Resilience in a Broken World
If there is one thing I have learned after almost 30,000 hours of providing clinical services to individuals and families it is this: There is no cookie-cutter way to respond to the difficult situations that come as a result of living in a broken world. Some people tend to be able to “roll with the punches” and adapt to adversity without long term emotional consequences, while others have a harder time with stress and life change. I remember one client I saw many years ago who was able to respond to the loss of a business by building a second more successful business in just over a year. Several other clients have grieved the loss of a business for many years, sometimes failing to ever feel connected to another professional identity. Some individuals can lose a spouse and instantly engage a healthy grieving process that ends in lasting peace. Others struggle to ever recover from the loss of their partner and spend the remainder of their life stuck in the anger and depression of unresolved grief. Even in the little details of life, like work stress or family stress, some people have this uncanny ability to be laid back and chilled out while others tend to respond with intense emotion almost every time. Think of examples of these kinds of situations from your own life. We all know someone who seems much better at handling stress or a difficult situation than most of our other friends. These people who have the unique ability to adapt and maintain their composure possess a quality I call Resilience. Now it is true, resilient people are in some ways born and not made. Some people are just born with a sensitivity to everyday stress or longer-term life transitions while others come out of the womb with a built-in chill pill that they can take at any moment. The good news is new research from social scientists indicates that emotional resilience is something that can be learned and improved no matter what level of it we are born with. If you want to feel less reactive and more resilient in your everyday life or even prepare to handle the bigger issues that are sure to come your way with more poise, focus on intentionally developing the following life strategies that have been proven to foster resilience.
The truth is, change is an inevitable part of life. In fact, the only constant in life is that things change. Certain goals are no longer attainable. Some relationships might not be sustainable over time. It doesn’t matter how careful you are or well you plan, there are going to be things that happen that are overwhelming, surprising, and out of your control. Normalize this truth, don’t fight it. Once you admit that life is simply difficult at times, it might cease to feel so difficult.
Keep things in perspective
Individuals who tend to be reactive emotionally have a propensity to globalize the events of their life in grand fashion. Resilient people tend to consider stressful situations in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Reactive people blow things out of proportion while resilient people can understand in the moment that difficult circumstances will be balanced out by other more positive situations that life will surely bring them in the future.
Take decisive action
It’s easy in the moment of stress to just wish that everything would just go back to normal and sometimes we might find ourselves saying something like “I just want all this to go away.” Rather than engaging this strategy of detachment, resilient people take action to address the problem at hand. The motto of the resilient person goes something like this, “When in doubt, do the next right thing.” You might not know how all the details of a stressful situation might play out over time, but if you want to build resilience it is imperative that you develop the ability to attack your problems head-on.
Move toward your goals
Many times in the moment of stress we are paralyzed by the fact that our original plan or expectation has gone unmet. Whether it’s the loss of a relationship or a job or a friendship, we become disoriented as to how we might go forward in a different direction. Resilient people work to set new goals and then actively move toward reaching them. Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go.” If you’ve lost a relationship, you might make it a goal to talk to one person every day who is a potential date. If you’ve lost a job, you might make it a goal to apply for one new job every day. Resilient people don’t focus on what’s been lost, they focus on setting small goals and executing those goals consistently.
Believe in hope for the future
Resilient people believe first and foremost that hope is real. While this can be an extremely difficult task during severe traumas, it is possible to approach even our most heavy moments with a deep conviction that good things will happen in the future. To develop the ability to choose hope in the midst of pain, try taking time every day to visualize positive hopeful experiences in detail. This trains your brain to consider the hopeful moments as realistic valid possibilities in the future.
Make connections to get help
Research indicates that accepting help and support, from people who care about you, strengthens resilience. This is true because the Hope that is so necessary for us as we navigate stress and heartache is birthed within the context of relationships. We can actually start to believe that we will be OK going forward when we have others who care about us speak with passion about a bright future. While this can be accomplished through the development of healthy friendships, it is important to note that it is sometimes necessary to get professional help during certain seasons of life. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like help navigating a difficult season of your life or to help build a healthy resilience.