In psychology, resilience means being able to adapt to life’s misfortunes and setbacks without prolonged periods of distress. Ask yourself, when something goes wrong, do you tend to bounce back or fall apart? The good news is there’s actually a roadmap for adapting to life-changing situations, and emerging even stronger than before.
Resilience isn’t an inherent personality trait. In fact, resilience is a series of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. When someone has resilience, they typically harness inner strength that helps them rebound from a setback or challenge, such as a job loss, a disaster or a loved one’s death.
If an individual lacks resilience, they tend to dwell on problems, feel victimized, become overwhelmed or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, eating disorders or other risky behaviors. Because sleep and self care habits fall aside, they can even become more impulsive leading to poor choices.
Being more resilient doesn’t make your problems go away, but it does give you the ability to see past them to a better future, find enjoyment and handle stress better. You may not be as resilient as you’d like to be, but you can develop skills that can make you more resilient to life’s challenges.
Resilience and Adaptation
In a nutshell, resilience means adapting to adversity. It’s the ability to adapt to difficult situations. When an adversity, such as stress or trauma happens, you still experience negative feelings such as anger, grief and pain, but you’re able to keep functioning. People with low resilience struggle with adversity to the point where they have trouble functioning both physically and psychologically.
Resilience isn’t just tolerating something that is difficult, being stoic or figuring it out on your own. In practice, being able to reach out to others for support is a key part of practicing resilient.
Resilience and Emotional Health
Studies have shown that resilience can actually help protect us from various stress-related mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and the effects of trauma. Furthermore, if someone has an existing mental health condition, being resilient can improve their coping ability and in turn their mental health.
As mentioned earlier, there are actually practices that studies have shown make a person more resilient. If your goal is to become more resilient, consider starting or improving the following.
Stay connected. By creating strong, positive relationships with friends, loved ones and colleagues you can benefit from support, guidance and acceptance in good and bad times. This also provides you with an opportunity to return the favor. Be of service and establish meaningful connections by volunteering or joining a faith-based or spiritual community.
Make every day meaningful. Do things that leave you with a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. There’s evidence that setting and accomplishing even simple daily tasks releases feel good chemicals in the brain. Set clear, achievable goals to help you look toward the future with purpose and meaning.
Learn from your experience. Rather than being hard on yourself for the mistakes that you’ve made, think about how you’ve managed with past hardships. Take in account the skills and strategies that helped you through difficult times. Journal about past experiences to help you identify your positive and negative behavior patterns. This can help to influence your future thoughts and behaviors.
Resilience and Acceptance
The practice of acceptance is the most common strategy in building resilience. It helps us to remain hopeful because we can see beyond our current situations. We can’t change everything. For example, we can’t change the past, but we can always look to the future.
Acceptance and preparing for change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with hope instead of just anxiety. Your thoughts play a significant part in how you feel and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Identify areas of irrational thinking, such as catastrophizing difficulties or assuming people are bad, and adopt a more balanced and realistic way if thinking. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you perceive it. There’s a lot of wisdom in letting go.
Improve your self care. No matter how good your self care routine currently is, improve it. Make sure to tend to your own needs and feelings first whenever possible. If you’re not already doing it, start participating in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Make sure to include some physical activity in your daily routine. Get sufficient sleep every night and create consistent bedtime rituals that involve nurturing yourself. Eat a healthy diet low in processed foods and high in whole foods. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as meditation, guided imagery, affirmations or prayer.
Be positively proactive. Being resilient doesn’t mean ignoring life’s problems. It means determining what needs to be done, making a plan and executing it. It always takes some time to recover from a loss or traumatic event or loss, but it’s important to remember that the situation can improve.
When to Get Help
Being more resilient also means knowing when you need professional help. Developing resilience can take time and effort. If you don’t know where to start or don’t feel you’re making significant progress, therapy can help. Remember that you’re not alone on the journey. With the correct guidance, you can get more methods for improving resiliency and in turn happiness.
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.
Benard, Bonnie (2004). Resiliency: What We Have Learned. San Francisco: WestEd.
Dalai Lama; Cutler, Howard C. (1998). The Art of Happiness. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-57322-111-5.
Fromm, Eric (1973). The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York: New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., and Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of general psychology, 9(2), 111-131.
Moskowitz, J. T., Carrico, A. W., Duncan, L. G., Cohn, M. A., Cheung, E. O., Batchelder, A., … and Folkman, S. (2012). Randomized controlled trial of a positive affect intervention for people newly diagnosed with HIV. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 80(2), 257-264.
Seligman, Martin E. P. (2004). “Can Happiness Be Taught?”. Daedalus. 133 (2): 80–87.
Seligman, Martin (1990). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Free Press.
Snyder, C. R., and Lopez, S. J. (Eds.). (2009). Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
Stern, Daniel. N. (2004). The present moment in psychotherapy and everyday life. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.