Adults and kids alike can practice the skills needed to overcome stresses, hurdles, 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!
“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott
How to build resilience
Building your resilience doesn’t happen overnight, but with some practice and patience, you can develop that core of strength that will help you through tough times. The Mayo Clinic has put together this series of tips on how to begin:
- Get connected. Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in good and bad times. Establish other important connections by volunteering or joining a faith or spiritual community.
- Make every day meaningful. Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
- Learn from experience. Think of how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through difficult times. You might even write about past experiences in a journal to help you identify positive and negative behavior patterns — and guide your future behavior.
- Remain hopeful. You can’t change the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
- Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings. Participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing, or prayer.
- Be proactive. Don’t ignore your problems. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, plan, and act. Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event, or loss, know that your situation can improve if you work at it.
Source: Mayo Clinic
What to know about resilience and aging
We aren’t born a master of resilience. Some people may be better at it than others, but like any skill, it can be practiced and improved. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much money you have, or your physical abilities.
This is a good thing, because the longer you live, the more likely you are to experience big, stressful life events. And you’ll need resilience skills, whether you’re adjusting to a big cross-country move. A lost job. Illness. Even the death of a parent, sibling, or friend.
According to the Mayo Clinic, building up your resilience is linked to lower rates of depression and mortality. Plus, people who are resilient tend to be more physically active and have stronger social lives. Chicken and egg? Perhaps. But here are four science-backed tactics the Mayo Clinic recommends for strengthening this muscle.
Spend time with others
This doesn’t mean being the most popular kid in class. The quality of your connections is more important than their quantity. Having a few dependable close friends and family members is often a key to resilience. But you must nurture those relationships for them to stay strong. Communication is a dialogue, and we all need a few close companions. It may surprise you that widening our circle of friends and feeling part of a community is also a part of resilience. Look for ways to expand your social world – maybe join a faith-based group, volunteer organization, or a hobby group.
Embrace your age
Don’t pay attention to all those snarky birthday cards about getting older. Celebrate your gained wisdom and knowledge with each passing year.
Why? Because some studies show a negative outlook on aging can lead to lower cognitive function and a higher risk of dementia. But the opposite works, too: Feeling positive about your life’s experiences may be correlated with better brain function and – for some – lower dementia risks as well.
So, retrain your brain with positive messages. Shift your thoughts from, “Life is hard,” to “Life has its hard stretches and I continue to experience joy.” You might find that shifting your mindset gets easier if you spend time with someone who makes aging look easy, fun, or dignified.
Move your body, strengthen your brain, boost your resilience
Exercise is good for you. Everyone knows that. But regular exercise also strengthens your brain! In fact, although the hippocampus shrinks with age, exercise can halt and even reverse this trend. It also has a surprising effect on our ability to refocus our problems and practice resilience.
A study found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment who lifted weights two to three times a week improved not only their muscle tone but their cognitive function.
It’s not a big lift: Get out of your chair and take a brisk walk for a half hour a few times a week. That’ll do the trick. If you have limited mobility, try activities that work for your abilities.
Be grateful for life
When stress hits, it’s hard to feel grateful, and easy to dwell on the negative. Try shifting your mind to more positive things. What are you grateful for? People practicing gratitude are likely to feel more positive with fewer depressive symptoms. That helps you rebound from the trouble life throws your way.
How to practice that? Take time to write down what you’re thankful for every day. The act of writing down positive feelings has been shown to improve your overall mental state.
This is a gift that you can give as well. If someone helps you out, let them know by paying it forward. Hearing that you made a difference can make a difference – for you and others.
Source: Mayo Clinic
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