What is Resilience?

According to Psychology Today, “Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.” In a nutshell, resilience is the ability – and tendency – to “bounce back.”

“Bouncing back” is our reaction to disappointment, defeat, and failure, but instead of wallowing in pain or allowing the situation to keep us down, we get back up and continue on our life’s journey. A perfect example is a person after being seriously injured in a traumatic car accident staying upbeat through months of arduous physical therapy.

Resilience doesn’t mean mustering the strength to “grin and bear it” or simply “get over it.” It’s not a matter of learning to avoid problems or resisting the call to change. Cultivating resilience is a process by which a person utilizes flexibility to reframe obsolete thought patterns and learns to tap into inner strength to navigate difficult obstacles.

So, what do you do?

5 Effective Ways to Cultivate Resilience

1. Embrace Change

You need to embrace change as an inevitability of life and not be caught by surprise. Flexibility is an essential feature of resilience. As you learn to become more adaptable, you’ll be better prepared and equipped to respond to crises. Resilient people often capitalize on these events as opportunities to develop themselves in new ways. Where some are crushed by abrupt changes, those with resilience can adapt and thrive.

2. Emotional Regulation

Emotional Regulation is the capacity to manage and navigate potentially overwhelming emotions (or seek assistance from others to work through them). Being regulated helps people maintain their focus and persevere when faced with a challenge. While maintaining this focus in the face of stress and adversity is not easy, it is essential.

Often it is necessary to utilize stress-reduction techniques, such as guided imagery, breathing exercise, and mindfulness training, to regulate your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Engaging powerful emotions and tolerating the somatic discomfort that they generate is a must in those highly stressful situations.

3. Change the Narrative

When something bad happens in our lives, we often rehash the event over and over in our heads, essentially reliving the pain. This process is called rumination; it’s tantamount to a cognitive spinning of the wheels, and it doesn’t move us any closer to healing or personal growth.

Practicing Expressive Writing can help lift us out of this rut by revealing new insights into the challenges experienced in our lives, through constructing a new narrative. Try writing freely for 20 minutes about something “bad” in your life, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. Just write, don’t attempt to create a masterpiece.

Researchers have found that through writing we are forced to confront the ideas rolling around in our heads one by one and give them structure, which very often can lead to new perspectives. By crafting our life’s narrative, we gain a better sense of control.

4. Face your Fears

Exposure therapy is facing your fears by exposing yourself to things that scare you in gradually increasingly larger doses. The Overcoming a Fear practice is designed to help you deal with everyday fears that are obstructing you. Rather than talking ourselves out of these fears, we need to tackle our emotions directly. Begin by slowly, and repeatedly, exposing yourself to the thing that scares you—in small doses.

In a 2010 study, researchers tested this theory. They gave participants a little electrical shock every time they saw a blue square, which soon became as frightening as a tarantula to an arachnophobe. Then, they showed the blue squares without shocking them. Gradually, the participants’ fear (measured by skin perspiration) evaporated.

5. Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is when we provide compassion to ourselves: confronting our pain with warmth and kindness, without judgment. In one study, participants in an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion program reported more mindfulness and satisfaction with life, and lower depression, anxiety, and stress as compared to people who didn’t participate. The benefits were found to last up to a year.

After developing a kinder attitude toward ourselves, we can echo that gentle voice in a Self-Compassionate Letter. This is a letter to yourself that takes about 15 minutes to write, filled with words of understanding, acceptance, and compassion toward yourself about a specific struggle or pain of which you feel ashamed.

The Secret

Social Support Research published in 2015 in the journal Ecology and Society revealed that resilience is not solely a personal character trait, but is also heavily impacted by strong relationships and networks. People can nurture and build their resilience through various interactions with people in their lives.

Those individuals in our support systems help us to crystallize the meaningful purpose of our involvements, assist us in seeing a path forward to overcome a setback, provide empathy, or simply help us to laugh and embolden our resilience by shifting our perspective. They remind us that we are not facing the fight all alone.

But resilience requires more than just having a network of supporters. It results from truly connecting with those supporters when you need them most. The interactions themselves — conversations that validate your plans, reframe your perspective, help you to laugh and feel authentic with others, or just encourage you to pick yourself up and try again because your battle is a worthy one — are how we become resilient.

COVID has created and is continuing to create a significant transition for everyone. For many of us, the challenges and setbacks in work and life during this pandemic are relentless. The importance of building and maintaining your connections has perhaps never been more clear. To turbocharge building your resilience, understand the critical importance of growing, maintaining, and tapping a diverse network to help you ride out this storm.

Relationships may be our most undervalued resources!