If there was ever a time to focus on resilience-building, it’s now. Of course, we all know that resilience isn’t something we need only during global pandemics. Life is notoriously good at throwing curve balls in our direction and, the more resilient we are, the more easily we manage to bounce back afterwards. Experiencing stress, loss, trauma, tragedy and other adverse life events impacts people in different ways. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you don’t experience pain and hardship. What it means is that you’re able to pick yourself up and recover more quickly, allowing yourself to move forward with your life.
The good news is that since resilience is a skill, it’s something which can be learnt, practiced and built over time, just as with regular physical exercise, we build and strengthen different muscles. In order to enhance your resilience, a number of strategies can be adopted and practiced:
Focus on your well-being
Whilst soldiering on during a crisis may appear commendable, you may actually be denying yourself the opportunity to feel your emotions, grieve and move on more quickly. Instead of throwing yourself into work and activities when you’re facing a crisis, try giving yourself the time and space to rest and recover. Adopting basic, healthy habits is crucial during times of extreme stress or adversity. These involve eating nutritious food, ensuring you get adequate sleep and exercising regularly. You may also try meditating, a practice which has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels and enhance physical and emotional well-being. Other healing and calming activities include yoga, journaling or spending time in nature.
Seek connection and support
It may be tempting, when going through challenging life experiences, to cut yourself off from family, friends and colleagues. Whilst carving out some time to be alone is essential, it’s also important that you allow people to support you emotionally and practically. Speaking to someone who is empathic and can listen without judgement is crucial as it can remind you that you’re not alone. You may also decide to seek professional help, in the form of a psychotherapist or counsellor, allowing you the space to work through difficult emotions which may arise. Another potential aid may be joining a support group, spiritual/religious group or any such group which may put you in contact with other people who have been through similar experiences.
Take care of your thoughts
If you think you won’t be able to cope with a stressful situation, chances are that your predictions will come true. Facing challenges head on and overcoming them, can enhance self-belief and confidence. However, if you’re stuck in a negative loop of self-doubt and fear, you’ll be making it a lot more difficult for yourself to harness the skills and attributes which are necessary to overcome adversity.
When faced with tragedy, failure or a challenging life experience, people often adopt catastrophic or negative thinking. Unfortunately, this results in the prolonging or enhancement of suffering rather than serving any useful purpose. Instead of adopting a catastrophic and gloomy outlook, try to take a more rational perspective. Does not being accepted on the course you applied for really mean that you’ll never succeed in life? Are there other options available to you? Have you coped with other challenges and pulled through? It may not feel like it initially, but challenges are often an opportunity to take a different path or re-assess your priorities and life goals. You’ll be surprised at how empowered you’ll feel if you’re able to trust that somehow, you will manage to get through hard times. ‘Fall down 7 times, get up 8’, as the famous Japanese proverb so eloquently teaches us.
Re-think your attitude towards ‘success’
When experiencing failure or loss, be careful to avoid falling into self-blame, self-deprecation or a victim mentality. It always amazes me the extent to which people can be highly compassionate with others, whilst adopting a cruel and intolerant attitude towards themselves and their failings. We’re taught from a very young age to avoid failure at all costs and that to fail equals shame. What happened to life being about learning and growth, and supporting one another through this process? How wonderful it would be if we could teach young people that it’s okay to fall short sometimes, or to be ‘average’ rather than excel at everything. In the process, we may even turn this attitude back on ourselves. Needless to say, we may produce less over-achievers but we may, instead, be surrounded by happier, more well-rounded children and adults.
Hard times often throw us into existential crisis, leaving us questioning ourselves, our lives and our place in the world. I’m often quite humbled by the stories of my clients, particularly those who have experienced quite devastating events and then used such experiences as a catalyst to help others who have suffered similar loss and pain. Of course, I’m not suggesting we all need to make waves after a crisis. What may prove rather supportive to our own growth and healing, however, would be to find some purpose in everyday events. For instance, you may choose to help an elderly neighbour with his shopping or seek refuge tending to the plants on your balcony. These may seem like very small and insignificant acts. I’d beg to differ, however, since it’s these small and seemingly unimportant gestures which can slowly help you find meaning and purpose in your life. You may then choose to do something which has a wider reach, such as volunteering within the community. In doing so, you may find satisfaction and solace in helping others also going through difficulties and meet other like-minded people in the process.
Building resilience is a life-long process of growth and perseverance. Rather than a skill we nourish only during challenging times, building resilience is more about creating healthy habits and a more positive, growth-mindset during the good times. As a result, we will be more prepared to face life’s inevitable setbacks and be able to support others to do the same.