What makes it so easy for some people to bounce back after a major life challenge while others wind up discouraged in the face of stress?
Resiliency is defined as the ability to return to one’s original state or form after being bent or stretched. Psychological resilience is the ability to adapt to life’s constant changes and cope with stress or adversity, such as a major tragedy, trauma, health problem, or some other life difficulty.
Some benefits to improving resiliency include greater confidence, sense of personal power, and the capacity to reduce the fear and anxiety that often goes along with stress-provoking situations, said Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC.
“Increased resiliency can improve someone’s life by enabling them to move through transitional phases or stressful situations with greater ease,” she said. “It can afford someone the willingness to take calculated risks in an effort to better life, and that person can move forward with the knowledge that he/she will emerge OK.”
While some people seem to be more resilient than others, anyone can cultivate and improve resiliency.
Here are 11 ways to increase your resiliency in the face of life’s inevitable stresses:
1. Change Your Perspective of Adversitythink negatively. In some cases, you may be able to consciously choose to see the experience in a different light. An opportunity lies in almost every difficulty.
Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” By exploring your experiences objectively, you may be able to take more control over your emotions and find yourself better able to bounce back.
2. Cultivate Gratitude
Practicing gratitude can help boost your resiliency. Being grateful for what you have rather than feeling resentful about what you don’t have can shift your perspective toward the good things in life, said Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM.
“Whether it’s something we take for granted, like the use of all five senses, or something beyond the basics, like having our favorite chocolate bar, gratitude keeps us in the moment, mindful of all our gifts,” she said. “This reality check is especially useful in trying times as it fortifies our ability to appreciate what we have, both internally and externally, and allows us to more freely give to others.”
Consider starting a gratitude journal. By simply writing down a handful of things you are grateful for each day, you may feel more positive about your life and be more resilient to life’s stressors.
3. Practice Self-Care
Stress may become unmanageable if you aren’t taking care of yourself. To help manage and cope with stress, ensure you’re practicing self-care as often as possible. Some self-care activities include getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, eating healthy foods, exercising, and engaging in activities that boost your well-being.
“Self-care is paramount to raising resiliency,” Leinwand said. “You cannot be resilient on an ‘empty tank.’ When we take care of ourselves—which might mean getting a decent amount of sleep, getting proper nutrition, exercising regularly, or simply having some quiet breathing space once in a while—we increase our bounce back-ability. Resiliency is couched in strength. If we haven’t built up our resources over time (taken good care of ourselves), we simply won’t weather storms as effectively as we would like to.”
4. Laugh it Off
Your sense of humor can help you feel positive and light-hearted under trying circumstances.
Research has shown laughter has the ability to lower negative affect in response to an increase in stressful life events. Laughter can induce feelings of joy, reduce tensions, and activate the body’s stress relief response. It has also been shown to improve the immune system and reduce pain, meaning it not only helps make you psychologically more resilient, but physically more resilient as well.
“Laughter and humor can definitely improve resiliency and reduce tension,” Leinwand said. “They are wonderful coping strategies that prompt a release and can transform someone from victim to victor.”
5. Cultivate Caring and Supportive Relationships
Nourishing and positive relationships can provide support when you’re facing adversity. Humans are a social species. Supportive relationships can make life more meaningful and hardships easier to bear.
Scientific studies have shown the hormone oxytocin is secreted when bonding with others and strengthening relationships and that it can decrease the physiological stress response after a traumatic experience. This can make a person more adaptable and resilient to stress and adversity.
Consider taking time to strengthen existing relationships or reaching out and creating new relationships with others. A therapist can also help to improve your resilience by building a professional relationship to make you more comfortable dealing with daily stressors.
6. Give Back to Others
Giving to others may make you feel better about life. It takes the focus off yourself and allows you to see the bigger picture. Giving back can take many forms, such as helping a friend in need or sharing your time and expertise with a volunteer organization.
Studies show simply recognizing and counting your acts of kindness in as little as one week can improve your overall happiness and increase resilience as a result. Acts of kindness are known for increasing levels of serotonin in the brain, the neurotransmitter associated with satisfaction and happiness. Giving has also been shown to increase levels of oxytocin, so by giving to others you’re actually helping to increase your resiliency on the neurochemical level.
7. Practice Yoga and Meditation
Increased resiliency can improve someone’s life by enabling them to move through transitional phases or stressful situations with greater ease. —Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPCDuring a yoga session, a yogi sits with any discomfort he or she may feel in a particular pose, understanding discomfort is part of the process. Similarly, many meditation techniques encourage the meditator to sit with any pain (be it emotional or physical) and not react to it.
By learning to accept that pain and adversity are necessary factors of life, we become more resilient to them, able to pick ourselves up when we fall and to remain hopeful for the future.
8. Spend Time Outdoors
Spending time outside can help you feel more connected to the world around you and at peace with your personal circumstances, thus boosting your resiliency. Studies have shown that time in nature can strengthen the immune system, ease anxiety and depression, and promote expansive thinking.
9. Be Proactive and Accepting
Be proactive by acting on adverse situations when you can, but at the same time, accepting of that which you cannot change. If we remain in denial or resistance, we often prevent ourselves from moving forward. The most resilient are usually those who can accept the circumstances they cannot change and have the courage to do what they can to change the ones that can be changed.
10. Choose Positive Coping Strategies
Your resilience is directly impacted by your ability to cope with stress. Choose healthy coping strategies such as relaxation techniques, going for a walk, exercising, talking to a loved one or therapist, or engaging in an activity you enjoy.
Examine what feels good and positive for you. A positive coping strategy should help you feel good during and after the experience and will not inadvertently increase your stress, as unhealthy coping mechanisms often do.
11. Utilize CBT or Other Therapy Techniques
Resilient people tend to view difficult situations as challenges and are not paralyzed by such events. Try to recognize the impermanence of your situation, don’t personalize adversity by blaming yourself for events out of your control, and don’t let setbacks affect unrelated areas of your life.
How you view adversity is a key factor in determining resilience. Practice thought awareness by becoming aware of any negative thoughts or cognitive distortions you may have. Consider seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist who can help you transform your thoughts to ones that are more constructive and positive.
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