ife can be full of wonder, beauty, and joy. It can also throw us curve balls that threaten to knock us off our feet. Adults and kids alike experience challenging and painful times. Sometimes, it can feel like these are impossible to get through, leaving some feeling defeated. That’s where resilience comes in. When we are resilient, we emerge from adversity with more strength. We are better able to adapt. We bounce back faster from challenges and setbacks.
Resilience won’t make problems disappear. But it can enable you to enjoy life and better handle stress.
Resilience is not about denying your feelings. It is about adjusting your mindset, tuning in to what’s working for you during a challenge, and accepting support when you need it. Asking for help is a key life skill that can nurture inner strength and emotional courage.
In unstable times, exposure to more stress may feel like the last thing you need. But stress isn’t all bad, says Yale professor emeritus Steven M. Southwick, co-author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges.
If you can cope with what is happening around you, Southwick told The New York Times, “… when you are on the other side of it, you’ll be stronger.”
In the same article, Times writer Eilene Zimmerman discusses her own personal trauma regarding the death of her ex-husband. She explains how inner strength is a combination of genetics, personal history, environment, and context. But genetics has little to do with resilience. It’s more about our bonds with parents or primary caregivers before the age of 20.
As she describes, resilience is a set of learned skills. Building those skills comes from exposure to tough but manageable situations. Develop skills that serve as tools for building resilience. Tools that prove helpful in difficult or traumatic times include:
Realistic optimism – it helps navigate toward the best possible outcome A strong moral compass – it helps us recognize the right things for us Religious or spiritual beliefs – they help us focus on a higher purpose Flexibility in thinking – it helps us approach a new situation Social connection – it helps us see life through the lens of “us”
As Zimmerman says, “The most resilient among us are people who generally don’t dwell on the negative, who look for opportunities that might exist even in the darkest times.”
The American Psychological Association notes that, “Being resilient doesn’t mean that a person won’t experience difficulty or distress … In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.”
During especially trying or painful times, we can try these three things:
- Focus on the positive (that’s also realistic) List three possible benefits of your current situation.
- Practice flexibility – Try a solution you’ve never tried before and see what you learn.
- Connect with others – Some people overcome adversity by staying meaningfully engaged to others—even a pet
Doing so helps us come out the other side having grown better and stronger.
Heck, Kelly Clarkson recorded a song about it. You can train, practice, and build resilience. Add it to your toolbox!