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Top Ten Secrets to Building Resilience

Why do some people bounce back from adversity and misfortune while others seem to emotionally fall apart?  How can some individuals recovery from trauma, loss, and abuse while others remain ensconced in anger and despair? Psychologists know there is a wide range of individual differences in the way people respond to adversity and stress. Some individuals appear to come by resilience naturally; however, the good news is that researchers now know that these behaviors can also be learned.

Resilience is defined as your ability to bounce back from adversity and try again when things do not go as planned. It is the capacity to quickly recover from difficulties and successfully adapt in the face of unfortunate challenges. Resilient people don’t wallow or dwell on failures; they acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and move on. Here are the top ten secrets to building resilience.

Build a Strong Tribe

Supportive relationships with close family members, friends, colleagues, and significant others are believed to be one of the most effective tools in creating resilience. Accepting help from those who care about you and support you strengthens your resilience. In fact, numerous studies have shown that people who feel close, connected, loved and supported have a lower incidence of depression, anxiety, heart disease, infections, and cancer. The importance of a supportive tribe dates back to the era of cavemen when evolution favored those who worked together in a supportive and cooperative manner. Some people find that being active in civic groups, churches, or other local organizations provides social support and increases feelings of hope and confidence. Assisting others in their time of need can also serve to boost your resilience and increase feelings of self-efficacy.

Keep Things in Perspective

Even when faced with very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the problem out of proportion. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. I often tell my patients that almost all life events that feel catastrophic can usually be reframed to be viewed as unfortunate, inconsiderate, or inconvenient. When we view an event as catastrophic, we can become frozen in fear or grief and unable to make appropriate decisions. Simply reframing the event in one of these three ways gives you a sense of control which allows you to bounce back more quickly, take adequate action, and fully recover. This, in turn, creates resilience.

Embrace Change

Change is a part of life, and when you accept and embrace this fact, you dramatically increase your resilience and your likelihood of success. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on seeing better, alternative solutions. This opens you up to experiencing positive benefits you may otherwise have missed.

Move Toward Your Goals

Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move in the direction of your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can accomplish today that helps me get closer to where I want to be?”

Take Decisive Actions

Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away. If necessary, make a list and address one important thing at a time.

Maintain a Hopeful Outlook

An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. One helpful way is to begin with your end goal in mind, be specific, and visualize yourself achieving it. When you begin with the end in mind, you create a destination which in turn commands the universe to take you there. Another way to maintain hope is through the daily use of affirmations which can help eliminate negative thoughts and limiting beliefs. Affirmations are an effective tool to assist you in maintaining an optimistic outlook and training your brain to build resilience.

Look for Opportunities for Self-Discovery

Individuals who experience significant stress, trauma, or loss often report that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardships report better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life. I refer to this stage of recovery as Posttraumatic Growth.  Individuals who find meaning in their suffering almost always end up developing increased resiliency and enhanced coping abilities that are the result of achieving Posttraumatic Growth.

Practice Self Care

Pay attention to your own needs and feelings, and engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Identify one or two “guilty pleasures” and establish time in your schedule to enjoy these each week. Take long walks, enjoy bubble baths, read a good book. Sleep well and exercise regularly. Learn to say “no” to commitments that do not bring you joy or fulfillment. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Learn to be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Chances are that during times of stress you are doing the very best you can with what you have to work with. Recognize and acknowledge that you don’t have to be a superhero and you have human limitations. Eliminate extraneous pressure from yourself, your family, and from unsupportive others. An important aspect of building resilience comes from knowing when to take a break and allowing yourself to regroup.

Clear Up Past Traumas

To be resilient, it is essential to clean out the closet in your head of past or current traumas so they no longer control your future. If you experience reoccurring stress from traumatic memories, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with a psychotherapeutic treatment technique called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can be very effective. The focus of EMDR is to resolve or eliminate emotional distress by shifting how a memory is triggered in the brain. EMDR can be particularly helpful for people with a history of abuse or those with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder).

Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation, journaling, and spiritual practices help some people build confidence and restore hope. The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience. The ability to recovery from adversity and build resilience is a testament to the strength and tenacity of the human spirt, as well as the secret to living a life of purpose and meaning.