There’s a lot of talk about resilience in the world of parenting. But it’s not a skill or trait that we hear adults in general talk about.
Our collective cultural narrative focuses so heavily on self-growth and self-care right now. We should also be talking about developing this superpower to help us through life’s inevitable ups and downs.
It’s time to start doing some resilience skills training, but first – let’s dive a little deeper into just what resilience is.
What is resilience? And what does it mean to be a resilient person?
Resilience is simply the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, stress and threats.
These can be caused by cumulative stress – such as family and relationship problems or serious health, workplace or financial stressors.
The more emotionally resilient someone is, the better they will be able to deal with these sorts of stresses. This is because emotional resilience is a skill that helps you accept, process and move forward through challenges.
Dr Bec Jackson, Consultant Psychologist, says, “It’s important to also understand what resilience is not. Being resilient does not mean that a person won’t experience difficulty or distress. It also does not mean ‘sucking it up’ or ‘buckling down’.”
Why is resilience important?
Resilience helps you get through life’s difficult circumstances, speed bumps and blindsides. It empowers you to grow through adversity and even improve your life along the way. From something as simple as coping with moving house to the death of a loved one, your levels of resilience come into play.
“As much as resilience involves bouncing back from these difficult experiences, it also involves bouncing forward,” says Dr Bec.
How to be more resilient
While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t a personality trait that only some people possess. You may be surprised, but anyone can build their resilience.
“The ability to learn resilience is like building muscle. Increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality, but it can be done with consistent practice,” says Dr Bec.
She suggests you focus on 4 core components:
- healthy thinking
1. Build your connections
The stronger your connections and relationships are, the better your ability will be to deal with adversity.
One way to build healthy, positive relationships is to focus on connecting with empathetic and understanding people. Knowing that you’re not alone, should you find yourself in the centre of a difficult period, will help you walk through that time.
It’s not the easiest of tasks, but try to nurture trustworthy and compassionate friendships that validate your feelings and provide mutual support in hard times.
2. Foster emotional and mental wellness
Self-care may be a bit of a buzzword, but it’s also a legitimate practice for improving mental health and building resilience.
The effects of stress are just as physical as they are emotional. So, make sure you’re enjoying a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise. Strengthening your body physically can help you deal with stress and reduce the toll of negative emotions.
Try to find some time in your week for mindfulness practices like journaling, yoga, prayer or meditation. A healthy mind doesn’t only help you be more productive in life, it will also help you deal with situations that require resilience.
“When you journal, meditate or pray; ruminate on the positive aspects of your life and focus on the things you’re grateful for, even during personal trials. Gratitude builds resilience,” says Dr Bec.
It’s also important to avoid negative outlets like alcohol, drugs, social media or other distracting pastimes. “That’s like putting a bandage on a deep wound,” says Dr Bec,
“A little is OK for stress management. But your long-term focus should be giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress.”
3. Find purpose
It’s the last thing people think to do when they are feeling overwhelmed. But being of service to others is a great way to build your confidence, self-worth and sense of purpose.
You can grow your resilience by volunteering for a charity, trying to eat more sustainably or simply supporting a friend in a time of need.
“When we shift our focus to contributing to the welfare and wellbeing of something other than ourselves, we build our own resilience. It can also help us keep a healthy perspective on life and all of its ‘curly’ ups and downs,” Dr Bec says.
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4. Be proactive
There’s a reason they say action is the antidote to anxiety. Although it’s helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during hard times, it’s also important to ask yourself – what can I do to move beyond this?
If the problems seem too big to tackle, break them down into manageable pieces and handle them in small steps.
5. Move toward your goals
Developing realistic, small goals – and then reaching them – is a great resilience-building activity. Even if they are small accomplishments, these moments help build confidence which will help you become more resilient.
“Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself – what’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” says Dr Bec.
6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery
Struggles can have silver linings, no matter how small. This is why people often find that they have grown in some respect as a result of a struggle.
Focussing on these self-discovery moments can increase your sense of self-worth and, in turn, heighten your appreciation for life. The regular practice of reflection is key.
But how do you embrace healthy thoughts? Dr Bec recommends trying to keep things in perspective. How you think plays a significant part in how you feel – and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles.
7. Embrace change
For some people, accepting that change is a part of life can be difficult. But your ability to accept that certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable can influence how poised you are to deal with challenges.
Some circumstances can’t be changed, so instead try to focus on the ones that can.
8. Seek help
Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience. Trying – and failing – to manage something that is beyond your ability will move your resilience metre in the wrong direction. And that’s not going to help you be happy in life.
“For many people, using their own resources, and the kinds of strategies listed above may be enough for building their resilience. But at times, you may need to bring in the professionals,” says Dr Bec.
Choose your battles
There are many aspects of your life you can’t control, but there’s one you can. And that’s how you choose to respond.
Sometimes the most important role of resilience is simply being able to help you recognise what battles are, and what battles aren’t, important to your journey.
Dr Bec Jackson is a Consultant Psychologist with 20 years’ experience across clinical psychology, academia, therapy and education in clinical, forensic and organisational psychology.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021