Building Resilience

Each of us struggles with challenges and issues-- life’s dramas—off and on throughout our lives. One of the keys to ‘going with the flow’ is building resilience so that you can manage life’s challenges with more ease and inner stamina.

Resilience refers to how well you deal with and bounce back from the difficulties of life. It can mean the difference between handling pressure and losing your cool. Resilience helps to safeguard us from sinking into the ‘black hole’ of depression. Resilient people tend to maintain a more positive outlook and cope with stress more effectively. And the good news is that research shows that while some people seem to come by resilience naturally, these behaviors can also be learned.

Whether you're going through a tough time now or you want to be prepared for the next one, here are 5 techniques you can focus on in order to foster your own resilience.

1) Seek a sense of purpose in your life:

After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver who was freshly out of jail on bail for another hit-and-run drunk driving accident, Candace Lightner founded Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD). "I promised myself on the day of Cari's death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead," she explained.

In the face of crisis or tragedy, can you work at finding a sense of purpose? It can play an important role in your recovery. This might mean becoming involved in your community, cultivating your spirituality, or participating in activities that are meaningful to you. Self-care can be your mission in times of crisis.

2) Build Positive Beliefs in Your Abilities

Having confidence in your own ability to cope with the stresses of life can play an important part in resilience. Can you remind yourself of your strengths in times of challenge? When you hear negative comments in your head, practice quickly replacing them with positive ones, such as, "I can do this today." "I'm a great friend/mother/partner," or "I'm good at my job."

Becoming more confident in your own abilities, including your ability to respond to and deal with a crisis, is a great way to build resilience for the future. Research shows that positive self-esteem helps us cope with life’s stressors.

3) Cultivate optimistic thinking

Do you know someone who seems optimistic and upbeat most of the time? Chances are that they are resilient. Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency.

Positive thinking does NOT mean ignoring the problem in order to focus on positive outcomes. It means understanding that setbacks are temporary and that you have the skills and abilities to combat the challenges you face. What you are dealing with may be difficult, but it's important to remain hopeful. Bad times and hard times pass. They sometimes seem endless, but everything has a beginning and an end. Crisis situations are daunting. They may even seem insurmountable. Resilient people are able to view these situations in a realistic way and then set reasonable goals to deal with the problem.

Do you know someone who seems optimistic and upbeat most of the time? Chances are that they are resilient. Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency.

Do you know someone who seems optimistic and upbeat most of the time? Chances are that they are resilient. Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency.

4) Set Goals and Take Small Action Steps

Crisis situations--and the depression they can create--are daunting. They may even seem insurmountable. Do you simply wait for a problem to go away on its own? This may only prolongs the crisis.

Instead, start working on resolving the issue immediately. While there may not be any fast or simple solution, you can take steps toward making your situation better and less stressful. When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by a situation, take a step back to simply assess what is happening. Brainstorm possible solutions, and then break them down into manageable steps. Resilient people are able to view these situations in a realistic way and then set reasonable goals to deal with the problem.

Focus on the progress that you have made thus far and planning your next steps, rather than becoming discouraged by the amount of work that still needs to be accomplished. Acknowledge your small successes.

5) Get Physical

Exercise REALLY DOES HELP! Taking a walk, doing yoga, practicing wellness (even getting a massage) working out at a gym—all great ways to release tension and negative energy and increase serotonin, the ‘feel good’ chemical. Stuck at home? Walking up and down stairs a dozen times will diffuse some of the anxiety you might be feeling.

Don’t be hard on yourself as you move through troubled times. Remember, YOU ARE ONLY HUMAN. We each have “stuff” to deal with in our lives. Cultivate self-compassion and patience with yourself. Remember that you feel this way NOW, not forever. And if you are really stuck, seek professional guidance (smart people who know they’re stuck KNOW that this is a great option). A skilled counselor can help you to move through your tough time by sharing tools and ‘tricks’ that can ease your burden.