How to Build Resilience
The word resilience is used a lot. Resilience has gotten more attention lately as popular authors like Brene Brown and Sheryl Sandberg share the benefits of learning from adversity.
Resilience is the process of adapting to a crisis or trauma. Being resilient is part of being an emotionally intelligent person. If you find yourself in a situation where you are facing adversity, a crisis, or a tragedy, this is fertile ground for deepening and growing your resilience.
In this moment of a global pandemic, when many are suffering economic and social crises, is a good time for us to use some science-based skills to build our resilience.
What Can You Control?
When we think about the things we can control, we usually think about our actions, like what we’re putting into our bodies, but we can also gain control over our reactions.
It may upset you when you see people not wearing masks, but you can’t control that. What you can control is how far you are away from them when you are walking down the street. Instead of focusing on the upset or anger at what you can’t control, find what you can do – avoid them, change course, walk at less busy times of the day.
If you can reduce the things you can’t control, and focus on the things you can control, you will be in a much healthier place emotionally. That’s the first level of finding resilience.
Here are four things you can try in order to build up your resilience.
Change the Story in Your Head
A simple way to do this is to physically write for about 10 minutes. Write about your challenges in whatever awful language you want. At the end of the 10 minutes, see if you can find one (or more) positive things that have resulted from that challenge. See if you can pick out one (or more) things that you have control over in that situation. Make it a routine to write each morning or evening about what happened that day. Hash it out on paper and see what you can learn.
Play Out Your Worst-Case Scenarios
It seems like we’re constantly thinking about what can go wrong. But it can be a useful way to face our fears and play the worst-case scenario out all the way. What if all the awful thoughts come true? What are all the possible outcomes? Then for each outcome, check for evidence to see if they are truly eminent or just likely. Usually the worst thing is, “I’ll be fired.” But what evidence is there that that will really happen? This method can be a useful writing exercise to allow you to “check for evidence” and identify what is likely and what you have control over.
Being compassionate to yourself is not self-pity; it’s being kind, or like taking care of your very close friend when they need some help. Would you refuse to give your friend a break for exercise or to lunch? Would you talk to a friend like you do to yourself? Most of us would not.
One way to practice self-compassion is to get out of your head and get grounded. Notice the stress you are suffering. For some, suffering is feeling overwhelmed or uninterested; for others, it’s feeling unfocused or unproductive. If you can accept that whatever you may be suffering is part of your identity, it can be easier to be empathetic and kind to yourself.
An example of self-kindness is how you talk about your suffering to yourself. Instead of being angry (“Oh, I am so stupid and unproductive lately! I can’t do anything right!”), try to state what is really going on (“I know that it’s really hard for me to focus right now and deadlines are making me stress.”). And then find a way to accept this as part of the human experience, with something like, “We’re all losing productivity in some way right now, but it’s temporary.”
Finally, it’s important to remember that life isn’t just happening from your neck up and being present in your body is refreshing to the mind.
A simple way to help yourself be present is through mediation or a grounding exercise that takes you out of your head for a few minutes.
For example, you can mentally scan your entire body by noticing what the individual parts are doing. Start with your feet. Put your feet on the floor and feel the floor. Feel your seat in the chair. Notice your hands on your lap. Notice if you can feel the top of your head, your forehead, your eyebrows. Now consciously try to relax your forehead, your eyebrows, your mouth, your jaw, your shoulders. Take a slow breath in and exhale slowly.
There are lots of free apps available that can help you stop and be present for a few minutes a day. You might try one like Breathe, Calm or Headspace.
To change what we don’t like, we have to be intentional about our new choices. If you want to build your resilience and find ways to access your “best self,” give yourself time to think about how to practice self-compassion, how to clear your mind, and what makes you feel present and rejuvenated. And forgive yourself if you don’t get it right the first time. That builds your reliance too.
Thanks to Amanda Shaffer, Shaffer Coaching, LLC, for providing the content that this blog post is based on!