When traumatic life events occur, many people react with a flood of strong emotions. Our resilience will guide our emotional and behavioral reactions to these life-changing situations.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability "to bounce back". It is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, and/or significant sources of stress— such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.
Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn't experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.
Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed.
Factors in Resilience
Multiple factors contribute to resilience. Studies show that the main factor in resilience is having supportive and nurturing relationships with family members and nonrelatives. Trusting and loving relationships offer encouragement and comfort and help strengthen a person's resilience.
Several additional factors are associated with resilience, including:
- The ability to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
- Confidence in your skills and talents.
- Problem-solving and communication skills.
- The ability to cope with strong feelings and impulses.
Not all people react the same to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. People use varying strategies. The following are ways to build resilience:
Self-care. Ask yourself "What makes me feel good?" and do that. Spending time with loved ones, enjoying a hobby, reading, exercising, getting a massage, and meditating are just a few ways people re-charge. Make sure you increase your self-care in times of stress.
Good relationships and healthy connections. Help and support from close family members, friends, or others who are important, who care about you, and who will listen to you strengthens resilience. Being active in local faith-based or civic groups can provide social support. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
Not seeing crises as unfixable problems. Stressful situations are part of life. A positive outlook during a stressful event will help you maintain your hope of getting through it successfully. Developing confidence in your skills to get though struggles will help you build your insight and resilience.
Realize that change is a part of life. Nothing stays the same. This can be a good thing and something that is hard to accept. If you are having a hard time, know that it will not last forever. If you are in a good place in your life, enjoy it, savor it, and be refreshed by it.
Develop realistic goals. Set professional and personal goals and then break them down step-by-step. Make a commitment to do something. It may be asking for advice from a trusted source or it may be acting on that good advice.
Actively seek insight. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life. Every situation is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Develop your confidence. Your ability to solve problems and trust your instincts will help build resilience. Don’t detach and wish things were better. Write about your deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in your life.
Be an optimist. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Meditation and spiritual practices can help build connections and restore hope.
Learning From Your Past
By exploring answers to the following questions about yourself and your reactions to challenging life events, you may discover how you can respond effectively to difficult situations in your life. Consider the following:
- What kinds of events have been most stressful for me?
- How have those events typically affected me?
- Have I found it helpful to think of important people in my life when I am distressed?
- To whom have I reached out for support in working through a traumatic or stressful experience?
- What have I learned about myself and my interactions with others during difficult times?
- Has it been helpful for me to assist someone else going through a similar experience?
- Have I been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how?
- What has helped make me feel more hopeful about the future?
The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.