Why do some people buckle under pressure while others seem to weaken but not crumble? What is it that helps some people bend but not break, or if they break, why are some people able to bounce back again? This seemingly magical ingredient is resilience.
What is Resilience Exactly?
Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity. It’s the ability to perform well under stress and to recover from difficult situations or trauma. Like the rubber band, resilient people can be bent out of shape by stress, but they have the ability to bounce back.
When we are resilient we find it more easy to:
- Overcome past difficulties
- Steer through everyday challenges
- Bounce back and move on when events take us off course
- Reach out to new experiences and challenges
- Move towards our potential
Of course, resilience is not an all-or-nothing trait; it’s on a continuum, and (luckily for us and our mental health) research shows that it’s a skill that can be learned and developed.
As the continuum above suggests, resilience allows us to respond mindfully to stressful situations and the thoughts that might emerge in response, rather than merely reacting with strong emotions or fall into thinking traps (like overgeneralizing or mind reading). Resilience helps us mindfully turn to healthy coping strategies (like exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating) rather than unhealthy ones (like alcohol, drugs, and overeating). And resilience helps us to maintain healthy boundaries—in short, our ability to recognize and take ownership of our thoughts, feelings, bodies, energy, time, and possessions, while at the same time recognizing that which is not ours.
What is it That Makes Resilient People Resilient?
The Serenity Prayer is a great encapsulation of the foundations of resilience: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Resilient people are good at focusing on the things they can change rather than those they can’t. They are also skilled at tuning in to the good things in their lives. When we tune into the good, we appreciate and express gratitude for the things we have been blessed with, like family, friends, good health, or any other kind of abundance that brings you and others joy.
Resilient people also get that shit happens and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Of course, understanding and attempting to develop resilience doesn’t mean that we should downplay suffering. Rather, we need to come to terms with the fact that all human beings suffer to some extent at some point in their lives. We are never alone in the fact of suffering.
How Do We Become More Resilient?
We’re all resilient to some extent. Just by reading this blog on resilience, you’re demonstrating your desire to bounce back from whatever difficulties you may be experiencing.
When you experience negative emotions and feel yourself beginning to move from bending to breaking, step back and ask yourself: Are my thoughts and behaviours helpful or harmful? This puts us back in the driver seat and allows us some measure of control over the situation.
A key way to boost resilience is to calm ourselves and focus:
- Step back from adversity and give yourself space to breathe.
- Focus on your physical self—the breath has long been recognized by meditative traditions as key in this regard—to transfer your attention to the present moment. This helps us to get on with the task at hand rather than thinking about all the stressors in your life.
- When you find yourself stressing out or worrying or rushing, it can be helpful to bring your attention to that fact. “Name it to tame it,” as Dr. Dan Siegel says. So, if you have to rush and are stressed by the fact of rushing, rush mindfully!
- Put things into perspective—think realistically and avoid thinking yourself into traps!
Recognizing the need to develop resilience and putting that skill into practice both at work and in our personal lives is important to being able to bend but not break and snap back from unpleasant, stressful situations that can negatively impact our mental health.
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