How do you bounce back when life gets tough?
Science is showing us that there are skills and thinking tools that can make us more resilient, even during the toughest times.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to successfully cope with, adapt to and deal with challenging times. A happy life does not mean that we are completely free of difficulties. Pain, trauma and loss will always challenge our emotional and physical wellbeing. What’s important is how we bounce back from those challenging times. The good news is we can increase our capacity for resilience. We do this by recognising when times are hard and focusing on what we can do, control or change. If we don’t have the capacity to take control, life can become overwhelming and stressful.
Why is stress a problem?
Some stress can be good for us. It is a survival mechanism that helps us to get out of difficult, and sometimes life-threatening, situations. However, stress becomes a problem when it is triggered continuously. It then turns into distress and taxes the body. This subsequently makes us more vulnerable to illnesses and depression. There is now a risk of us turning to passive coping strategies. We become resigned to a problem when we believe there is nothing we can do. This means we ignore or deny the issue. When we deny an issue, we find other ways to blunt our emotions, such as drinking alcohol, over-eating or drug abuse. These strategies only temporarily take away the stress.
Strategies for coping
Developing skills and resources that build resilience helps us to manage stress better. This helps us to bounce back quicker, lowering the risk of depression and anxiety. Resilience is a natural human state and comprises many factors, both internally and externally. We can’t predict or control what life has to throw at us. But what we can do is develop our skills and increase our resources for resilience. The trouble is there isn’t one single way to build resilience that will work for everyone in every situation. There are many skills, attitudes, behaviours and resources that we can draw on. It’s just a matter of knowing what they are!
What is your experience of feeling stressed?
There are numerous ways to build our capacity for resilience. I can share with you what has worked for me. Firstly, I took action! I explored the authentic me and gained a sense of self. As a result, I now understand what drives and motivates me. Gaining that sense of self has given me the confidence to take control of how I deal with challenging situations. Taking control has boosted my mood and helped me to feel more optimistic about my future. Secondly, I commenced regular mindfulness meditation. After meditating for some time, I have learnt to become more conscious of my thoughts.
I’ve been thinking resiliently for a while now. I have done this by learning to find new ways of thinking. I achieve this by tuning into my thoughts during mindfulness meditation. Consequently, I am consciously aware of my thoughts and how they affect my emotions and influence my behaviour. I then consider how accurate my thoughts are. I look for evidence to support my interpretation of an event. If I am catastrophising a situation, blaming myself or ruminating over a thought, I reframe and replace it with a more accurate and positive thought. I am then able to take control of how I am feeling emotionally, reducing my stress and increasing my resilience.
I have not found this easy, because my emotions are instinctive and have developed over time. This makes them difficult to control when a trigger event occurs. What I am practising now is to pause between the trigger event and my emotional response. This allows me time to check how accurate my thoughts are and reframe if necessary. I then choose how I respond to that trigger event. The concept sounds simple, but in the heat of the moment who has time to pause? Through practice and lots of it, my awareness has grown. I am finding it easier to recognise my emotional triggers and I choose how I respond in a way that reduces my stress levels. I am eventually building my capacity for resilience.
How are you going to increase your capacity for resilience?
Rather than ignoring, denying or dwelling on stress, simply acknowledge it.
Use active coping strategies that work for you by taking action. Feeling like you are doing something is better than feeling like you are doing nothing.
The stress response is designed to galvanise us into action, so focus on its energy to get things done.
The best time to do this is during the good times. Taking care of our wellbeing in the good times helps us to deal with our problems in the bad times.
Here are six top tips to help you increase your resilience and improve your emotional wellbeing (inspired by Vanessa King, action for happiness):
- Think resiliently – tune into your thoughts and assess their accuracy
- Use optimism Take Your Optimism Test – positive emotions have power
- Connect with others – feeling we have support is an important part of resilience
- Look after your physical wellbeing – this can be an instant stress-reliever
- Know your core values and purpose – these have been shown to be protective
- Keep learning – one key way to build our resilience is by challenging ourselves