Everyone experiences ups and downs in life—it’s not an option. But how you survive and deal with those ups and downs is definitely up to you.
The process of “bouncing back” from adverse situations is called resilience. You weren’t born with all the resilience you’ll need to get through life. But it’s a skill that you can learn and develop—and the more resilient you are, the happier and more fulfilled your life will be.
The Burning House
One night, when I was seven years old, our house caught on fire. Fortunately, my mother woke up when she smelled smoke. After quickly investigating, she woke my father, and together they were able to get all five of us kids out safely.
But the entire first level of our two-story home was completely destroyed. What wasn’t burned to a crisp was so badly smoke damaged that the house and all our belongings were a total loss.
Did we sit around and cry? I’m sure we shed a few tears. But we didn’t let it ruin our lives—and that was a choice we made.
The Resilience Song
In 1936, songwriters Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields wrote a catchy tune whose chorus says, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.”
That’s resilience in a nutshell. But how do you develop it?
To become resilient, four things must be present:
Don’t Isolate —Communicate
Everyone reacts individually to any given situation. That’s normal because we have different personalities and upbringings. For example, when experiencing a stressful (even traumatic) situation, you may be inclined to separate yourself from others and lick your wounds in private. But this is not helpful overall.
It’s important to connect with empathetic and supportive people. Recognize that you are not alone. Ask for help—as difficult as this may be—and accept it when it is offered.
Talking about your situation is in itself a stress reliever. There are support groups for just about everything these days. Seek them out and attend. Tell your story and listen to the stories of others. You will find great relief in the camaraderie.
Practice Overall Wellness
You may be inclined to believe that stressful situations affect only your mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your mental health and your physical health are intimately connected. What harms one harms the other.
Pay attention to what you put into your body. Junk food, alcohol, drugs, and excessive eating don’t contribute to resilience. Rather, eat nutritious foods; Get plenty of sleep; Exercise; Hydrate. All these things can strengthen your body and help it adapt to stress.
Practice mindfulness. Focus your attention on the here and now. Don’t worry about things you have no control over. Deal with today.
Journaling is an effective way to build resilience. Don’t write only about what’s wrong. Write about the positive things in your life, the things you are grateful for.
Practice Healthy Thoughts
It’s easy to be negative when things aren’t going your way, but even trials have their positive aspects. Your thoughts play an important part in how you feel and how resilient you are. You can dwell on the negative and stay stuck there, or you can embrace the possibilities and opportunities that arise from your situation.
Don’t catastrophize, i.e., don’t play the “My life is ruined, woe is me” game. Accept that change is part of life and accepting the things you can’t change will enable you to focus on the things that you do have control over.
Let go of what you may have lost and look forward to the future. Visualize what you want and maintain a hopeful outlook.
Find Meaning in Adversity
Some people say that everything happens for a reason. In bouncing back from adverse circumstances, it’s important to look for things you have learned. What has the experience taught you about yourself? Were you stronger than you ever thought it was possible to be? Did it teach you to have more gratitude and appreciation for life? Did you make new friends as you sought support? What good things do you have in your life now that you didn’t have before?
Resilience affords the opportunity to grow, to improve, to embrace life with renewed energy and clear goals. Life may never be the same after you have endured difficult circumstances—but it may be better than ever.