What is Resilience?
We all demonstrate resilience in some form or the other at some point in our life. This is a very ordinary and normal process we all go through when we need to rebuild our life.
Being resilient does not mean that we do not experience difficulty or distress, emotional pain or sadness. Quite the opposite the road to resilience is often paved with considerable emotional distress.
Resilience involves the behaviours, thoughts and actions that we can learn and develop to navigate the emotional distress.
We have all dealt with the death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness or some other traumatic event that has left an indelible mark on our life. These are all very challenging life experiences and many people react to these circumstance with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty. Eventually though they adapt well over time to these life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enable s them to do so? It is resilience – the ongoing process that requires time and effort and taking a number of steps to enhance and build their resilience.
Here are Six Strategies that can help you Build resilience
Change the narrative
When something bad happens, we tend to relive the event over and over in our heads. We step onto this merry-go-round and we rehash the pain the event has caused. This process is called rumination; it is the proverbial cognitive spinning of the wheels, and it doesn’t move us forward toward healing and growth.
The practice of Expressive Writing can move us forward by helping us gain new insights into the challenges in our lives. It involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper. You do not necessarily want to create a memoir-like masterpiece.
Research conducted back in a 1988 study found that participants who did Expressive Writing for four days were healthier six weeks later and happier up to three months later compared t those who did not write or those who wrote about superficial things. The act of writing allows us to slow down our thinking and forces us to confront ideas one by one and give them structure, which may lead to new perspectives.
By doing this we are actually crafting our own life narrative and gaining a sense of control. We are also able to find the Finding Silver Linings which requires us to list at least three positive things about the experience or the lessons we learnt through this process. This helps us to become more engaged in our life post the event and increases our optimism over time. This in turn reduces our depression levels suggesting that looking on the bright side is something we have to practice regularly.
Face your fears
The practices above are helpful for past struggles, ones that we have gained enough distance from to be able to get some perspective pn. What about those knee-shaking fears that we are experiencing in the here and now?
The Overcoming a Fear practice is designed to help with everyday fears that get in the way of life, such as the fear of public speaking, heights, or flying. We can’t talk ourselves out of such fears; instead, we have to tackle the emotions directly.
The first step is to slowly, and repeatedly, expose yourself to the thing that scares you—in small doses.
For example, people with a fear of public speaking might try talking more in meetings, then perhaps giving a toast at a small wedding. Over time, you can incrementally increase the challenge until you’re ready to nail that big speech.
This kind of “exposure therapy” helps us change the associations we have with a particular stimulus. If we have flown 100 times and the plane has never crashed, for example, our brain (and body) start to learn that it’s safe. Though the fear may never be fully extinguished, we will likely have greater courage to confront it.
Fears and adversity can make us feel alone; we wonder why we are the only ones feeling this way, and what exactly is wrong with us. In these situations, learning to practice self-compassion and recognizing that everyone suffers, can be a much gentler and more effective road to healing.
Self-compassion involves offering compassion to ourselves: confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment. The Self-Compassion Break, is something you can do any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress. It has three steps, which correspond to the three aspects of self-compassion:
- Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you are feeling. Name it and acknowledge it. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”
- Remember that you are not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” or “We have all felt this way at some point in our life” or “We all deal with some kind of struggle in our lives.”
- Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like “I give myself compassion” or “I accept myself as I am” or “I will be patient with myself during this time.”
If being kind to yourself is a challenge which it can sometimes be. Consider how you would respond if your best friend were going through what you are going through. How would you respond and support your best friend; what would you say or do for your bestie? Now go and do that for yourself.
Once we start to develop a kinder attitude toward ourselves, we can crystallize that gentle voice into a Self-Compassionate Letter. Just as yo would write words of understanding, acceptance, and compassion towards your best friend write those same words to yourself in a letter.
In the letter, you might remind yourself that everyone struggles, and that you are not alone; if possible, you could also consider constructive ways to improve in the future.
As mindfulness gurus like to remind us, our most painful thoughts are usually about the past or the future: We regret and ruminate on things that went wrong, or we get anxious about things that will. When we pause and bring our attention to the present, we often find that things are…okay.
Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. That way, instead of getting carried away into fear, anger, or despair, we can work through them more deliberately.
Strong feelings tend to manifest physically, as tight chests or knotted stomachs, and relaxing the body is one way to begin dislodging them. There are thousands of meditations techniques and practices available.The Body Scan is one of the many you can use to focus on each body part in turn—head to toe—and can choose to let go of any areas of tension you discover. Being more aware of our bodies and the emotions we are feeling might also help us make healthier choices, trusting our gut when something feels wrong or avoiding commitments that will lead to exhaustion.
If holding a grudge is holding you back, research suggests that cultivating forgiveness could be beneficial to your mental and physical health. If you feel ready to begin, it can be a powerful practice.
Both Nine Steps to Forgiveness and Eight Essentials When Forgiving offer a list of guidelines to follow. In both cases, you begin by clearly acknowledging what happened, including how it feels and how it’s affecting your life right now. Then, you make a commitment to forgive, which means letting go of resentment and ill will for your own sake; forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the offender off the hook or even reconciling with them. Ultimately, you can try to find a positive opportunity for growth in the experience: Perhaps it alerted you to something you need, which you may have to look for elsewhere, or perhaps you can now understand other people’s suffering better.
If you are having trouble forgiving, Letting Go of Anger through Compassion is a five-minute forgiveness exercise that could help you get unstuck. Here, you spend a few minutes generating feelings of compassion toward your offender; s/he, too, is a human being who makes mistakes; s/he, too, has room for growth and healing. Be mindful and aware of your thoughts and feelings during this process, and notice any areas of resistance. Research suggests that letting go and forgiveness rather than ruminating on negative feelings or repressing them cultivates compassion, more empathy, positive emotions, and feelings of control.
That is an outcome that victims of wrongdoing deserve, no matter how we feel about the offenders.
Develop mental agility
It is possible, without too much effort , to literally switch the neural networks with which we process the experience of stress in order to respond to rather than react to any difficult situation or person. This quality of mental agility hinges on the ability to mentally “decenter” stressors in order to effectively manage them. “Decentering” stress is not denying or suppressing the fact that we feel stressed, rather, it is the process of being able to pause, to observe the experience from a neutral standpoint, and then to try to solve the problem. When we are able to cognitively take a step back from our experience and label our thoughts and emotions, we are effectively pivoting attention from the narrative network in our brains to the more observational parts of our brains. Being mentally agile, and decentering stress when it occurs, enables the core resilience skill of “response flexibility,” which renowned psychologist Linda Graham describes as “the ability to pause, step back, reflect, shift perspectives, create options and choose wisely.” We often tell our children who are upset to “use your words,” for example, and it turns out that stopping and labeling emotions has the effect of activating the thinking center of our brains, rather than the emotional center a valuable skill in demanding, high-performance workplaces everywhere.