to resilient, experts point out the common areas of focus that can help you become more resilient.
- Cultivate connections: surround yourself with a network of supportive people. Seek connection by building friendships and family relationships, volunteer in your community or join a social group.
- Adopt healthy coping skills: you can build your resilience chops by practicing healthy coping skills before challenges arise. Practices like journaling, meditation, exercise, getting outdoors, listening to motivating music or phoning a friend can help shift your mental state and get you back into a possibility mindset.
- Practice proactivity: learn to proactively connect with others to talk through what you’re feeling and brainstorm your goals and plans. Don’t wait until you’re feeling depressed and defeated to start addressing a challenge.
- Pursue your purpose: meaning is the fuel that keeps us motivated and moving forward in both good and bad times. Get crystal clear on your purpose and do something every day to keep your purpose front and center in your life. Lean into that purpose when stressful situations come up.
- Play to your strengths: take an inventory of your strengths and call on those strengths in everyday situations so they become an automatic go-to when life’s inevitable challenges happen.
- Reframe your thoughts: when negative thinking creeps in, focus on what you can control and practice reframing your thoughts. For example:
So, while being resilient doesn’t mean you won’t experience your share of difficulties and struggles, it does give you the tools to move forward in the face of life’s challenges. Daily practice of resilience-building skills can help you adapt and move forward no matter what comes your way.
And, for a great take on raising resilient kids, check out Dr. Ken Ginsberg’s 7 Cs Resilience Model in this video.
Sources: (1) American Psychological Association (APA), Resilience: https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
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