How to Build Resilience

Paula H. Cookson LCSW
Domains of resilience

Your ability to adapt to difficult situations is known as resiliency. Experiencing emotional and physical reactions to stress is completely normal. The factors that determine resilience from adversity include your ability to recover from stressful events, sustain that recovery, and move forward in life. Resilient people still experience emotional pain due to adversities in life but are able to continue functioning on a physical and psychological level in spite of the circumstances.

1. Accept Support From Others

It can be overwhelming to carry burdens alone. Reach out to friends and family and confide in them about your pain. Let them nurture and support you as you work toward recovery.

  • Join a support group. Support groups can be a great opportunity to meet others who have experienced similar challenges.
  • Online support groups can also be a helpful resource. It is powerful to know you are not alone with your thoughts and feelings.
  • You can also seek individual counseling with a trained professional. Counseling can be a useful way to process thoughts and feelings in a safe environment without worry of your information being shared with others.
  • Ask your medical doctor for a referral to a counselor or therapist or check out local therapists in your area online where you can search by specialty.

2. Volunteer for a Charity That Honors Your Experience

By creating meaning from negative experiences, you can feel empowered for recovery. Reflect on what the experience taught you about yourself. Is there a way to turn this experience into something that can help others? Volunteer for a charity or help someone else who experienced something similar as a way to honor the impact of your experience.

3. Try an Empowering Workout

Physical exertion releases endorphins, which results in a decrease in pain and an increased sense of wellness. Regular exercise can promote resiliency by decreasing depressive symptoms that often accompany adverse situations in life. Push yourself beyond a "regular workout" by signing up for a karate or judo class. Martial arts offers multiple benefits including an intense workout, improved sense of empowerment, and elements of self control and mastery.

4. Write, Meditate, or Pray

Explore ways to nurture your emotional health. Try writing, meditating, or engaging in spiritual practices as avenues to healing.

  • The act of writing helps process challenges in a unique way, often helping realizations surface that hadn't been part of previous conscious thought processes.
  • Meditation offers deep relaxation that can quiet an anxious mind and body. There are several guided meditation apps available, many of which are free. iTunes offers meditation for a variety of purposes, including Calm: Meditation techniques for stress reduction for instilling calm, and another called Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness. Meditation apps offer a variety of focal points for wellness and guidance throughout the process.
  • Spiritual practices and religious beliefs often bring comfort and reassurance during stressful times, as well. Prayer has also been shown to reduce physiological signs of stress, regardless of having religious affiliation.

5. Set Goals and Take Action

One of the most detrimental aspects of stress and trauma can be the feeling you are never going to improve. Getting stuck in a rut of stress and adversity can leave you feeling powerless. In times of adversity, a sense of hope and optimism and a belief that you can recover from difficult times is important and setting and achieving goals can provide that sense of hope.

  • Start with a relatively simple goal at first to see progress quickly.
  • Establish small steps to accomplish your goal, even if you have to force yourself to do so.
  • Observing yourself as you make even a small step toward a goal is empowering and can renew your sense of self and improve resiliency.

Be Patient

Be patient with yourself. Your healing and improved resiliency will take time. In this fast-paced culture, people tend to become impatient when things take too long, but emotional and physical healing require time and patience. Expecting immediate results will bring you nothing but frustration and feelings of hopelessness. Allow yourself to observe your thoughts and feelings non-judgementally. Explore avenues of healing and treat yourself with kindness.

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How to Build Resilience