Life is like the weather – changeable! We love those sunny, calm days when everything looks great and we can’t imagine that the forecast could change! Then we get cold and dreary days when we are just kind of hanging in waiting for the sunshine to come back. And sometimes it can it gets stormy. Sometimes even “shelter in the basement” stormy! When we encounter these stormy days, how do we cope? And when we face one storm after another, how do we survive and rebuild.
When I watch news reports after a big storm like a tornado, I always marveled at how strong some people are. They are ready to pick up the pieces and rebuild. They talk about what they are grateful for and then they talk about what action they are going to take. Not everyone is able to do this. So, what is IT that those willing to rebuild have that others don’t? Resilience!
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, or tragedy. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you don’t experience any difficulty or emotional impact from a bad experience or trauma. Indeed you will still feel all the emotions that are associated with the negative situation, but resilience allows you to “bounce back”.
Some people are resilient and some are not. And even those who are resilient may not be resilient in every challenging situation. Resilience is not a character trait, it is not something you are born with. It is behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned.
Four steps to build resilience
1. Reframe your story. We can make ourselves more or less vulnerable by the way in which we think about a situation. If we think about or reframe an event as a challenge rather than as a tragedy or a trauma, we are more likely to learn from it and grow. If we think about or reframe the event as a tragedy or a threat, we focus on that and it can soon escalate to an all-consuming problem. Our thoughts or perceptions guide our emotions and our responses, so if we can think differently, we can feel and act differently. A very vivid example of this is the movie, Life is Beautiful (https://www.miramax.com/movie/life-is-beautiful/). The father in the story reframes the horror of the concentration camp for his son by making it into a game of sorts to allow his son to survive the unimaginable.
2. Remember your comebacks. Look back to times when you were able to beat the odds or overcome a challenge. Use these past experiences to build your confidence that you can once again triumph and make a comeback. One of my friends survived a difficult divorce and she told me that whenever she was facing a challenge, she would remind herself that if she could survive the divorce, she could get through anything. And she did! She took on every challenge and came out a winner!
3. Reach out and help others. Studies have shown that having strong social supports can help build resilience but helping others can help even more. It may seem almost impossible to reach out and support or help others when you are in the midst of adversity, but when you help others you step outside of yourself and your problems. This can help you get a better perspective on your situation and quite frankly just focusing on someone else could provide you with a welcome break from what you are dealing with.
4. Find a place for gratitude. In the midst of one of life’s storms it may be challenging to find things for which you are grateful. But find something, no matter how small, to be thankful for each day. This act of acknowledging gratitude helps to build and compound your optimism which gives meaning and purpose to your life.
While resilience is something that we can learn and practice, sometimes what life throws at us feels like it is more than we can handle. If you feel that the storms of life are overwhelming you, please ask for help. Talk to a friend or loved one or reach out to a professional if you need help weathering the storm.