How Building Resilience Can Help You Face Life's Challenges

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Let’s say your life turned upside down overnight. The job you loved for years suddenly laid you off. Your house burned down. Your spouse left. A loved one dies. Or maybe a global pandemic disrupts your way of living.

How do you react?

While it’s natural for humans to feel hurt or angry over the unfair things that happen in life, no one wants to be consumed by pain or grief. Since change and challenges are inevitable, the best thing you can do is to increase your level of resilience. 

What is resilience?

What exactly does it mean to be resilient? 

“Many people think of the term resilience as the ability to spring back or to come back to how things were prior to an event or prior to trauma or prior to a situation happening,” said Clint Thurgood, Director of Behavioral Health Crisis Services at Intermountain Healthcare. “I think some people mistake that for thinking that things will be back to 100% as they were before,” he said. 

“But really, I think resilience is . . . being able to adapt and being able to accommodate and being able to change to the situation around you.”

Resilience, then, is more about growing through life’s challenges rather than remaining unaffected by them.

Why is resilience important?

You could hide in your house, lock all the doors, shutter all the windows and hope nothing bad ever happens to you. But that’s not what life is about. Everyone will have to face personal struggles and challenges at some point — there’s no avoiding it. Resilience is what gives you the strength to face whatever comes.

 

According to Thurgood, humans thrive on structure and expectations. But resilient people are those who find a way to adapt to a “new normal” when things don’t go the way they expected.

 

“Every day, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What is normal about today? How do we define our new normal?’”

 

Thurgood cited 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic as instances where people had to navigate an entirely new reality.

 

“That's why resilience is important because we're challenged to look at what is happening around us and how we can be comfortable with what today brings,” he said.

10 ways to build resilience

You may be asking yourself, “How can I be more resilient?” Much like any other skill, resilience requires regular practice. It may come easier to some than others, but it’s something everyone can learn to develop. While there are many ways to build resilience and lead a happier life, here are just 10 ideas to get you started.

  1. Build a support network. Resilience doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone through the trials of life. Learning to lean on others for support makes bouncing back from hardship easier. Surround yourself with people who will be there for you during your darkest hours. Odds are they’ll need your help someday, too.
  2. Find a purpose in your trials. They say it’s not your trials but the way you respond to them that defines you. When unexpected, heartbreaking, or even tragic events happen, decide to find a purpose in them. Elizabeth Smart is a great example. After being held captive and abused for nine months of her teenage life, she went on to become a powerful advocate for victims of sexual abuse. She created the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to promote awareness and prevention of sexual assault and exploitation. You don’t necessarily have to create your own foundation, but turning your experience into something positive is a great way to help others — and yourself.
  3. Practice positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are sayings or phrases people repeat to help them control negative thinking. The idea is that telling yourself, “I am strong, confident, and capable to do (XYZ)” helps rewire your brain and leads to positive outcomes. But does it work? While affirmations aren’t a magic bullet for instant success or healing, they are effective for many people. The trick is to pick affirmations you can truly believe. Practicing daily affirmations promotes self-empowerment and confidence. (And you will have to practice!)
  4. Learn to laugh. You’ve long been told that laughter is the best medicine, but how often do you think about laughing when you’re going through difficult times? There are certainly instances where laughter may not be appropriate, but consider how a good laugh makes you feel when you’re stressed. (It’s the reason so many people laugh when they’re nervous.) Laughter releases endorphins in your brain, which reduces stress levels. If you can develop a habit of seeing the humor in most situations, you’ll be better prepared to handle a lot of the curveballs life will throw at you.
  5. Take care of your health. Here’s an obvious one, but it’s hard to bounce back from hardships if you’re weighed down by physical and mental health concerns. Regular exercise, proper nutrition, and mindfulness will build your resilience.
  6. Stay grateful. Gratitude journals are all the rage these days, and for good reason. People are catching on to the idea that a grateful heart breeds happiness – and there’s scientific proof to back it up. Gratitude contributes to better mental and physical health and helps you train your brain to look for the positives in any situation. Grateful people are resilient.
  7. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. This may seem counterintuitive, but allowing yourself to process negative emotions will actually make you stronger in the long run. Humans aren’t robots. You’re meant to feel sad, angry, irritated, and other negative emotions along with the positive ones. When those feelings arise, pay attention to them. Learn from them. Just don’t let them control you. Learning to master your emotions is one of the best skills for building resilience.
  8. Focus on the big picture. Challenges can sometimes feel like the end of the world, but practice zooming out and seeing the bigger picture. There is always something bigger than yourself to focus on. Whether that’s religion, your family, a sports team, your community, or something else, ground yourself in what’s truly important to you.
  9. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. The world is full of people seeking to avoid pain at all costs. They numb their feelings with substances and distractions. They avoid uncomfortable situations that might make them look bad. They don’t take any risks because they can’t handle the thought of failure or rejection. If you’re going to build your resilience, start by getting outside of your comfort zone. Try something new. Push yourself to do hard things. As you get comfortable being uncomfortable, you’ll be better prepared for the struggles that come your way.
  10. Seek professional help if needed. The strongest people are those who seek the help they need. If you’re finding it difficult to pull yourself out of depressive or anxious thoughts, don’t be afraid to reach out to a medical professional. There are plenty of resources available.

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How to build resilience in children

Adults aren’t the only ones who have to learn to adapt to life’s challenges. Children need to build resilience, too — even if you prefer to shield them from the outside world. 

It can be hard to watch your child struggle, but intervening every time they face a challenge can often do more harm than good. Resist the urge to over parent.

You can help your child by allowing them to experience failure, leading by example, and loving them unconditionally. 

RELATED – How to Raise Resilient Kids

What's the difference between resilience and coping?

It’s easy to confuse resilience with coping. If resilience is the ability to adapt and accommodate to change, coping is the actions you take when those changes happen.

“Coping is really an act of effort to help manage a stressful situation, whether it be the situation itself or the emotional response to that situation,” says Thurgood.

For example, members of the military use coping strategies to deal with being away from their families and adjusting to the rigors of military life. They stay connected to people who understand what they’re going through, as well as supportive family and friends.

A stressed-out mother might need to take 10 minutes to herself to decompress. Even doctors need coping strategies to help them deal with change.

If you’re going through a hard time, you might cope by going for a run, calling an old friend, or watching your favorite comedy. Just remember that when it comes to coping, some behaviors are helpful while others are harmful. To build your resilience, learn to choose positive coping methods.