By focusing on your behaviors, thoughts and actions you too can become resilient and better able to face adversity.
By Shelley Galasso Bonanno, M.A.
We all experience stress and adversity at one time or another throughout our lives. Adversity can occur in the form of family or relationship problems, health problems, the death of a loved one, financial difficulty, natural disasters, and workplace problems. But what makes one individual seemingly more able to cope with adversity than another? Resilience, in part. Psychological resilience refers to one’s ability to harness inner strength to recover from setbacks, challenges, or traumatic events. Resilience can help us cope better with life stressors and adversity. It helps us maintain or quickly regain happiness.
Being resilient does not mean that a person does not experience strong feelings, emotional difficulty, or distress. Emotional pain, anger and sadness are common reactions when people face adversity. Rather, resilience refers to the ability to continue on and keep functioning, and maintain one’s strength physically and psychologically, despite such feelings.
It is common to struggle after adversity, perhaps more common than previously thought. A recent longitudinal study conducted by Arizona State University suggests resilience is not the most common response to adversity. In fact, research finds that far more people follow a trajectory of “recovery,” in which their happiness and life satisfaction dips around the time of the event, but then gradually and slowly recovers.
Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed. Individuals lacking in resilience have a tendency to dwell on problems and feel victimized. They spiral downward, becoming overwhelmed by even small stressors. Some individuals turn to unhealthy forms of coping, such as substance use or gambling. But it is possible to learn resilience so that we might “bounce back” more quickly from adversity.
A combination of factors appear to contribute to resilience. Studies reveal the positive role of relationships in resilience. Reaching out to others increases our ability to be resilient. Developing and maintaining caring and supportive relationships provides encouragement and reassurance that helps bolster resilience. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you can strengthen your resilience.
While reaching out to others can help, developing resilience is a personal journey. Although you can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, you can change how you interpret and respond to those events.
Give yourself time. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed and developing realistic, achievable goals can also increase resilience. Keeping things in perspective, even when facing very difficult situations, can help increase resilience. Taking small, baby steps toward reaching your goals, instead of focusing too far into the future on tasks that can seem insurmountable when viewed all at once, can be helpful as well.
Reflect on the idea of a ‘silver lining.’ That is, the idea that many people learn something about themselves and grow in some meaningful way as a result of their adversity. People who have experienced adversity often report an increased sense of purpose and a heightened appreciation for life.
Taking care of yourself and making a concerted effort to put yourself first, enables you to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise. Connect with others. Journal your feelings. If you feel you are having prolonged difficulty, do not hesitate to speak with a licensed mental health professional. Just remember, while everyone does not develop resilience in the same manner and at the same pace, identifying ways that work well for you is paramount to increased resilience and effectively coping with adversity.
Shelley Galasso Bonanno, MA, is a limited licensed psychologist, who has had the pleasure of working with adults, children and families since 1987. A lifelong resident of Macomb County, Ms. Bonanno earned her Master’s degree from Wayne State University with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy. You can follow her on Twitter @shelley bonanno.