How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives?The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, terroristattacks and other traumatic events: these are all examples of verychallenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstanceswith a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.
Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changingsituations and stressful conditions. What enables them to do so? Itinvolves resilience, an ongoing process that requires time and effortand engages people in taking a number of steps.
This brochure is intended to help readers with taking their own roadto resilience. The information within describes resilience and somefactors that affect how people deal with hardship. Much of the brochurefocuses on developing and using a personal strategy for enhancingresilience.
What Is Resilience?
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity,trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress -- suchas family and relationship problems, serious health problems, orworkplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" fromdifficult experiences.
Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary.People commonly demonstrate resilience. One example is the response ofmany Americans to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks andindividuals' efforts to rebuild their lives.
Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn't experiencedifficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in peoplewho have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact,the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotionaldistress.
Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Itinvolves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned anddeveloped in anyone.
Resilience Factors & Strategies
Factors in Resilience
A combination of factors contributes to resilience. Many studiesshow that the primary factor in resilience is having caring andsupportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationshipsthat create love and trust, provide role models, and offerencouragement and reassurance help bolster a person's resilience.
Several additional factors are associated with resilience, including:
- The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
- A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
- Skills in communication and problem solving
- The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses
All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.
Strategies For Building Resilience
Developing resilience is a personal journey. People do not all reactthe same to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach tobuilding resilience that works for one person might not work foranother. People use varying strategies.
Some variation may reflect cultural differences. A person's culturemight have an impact on how he or she communicates feelings and dealswith adversity -- for example, whether and how a person connects withsignificant others, including extended family members and communityresources. With growing cultural diversity, the public has greateraccess to a number of different approaches to building resilience.
Some or many of the ways to build resilience in the following pagesmay be appropriate to consider in developing your personal strategy.
10 Ways to Build Resilience
Make connections. Good relationships with closefamily members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help andsupport from those who care about you and will listen to youstrengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civicgroups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups providessocial support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others intheir time of need also can benefit the helper.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. Youcan't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you canchange how you interpret and respond to these events. Try lookingbeyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better asyou deal with difficult situations.
Accept that change is a part of living. Certaingoals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations.Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus oncircumstances that you can alter.
Move toward your goals. Develop some realisticgoals. Do something regularly -- even if it seems like a smallaccomplishment -- that enables you to move toward your goals. Insteadof focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's onething I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the directionI want to go?"
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations asmuch as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detachingcompletely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just goaway.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Peopleoften learn something about themselves and may find that they havegrown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Manypeople who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported betterrelationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable,increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, andheightened appreciation for life.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective. Even when facing verypainful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broadercontext and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event outof proportion.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlookenables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Tryvisualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your ownneeds and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and findrelaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keepyour mind and body primed to deal with situations that requireresilience.
Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful.For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts andfeelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life.Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connectionsand restore hope.
The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.
Learning From Your Past
Some Questions to Ask Yourself
Focusing on past experiences and sources of personal strength canhelp you learn about what strategies for building resilience might workfor you. By exploring answers to the following questions about yourselfand your reactions to challenging life events, you may discover how youcan respond effectively to difficult situations in your life.
Consider the following:
- What kinds of events have been most stressful for me?
- How have those events typically affected me?
- Have I found it helpful to think of important people in my life when I am distressed?
- To whom have I reached out for support in working through a traumatic or stressful experience?
- What have I learned about myself and my interactions with others during difficult times?
- Has it been helpful for me to assist someone else going through a similar experience?
- Have I been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how?
- What has helped make me feel more hopeful about the future?
Resilience involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your lifeas you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events. Thishappens in several ways, including:
- Letting yourself experience strong emotions, and alsorealizing when you may need to avoid experiencing them at times inorder to continue functioning
- Stepping forward and takingaction to deal with your problems and meet the demands of daily living,and also stepping back to rest and reenergize yourself
- Spending time with loved ones to gain support and encouragement, and also nurturing yourself
- Relying on others, and also relying on yourself
Places To Look For Help
Getting help when you need it is crucial in building yourresilience. Beyond caring family members and friends, people often findit helpful to turn to:
Self-help and support groups. Such community groupscan aid people struggling with hardships such as the death of a lovedone. By sharing information, ideas, and emotions, group participantscan assist one another and find comfort in knowing that they are notalone in experiencing difficulty.
Books and other publications by people who havesuccessfully managed adverse situations such as surviving cancer. Thesestories can motivate readers to find a strategy that might work forthem personally.
Online resources. Information on the web can be a helpful source of ideas, though the quality of information varies among sources.
For many people, using their own resources and the kinds of helplisted above may be sufficient for building resilience. At times,however, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty makingprogress on the road to resilience.
A licensed mental health professional such as apsychologist can assist people in developing an appropriate strategyfor moving forward. It is important to get professional help if youfeel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities ofdaily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful lifeexperience.
Different people tend to be comfortable with somewhat differentstyles of interaction. A person should feel at ease and have goodrapport in working with a mental health professional or participatingin a support group.
Continuing On Your Journey
To help summarize several of the main points in this brochure, thinkof resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river.
On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water, andshallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differentlyalong the way.
In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and pastexperience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan,a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.
Perseverance and trust in your ability to work your way aroundboulders and other obstacles are important. You can gain courage andinsight by successfully navigating your way through white water.Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can be especiallyhelpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents, and other difficultstretches of the river.
You can climb out to rest alongside the river. But to get to the endof your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue.