Do you find it challenging to cope with change in your life?
Does it feel like you can’t always “bounce back” after dealing with a difficult situation?
If this sounds like you, I want to be the first to tell you that you are not alone in this struggle and that there are (many!) ways to better handle the challenges that life can throw your way.
Resilience can be described as a “person’s capacity to cope with changes and challenges and to bounce back during difficult times”. Resilience is not simply one thing or one specific quality – it is composed of multiple factors including, but not limited to, social support, self-care behaviors, and cognitive flexibility.
Something important to remember is that anyone can be resilient and develop resilience. It is not strictly a skill you are born with or a natural quality that you have; it is a combination of skills, strategies, and environmental factors that can be developed over time.
Life is Challenging! Stress and adversity are an inevitable part of being a human being. Without developing resilience, we would not be able to move on from any hard times we may encounter.
Research has shown that individuals who demonstrate resilience are more adept at recovering from “experiences of adversity and trauma”. Because resilient individuals are better able to deal with everyday stress, they are also shown to be more adept at managing traumatic life events such as a natural disaster, death of a loved one, or significant financial hardship.
There is also research that states that individuals who demonstrate higher levels of resilience often experience more positive health outcomes. Resilience is positively correlated with better physical health outcomes and those who are resilient have statistically lower rates of anxiety and depression.
As previously mentioned, no one is innately resilient. It is important to recognize that resilience can be developed over time and fostered through the development of healthy coping behaviors, self-care strategies, and cognitive flexibility. Below are some different strategies to increase your resilience!
Mindfulness and meditation are activities that can support us in developing resilience as they allow us to stay in the present moment and experience our thoughts and feelings clearly, without any judgment.
Studies have shown that individuals who practice mindfulness are more frequently able to move forward as opposed to being held back by difficulties. Mindfulness can allow us to see our challenges from new perspectives and respond to them in a more adaptive way. Because mindfulness is helpful in learning how to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions, it can help us handle situations more effectively and adapt to adversity.
Mindfulness can allow us to see our challenges from new perspectives and respond to them in a more adaptive way. Because mindfulness is helpful in learning how to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions, it can help us to handle situations more effectively and adapt to adversity.
Take a moment to reflect on a time in your life where you faced a challenging or stressful situation. Once you have an idea in mind, begin to reflect on that moment.
When you were faced with this stressful or challenging situation, were you resilient?
If you were resilient:
How did you think about the situation?
What did you do?
What did your resilience look like at the time?
Maybe in your reflection, you look back on that situation and feel like you were not so resilient in that moment.
If you were not resilient:
What did you do?
How did you think about the situation at the time?
And how do you think about the situation differently now?
Additionally, you can ask yourself, what might have been different if you were resilient in that moment, and what would it have looked like?
Reflection-based exercises help us understand ourselves on a deeper level and view our experiences from different perspectives. Oftentimes, we need the space and time away from stressful or adverse experiences that reflection provides to really understand and appreciate how much they impacted our lives and emotions.
Cognitive flexibility is the mental ability to think about multiple topics at the same time. It allows us to view situations from multiple perspectives and, ultimately, enables us to make better decisions. Cognitive flexibility engages the skills of awareness, confidence, and adaptability to navigate challenging times or tricky scenarios. It also allows us to adapt to our environment and changing circumstances.
One way to practice cognitive flexibility is a technique that is called “thought stopping”. This technique is helpful to use when you are confronted with a stressful situation and feel overwhelmed by your emotions.
In these moments of feeling overwhelmed by worry, doubt, stress, or panic, it can feel almost impossible to get out of that negative thought cycle. However, using a thought stopping technique is quite easy, and it only includes 3 steps:
STEP 1: Identify your negative thought.
STEP 2: “STOP” your thought: picture a big, red stop sign in your mind and take a deep breath. This gives you a minute to reset before making any decisions or going down a proverbial worry-rabbit hole.
STEP 3: Replace that negative thought or worry with a more positive or neutral thought.
This “thought stopping” technique is a tool that you can use to reduce stress and react in a more adaptive way to stressful circumstances.
Resilience is about adaptability and adjustment – getting back up despite being knocked down. However, if you do not take the time to rest and take care of yourself, it will be increasingly more challenging to bounce back from adversity.
Self-care does not have to be an Instagram-perfect bubble bath or meditation class – it can be as simple as reading a book for pleasure, exercising, or calling a friend for a quick catch-up!
It is vital to remember that, as humans, we will be challenged by the difficulties and stress that life throws at us! However, if we are able to develop skills, like resilience, we can learn more effective ways of managing those difficulties.
Connor, K. M., & Davidson, J. R. T. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor‐Davidson resilience scale (CD‐RISC). Depression and Anxiety, 18, 76–82.
Eisenberg, D., Lipson, S. K., & Posselt, J. (2016). Promoting resilience, retention, and mental health.
Gilligan, R. (2004). Promoting resilience in child and family social work: Issues for social work practice, education and policy. Social Work Education, 23(1), 93-104.
Leary, K. A., & DeRosier, M. E. (2012). Factors promoting positive adaptation and resilience during the transition to college. Psychology, 3(12), 1215–1222.
Steinhardt, M., & Dolbier, C. (2008). Evaluation of a resilience intervention to enhance coping strategies and protective factors and decrease symptomatology. Journal of American college health, 56(4), 445-453.
Rachel Damin, MSEd., MHC-LP, is a psychotherapist and yoga teacher based in New York City. Rachel provides psychodynamically-oriented therapy that incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based practices to individuals and couples. Rachel works primarily with those who hope to gain support around self-esteem, body image, disordered eating, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Please contact Rachel at [email protected] or visit her website at: www.racheldaminpsychotherapy.com.