Resilience- how we deal with life challenges
Life can present us with challenges, often changing our lives significantly. These changes can trigger a range of thoughts and emotions. For example, during the pandemic, we had to learn to study and work online, stay at home and find ways to connect with our family and friends in different ways. We could not plan as we used to, and we had to adjust to living with uncertainty.
Resilience is our ability to deal with adverse situations and adapt to changes. It is a skill we can develop as we reflect on our experiences, increase our self-awareness, and learn to manage our thoughts and feelings (Bonano et al., 2004). Sometimes, we can experience distress and feel vulnerable. To restore a sense of balance, we can practise gratitude – it directs our attention to what we value and find meaningful.
It helps to manage our emotions and be hopeful that things can change for the better. As we learn to deal with the difficulties, we grow from our experiences and develop our strengths.
Strategies to boost our resilience
Develop an optimistic attitude: It can be hard to feel optimistic when we have a lot to do and feel under pressure because we do not have enough time, and we are already tired and worried about possible negative consequences.
However, we can nurture an optimistic attitude by maintaining hope. We can focus on what matters to us and trust that what we do, however small, will make a difference.
Being hopeful does not mean that we ignore the problems or are unrealistic about what we can achieve. It means that we acknowledge setbacks and accept that mistakes can happen.
As we learn from setbacks and mistakes we grow to trust our ability to deal with challenges, We gradually develop our knowledge and skills and the capacity to tolerate the discomfort when things do not work out how we hoped.
Optimism is helpful because when we are in a positive frame of mind, we can explore new ways of doing things which helps us to develop our creativity. When we look for alternative options and consider what could be possible, we are more likely to find ways to deal with obstacles and resolve problems.
Nurture body and mind: When we are stressed, we tend to neglect to look after ourselves. We know our body and mind benefit from exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep, but these are difficult to apply if we do not have a routine.
We can create cues in our environment to remind us, and this increases the likelihood that we will go for a walk or have a healthy snack during the day. We can develop healthy habits by reminding ourselves of what we value – health and wellbeing.
It is also essential to prioritise the relationships and strengthen our support network. They give us meaning and a purpose. It is mutually beneficial as we derive a sense of belonging when connecting with others.
When facing difficult situations, sometimes we may feel that we cannot talk to others because we fear they might not understand, and we can feel alone with our distress. We may feel lonely when isolated due to physical distancing to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19.
We can interpret this feeling just like a physiological need. When we are hungry, we look for something we can eat, or when thirsty, we get a glass of water, for example. We act as we recognise what we need.
So, when we feel lonely, we notice that we need contact with others, so just as we tend to do in the previous examples, we can take the initiative and contact someone in our network or go for a walk and say hello to people we meet on the way. Seeing other people reminds us that we are all human beings living in an uncertain world (Cacciopo & Patrick, 2009).
Focus on what you can control: When things do not work out as we hope, it is normal to feel disappointed, frustrated and worry about the potential consequences. We can learn to manage these situations by practising being present – noticing what is happening. Then identify within your control and think about what you can do right now to move forwards.
As we learn from our experiences dealing with setbacks, we develop our confidence to experiment with possible solutions even if we do not know how things will work out. It is the skill that helps us grow and adapt to new situations.
Seek different perspectives: An effective way to manage challenges is to change how we interpret events. The way we think about the situation affects our actions and beliefs about what we can achieve.
Reframing a situation and looking for alternative interpretations enables identifying solutions. Choosing to focus on a different aspect of the problem allows us to consider other information that can open possibilities that we would not have considered otherwise (McGonigal, 2015).
Bonanno, G. A., Papa, A., Lalande, K., Westphal, M., & Coifman, K. (2004). The Importance of Being Flexible: The Ability to Both
Enhance and Suppress Emotional Expression Predicts Long-Term Adjustment. Psychological Science, 15(7), 482–487.
Cacciopo, J.T. & Patrick, W. (2009) Loneliness. Human nature and the need for social connection. London: W.W. Norton Company Ltd.
David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.
Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion.
Neff, K. (2011) Self-compassion. Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.