People often try to cope with difficult situations and stressful periods in their lives by simply putting on a brave face – or even pretending that their problems aren't happening. The problem with this approach is that it fails to deal with the feelings that the situation brings up. Indeed, burying negative feelings for a long time can lead to anxiety and/or depression.
Resilience refers to your capacity to recover from difficulties and ability to bounce back. Instead of pushing yourself or simply surviving, building resilience techniques will help you cope with the inevitable challenges that life throws at all of us.
There are many times throughout our life journey when we need to show resilience. It could because we are experiencing problems or conflicts at work or at home. Or it may be due to a more traumatic event, such as the death of a parent, serious illness, or losing a home.
Being resilient doesn't mean that you won't experience difficulty or distress. However, by building and strenghtening your resilience you'll give yourself a better chance of coping with stress. Start by practising these five strategies for building resilience during times of adversity.
Have you ever gone over and over something bad that's happened to you in your head? Perhaps you wonder how you could have behaved differently? Known as rumination, this reliving of painful experiences does nothing to help us move on and can lead to depression.
Instead, you need to find ways of resetting your thoughts. One way to do this is called expressive writing. This involves writing down anything that comes into your head, on whatever is bothering you. This will allow you to examine your thoughts and confront them. It doesn't have to be great writing; the aim is just to get your thoughts and feelings out.
The write way: build resilience by putting your thoughts on paper
A study from 1998 compared expressive writers with those who wrote about superficial topics. It found that those who carried out expressive writing for four days were healthier six weeks later and also happier up to three months later.
Another exercise is called Finding Silver Linings. Although it may not seem as though there are any benefits to a bad experience, in fact, it may have showed you who your real friends are, or taught you that you're stronger than you thought. These exercises will help you feel less pessimistic and you can maintain the benefits by continuing to practice them and build resilience.
This resilience-building technique is also backed up by science. A 2014 study showed that finding silver linings daily for three weeks helped participants become more engaged with life afterward. It also decreased their pessimistic beliefs over time.
Adopting the practice of rewriting the narrative is useful when dealing with past problems, but doesn't help when dealing with present fears. How can we handle things that have yet to happen? You can start by slowly building up your tolerance, and gradually pushing yourself a little further every time.
“Instead of simply surviving, building resilience helps you cope with the inevitable challenges that life throws at you.”
For example, if you're nervous about taking a long-distance flight but would one day like to visit Australia, begin with a short flight and gradually extend your travels. As you become more comfortable with spending longer in the air, work your way up to a long-haul flight. This works by slowly desensitizing you with gradual and increased exposure to a situation you're afraid of or uncomfortable with.
Meditation and mindfulness are great tools to build resilience. They help bring us back to the present, rather than living in the past or worrying about the future. These techniques also help us deal with negative feelings.
You can try programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which are designed to show you how to use meditation to improve your mental and physical well-being. Here at happiness.com, we have a free online MBSR course you can take.
“Meditation and mindfulness are great tools to build resilience. They bring us back to the present, rather than living in the past or worrying about the future.”
There are also techniques like the Body Scan, which can be used to identify where you hold stress and teach you how to relax those areas. Or, you can develop a more mindful relationship with food, rather than turning to junk food when you're stressed. Multiple studies have shown that MBSR has many health and psychological benefits, especially for those struggling with chronic disease or mental illness.
Present (un)tense: become more resilient with meditation
We're often much harder on ourselves than we would be on other people, and think that we're alone in our fears. But being kind to yourself is beneficial to your well-being. So, practise self-compassion, and be as kind to yourself as you would be to others.
This strategy to build resilience involves a three-step process:
If you find this difficult, ask yourself how you would treat a friend who was experiencing the same problems: you would almost certainly show kindness to them, so do the same for yourself. You can also try writing a letter to yourself, making sure it contains only words of compassion and acceptance.
Be kind to yourself: self-compassion builds resilience
Forgiving people may be difficult, but holding on to grudges is not the route to happiness. How can your well-being develop properly if you're living in the past? Begin by acknowledging what happened, but then decide to give up your feelings of resentment so that you can move on.
Forgiveness is for your own sake, not that of others; you will benefit from understanding other people more or finding ways in which you can learn from a painful experience. Remember that everyone is human, and the person who wronged you may be suffering as well.
A 2011 study tested forgiveness against the alternatives — ruminating on negative feelings or repressing them— and found that cultivating compassion meant participants felt more empathy, positive emotions, and feelings of control: all signs of building resilience.
We all experience difficulties in life and some of us cope with the stress better than others. However, if you're struggling, you can learn skills to build your resilience and feel stronger. Viewing negative experiences in a different light can help you to build your resilience and teach you how to cope with difficult situations in the future –something that will inevitably occur at various points throughout your life. ●
Main image: Colorbox.com
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Mindfulness can help us maintain our well-being in the face of difficult situations. By Mitch Abblett on behalf of Greater Good Science
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