Article: Becoming Resilient

By Dave Hood

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” –Helen Keller

Resilient people are able to cope and overcome problems, setbacks, misfortune, disease, tragedy, death of a loved one. They are able to maintain their composure in stressful situations and when adversity confronts them. Resilient people are survivors, not victims.  When adversity impacts them, they focus on solving the problem, setting goals to conquer the adversity, taking action to cope and overcome adversity. They focus on the positives of a regrettable situation, hoping for the best outcome. Resilience is a character trait that you can develop, providing you take the time and make the effort to learn how to cope and recover and move forward when adversity permeates your life, which often creates sadness and worry.

Adversities of Life

Change is part of life. Suffering is part of living. The world can be a cruel and indifferent place. Nothing every stays the same, though many people would prefer to maintain the status quo.  There are countless events that cause suffering and change:

  • Death of a loved one, such as a child or spouse
  • Job loss, resulting in underemployment and poverty
  • Financial problems—the inability to pay debts
  • Sickness and illness, such as cancer
  • Natural disaster, such as earth quake, tornado
  • Accident, resulting in injury, or worse, disability

Each of these is a stressful event and example of adversity. Holmes and Rake developed the Stress Scale of Life Events. The purpose of this scale is to identify the level of stress in a person’s life and to indicate how the stress might impact the person’s physical and mental health. Death, divorce, injury, illness, job loss were highest on the list of life stressors. When a person must suffer and cope through one or more of these life stressors at a particular time, he or she risks becoming mentally or physically ill.

Resilient people are optimistic about the future, despite adversity, and able to cope and take steps to overcome these stressful life events.

Who are Resilient People?

People respond differently when tragedy or misfortune punches them in the face. Some people crumble and are unable to cope. They turn to drugs, alcohol, anger, become anxious, depressed, are slow to recover from the misfortune.  Others rise to the occasion and are able to cope, deal with the setback, and move on with their lives. These types of people are aware that challenges, setbacks, obstacles, mishaps, even tragedy are attributes of the human condition. They acknowledge that suffering and sadness are part of living. They embody the characteristic of resilience.

Resilient people rely on several life skills:

  • They Express an optimistic view of the future. Optimists believe that the future will be bright, that good things will happen to them, and that with hard work they will overcome the setbacks, obstacles, misfortune, and achieve their goals and dreams. Optimists are not blind, ignoring the negatives. Optimism is about focusing on the positive elements of a regrettable event or situation, while remaining aware of the negatives. Optimism is about viewing the best outcome of a bad situation. Thinking optimistically results in hope.
  • They have a strong social support network such as friends, family, soul mate. When times are difficult, the resilient person turns to a confidante for support and guidance.
  • They possess strong problem solving skills. Resilient people take steps to solve their problems.
  • They embody a positive sense of self. Resilient people have a positive view of themselves. They usually feel confident, which contributes to their sense of control. They believe their actions will positively impact the outcome of a bad situation.
  • The set and work at achieving Goal. When adversity arrives unexpectedly, resilient people develop an action plan, which includes a set of goals, to resolve the setback or misfortune.
  • They learn from adversity. The optimist learns from the adversity and uses this wisdom to deal with future setbacks, challenges, misfortune.

Developing Resilience

You can learn to become resilient. It takes time and effort. The most important steps you can take are learning to think optimistically, goal setting, and problem solving, and developing a social support network. Here are steps you can take to become resilient:

Learn to view the future optimistically. You can do this by learning positive self talk, positive visualization,  and by focusing on the positives in a bad situation. For instance, suppose you lose your job and become unemployed.  Instead of blaming yourself, you will make positive statements to yourself, instead of blaming yourself:  “I’m talented, experienced, and will find a better job.” You will also visualize how you are going to find the next job. Here’s how: Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, visualize each step in the process of finding a job, and then visualize in your mind’s eye the desire job. Focusing on the positives might be that you have a severance package and can take time to relax and figure out what type of work you desire to do next. When should you use positive self-talk, visualization, focusing on the positives? Any time you begin to feel as though you are losing hope.

Develop a social support network. This is not easy, as many people have existing friends, are married, must deal with heavy workloads, and spend sizable chunks of time with a significant other.  Get in touch with former friends, re-establish connections with family. Join social organizations, such as a church, singles group, photography club. Take a course. Do something where you will have the opportunity to meet new people.

Learn to accept and cope with change. Life often unfolds unexpectedly. Focus on living mindfully in the present moment, but be aware that adversity is part of life. One easy way to cope is by saving for a raining day. Another is to maintain a balanced life-part work, part leisure, part love, part friendship, part spirituality. When there is the possibility of misfortune or adversity, you must plan for it.  For instance, suppose you know that your firm is laying off people, such as a downsizing, ask yourself: How will I cope with a job loss, if I become one of the victims? Then make a plan. This will help you to cope.

Learn to set SMART goals. When adversity strikes, you will develop an action plan that includes realistic goals for dealing with the adversity.  A smart goal is specific (You know exactly what you will accomplish or achieve.), measurable (You can measure your success.), attainable ( You have the talent and skill and income.), relevant or rewarding ( You have a desire to achieve the goal.) , timely ( You have set a deadline and are working at achieving the goal by this deadline.)

Develop problem solving skills. When misfortune disrupts your life, do the following: Define your problem, identify possible solutions, choose the best solution, implement the chosen solution, see if it improves your situation or solves the problem.

Accept the fact that suffering is part of life and learn to cope with it. Develop a few stress management techniques. Set up a physical fitness routine for yourself, then make fitness part of your daily routine. Walking, swimming, bike riding, jogging, running—these are the best ways to deplete the physical tension and mental stress.  As well, develop the habit of nurturing yourself. Take care of your body, mind, and soul. Meditation and yoga are good remedies for stress. Schedule time for enjoyable leisure pursuits, like writing, reading, photography. Learn to express gratitude for what you have. You can do this by counting your blessings before bedtime each night. Get eight hours of sleep each night. Eat a balanced diet of dairy products, fruit, vegetables, meat. (Follow the Canada Food Rules)

Inject spirituality or faith into your life. Both give you meaning and purpose, hope for the future, and provide emotional support. Religion also provides you with community of  faithful supporters who can help you overcome the adversity. The most recent research indicates that religious people are happier, healthier, recover better from adversity.

If become overwhelmed and begin to feel unable to cope or control your emotions, seek medical help.

Additional Reading

  • Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven M. Southwick (M.D.) and Dennis Charney (M.D.)
  • The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
  • The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, by Amit Sood, M.D.

About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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