Whether you’re facing a global or personal crisis – or a mix of both, building resilience can help you cope with stress, overcome adversity, and enjoy the better days to come.
Lately, the world seems to be lurching from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, dramatic changes to how we conduct our daily lives, economic uncertainty, and political and social turmoil, as well as an array of natural disasters. Then there are personal traumas that people are also dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, declining health, unemployment, divorce, violent crime, or tragic accidents. For many of us, this is a time of unprecedented struggle and upheaval.
While there’s no way to avoid sorrow, adversity, or distress in life, there are ways to help smooth the rough waters and regain a sense of control. Resilience is the ability to cope with the loss, change, and trauma that have been inevitable parts of life even before these extraordinary times. Building resilience can help you better adapt to life-changing events, cope with turbulent times, and bounce back from hardship and tragedy.
Why do some people seem to be better able to cope in these troubling times than others? While everyone’s situation is different, it is true that people with resilience tend to have a higher tolerance for the emotional distress generated by hard times. The more resilient you are, the better you’re able to tolerate the feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness that accompany trauma and adversity—and find a way to rebound from setbacks. We all go through bad times, we all experience disappointment, loss, and change, and we all feel sad, anxious, and stressed at various times in our lives. But building resilience can help you to maintain a positive outlook, face an uncertain future with less fear, and get through even the darkest days.
While it’s often difficult to imagine anything good coming out of traumatic experiences, building resilience can help you find any positives in the difficulties you’ve faced. Surviving hardships can teach you important things about yourself and the world around you, strengthen your resolve, deepen your empathy, and in time enable you to evolve and grow as a human being. While we all react to stressful events in different ways, many of us try to protect ourselves by refusing to accept the truth of what’s happening. After all, by denying that you’re even experiencing a crisis, you can kid yourself that you still have some sense of control over what are usually uncontrollable events.
Change is an inevitable part of life and many aspects of the changing world are outside your individual control. You can’t control the spread of a virus, for example, the pace of social change, or how the economy will recover. While it can be tough to acknowledge, railing against events or circumstances outside your control will only drain you of energy and leave you feeling anxious and hopeless. Accepting your situation, on the other hand, can free you up to devote your energy to the things that you do have control over.
Focus on things within your control. Make a list of all the things you can’t control and give yourself permission to stop worrying about them. Instead, focus on the action that you can take. If you’re unemployed, you can’t control whether the ideal job appears in the want ads or whether an employer will grant you an interview. But you can control how much time and effort you put into searching for work or brushing up on your skills. Similarly, if a loved one is facing a life-threatening illness, you may have to relinquish control to the medical experts, but you can still focus on providing your loved one with as much emotional support as possible.
It’s tempting to believe that the best way to get through hard times is by ignoring painful emotions and “putting on a brave face”. But unpleasant emotions exist whether you choose to acknowledge them or not. Trying to prevent your emotions from surfacing will only fuel your stress, delay acceptance of your new situation, and prevent you from moving on. By allowing yourself to feel your emotions, then trying to understand them and place them in context (what’s real, what can be done what can’t) you’ll find that even the most intense, upsetting feelings will pass, the trauma of these tough times will start to fade, and you’ll be able to find a path forward. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re experiencing or meditate and reconnect with your emotions.
An important part of coping with adversity and making it through tough times is to foster qualities of persistence and endurance. Tough times don’t last forever, but by their very nature they’re rarely over quickly. As you plot a road through the darkness, you need to find ways to stay motivated and persevere.
Deal with your problems one step at a time. If a problem is too big to deal with all at once, try breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps. If your problem seems to have no possible solution, you can still take action by drawing up a list, researching more about the subject, or seeking the advice of a trusted friend or loved one.
Celebrate small wins. To stay motivated and positive as you navigate stormy seas in life, take a moment to savor your small successes. If you’re looking for work, for example, getting an interview isn’t as meaningful as landing a job, but it’s a sign of progress, a step in the right direction. Noting these small wins can give you a welcome break from all the stress and negativity you’re facing and encourage you to keep going.
Try to maintain a hopeful outlook. While it’s difficult to stay positive and hopeful in the midst of a crisis, many of us tend to blow our problems out of proportion and make them seem even more negative than they really are. Try taking a step back and examining your situation as an outsider. Are their rays of hope that you can focus on? Instead of worrying about what you fear may happen, try visualizing what you’d like to happen instead.
Express gratitude. It may sound trite, but even when you’re experience terrible times, it’s usually possible to find one thing you can be grateful about – the love of a pet, for example, a beautiful sunset, or a caring friend. Taking a moment to acknowledge your gratitude for such small things can provide respite from the stress and really boost your mood. Be kind to yourself. We’re all going through a lot at the moment and everyone adjusts to change and upheaval differently. Don’t criticize your coping skills or beat yourself up for every mistake you make. Self-compassion is an important part of building resilience, so go easy on yourself.
Peace and Love, Jim