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7 Ways to Build Resilience

Why is it that some people tend to handle stress or life’s hurdles better than others? Are we born with resilience, is it bred into us, or do we learn it only when we are faced with challenging situations? There are, as you can imagine, a number of factors that play into our resilience. The most important question concerning resilience may be: Can we learn to become resilient? And if so, how?

Just like our other coping mechanisms, resilience is both a part of the ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ of our upbringing. Some of us learn resilience from a young age, because of our backgrounds. Those of us who grew up with older brothers and sisters may owe a large part of our inherent resilience to the fact that we had to constantly fight for our right to access toys, food, or even parental attention. Growing up in an environment that involves a lot of challenges or disadvantages may also teach a person resilience from a young age. Maria Konnikova of The New Yorker describes in her article ‘How People Learn to Become Resilient’ a study by Minnesotan psychologist Norman Garmezy, in which he looked at the resilience of children. Garmezy noted that many children who were growing up with daily disadvantage and even abuse, were able to defy the odds (of becoming ‘problem children’ and in turn, adults) and develop incredible resilience.

Garmezy was one of the first in his field to look at resilience, rather than vulnerability, for children and young people who experienced prolonged or ‘chronic’ exposure to trauma. Unfortunately, it can be very hard, from a scientific point of view, to determine exactly how much resilience a person is capable of, until they are put into a situation which requires them to exhibit this trait. Therefore, largely, the study of resilience is based on anecdotal evidence and assumption. Suffice it to say that he discovered that children who needed to be resilient in order to survive, developed resilience. Those who were never challenged in such a way, were not in need of the same level of hardiness, and as such did not develop this trait until later in life – if at all.

So, can we learn to develop resilience, if it’s not something we already possess? According to the American Psychological Association, the answer is yes. Whether or not we were able to develop resilience in our younger lives, there are several important ways in which we can teach ourselves to become more resilient:

Having a reliable and meaningful support network is one of the most important factors in developing resilience. Little do many of us realise that we do not need to go it alone. Having a support base of friends and family to call on in troubling times is very important to our emotional and mental health. Despite what you may think, reaching out for help is a very healthy way to overcome trauma or troubling issues. Our friends and family can not only offer us moral support, but can help us to discover ways of dealing with problems that we may not have considered before.

One of the greatest hurdles for people who suffer loss, trauma or mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, is dealing with change. Unexpected changes in our lives can leave us feeling out of control and vulnerable. For an already vulnerable person, this can often seem too much to handle. Many anxiety sufferers will develop habits which attempt to maintain a strict level of control over their lives (such as obsessive compulsive behaviours). This behaviour exacerbates the problem, and can lead to a range of further issues. Learning to deal with change, and accept it as a part of life, is an extremely important tool in becoming more resilient. Although, this can be easier said than done. Which brings us to our next point:

Learning to become more resilient is not something that can be achieved overnight. Dealing with change, and changing your attitude about change can be extremely confronting. A qualified psychologist can offer you a range of strategies to make this process easier. If you’ve never seen a psychologist before, and are concerned with becoming more resilient – now may be the time to get in touch.

Setting goals for yourself which are small and manageable is one of the most effective ways to start overcoming any issue that you may be facing. Goal setting can help you to recognise the power that you have over your own life, and give you a sense of much-needed achievement. This sense of achievement in turn builds your confidence. Your psychologist can help you to come up with a set of goals which are realistic and achievable, and set you up for success. Remember – building resilience takes time.

Any time we set ourselves goals, or aim to change something about our behaviour, we risk being our own worst critic. Whilst having goals and moving towards a positive life change is motivating and exciting – we also need to ensure that we are not setting ourselves up for failure. Along with setting realistic goals, it is important to remember to be kind to yourself. Take the time to practice some self-care, in whatever form that may be. Whether it be meditating, yoga, a hot bath or a walk on the beach – take the time to care for yourself, as you would for someone else that you care about.

Some call it ‘eating the elephant, one bite at a time’. If we are weighed down by the sheer enormity of our problems, we are often unable to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It is important to maintain a positive outlook, and to face problems by breaking them down into smaller pieces. If you’re struggling at work (or study) with a huge project, it can be helpful to divide it into a list of achievable tasks and take on one at a time. The same can be said for many issues that we face in our lives. This simple process will not only remove the overwhelming burden of your problem, but will help you to see the progress you’re making as you tick each item off the list.

As we’ve discussed, building your confidence is a great way to help you build resilience. A feeling of purpose and achievement can be a very valuable tool, throughout your life. Self-development is a great way to build your belief in yourself and also give you something to strive for. Your goal setting might involve some self-development plans such as getting fit, becoming healthier, taking a class you’ve always wanted to take, or learning a new skill. What is something that you’ve always wanted to learn or change about your life? If you’re having trouble coming up with some realistic and meaningful self-development goals, another valuable service to explore is life coaching. Find out more about our life coaching services and how they can help you today.

Resilience is an excellent trait, which can set you up for success throughout your life. If you’re worried that you are lacking in resilience, following these simple steps can help you to build this trait in yourself. Remember, like anything you want to learn, building resilience takes time and dedication. To use an example from the American Psychological Association – building resilience is similar to rafting down a river. The river will be filled with obstacles such as rapids and boulders which will challenge you. Having a plan, and some prior knowledge of what to expect down the river makes for a much smoother passage, and a greater chance of success. You can stop and take a break when you need to – but the only way to reach the end of the river is to get back on the raft and keep going.

If you’d like to find out more about our Gold Coast psychology and life coaching services, and how they can help you please get in touch today.

Happy rafting!

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen