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The ABCs for Building Mental Resilience

How to bounce back from difficult life experiences

The author training on the frozen ocean in Nuvavut,  the Canadian Arctic in April 2018. Photo credit: Sarah McNair-Landry
The author training on the frozen ocean in Nuvavut, the Canadian Arctic in April 2018. Photo credit: Sarah McNair-Landry

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

  • Toni Morrison, Beloved

Resilience. We don’t talk enough about it, and how to build it up. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.

It is important to note that being resilient does not mean that a person does not experience difficulty or distress. More often than not, emotional pain and sadness have been experienced by those who have suffered a major adversity or trauma in their lives. They have learnt to develop resilience over time.

How then can we build resilience? It bears remembering that developing resilience is a personal journey: we each have different backgrounds, coming from different cultures which may shape and influence how we respond to stressful situations and/or traumatic life events. Having a good and caring supportive network is a huge factor in helping bolster one’s resilience. That, and a healthy and positive view of oneself.

Here are the ABCs for building mental resilience:

  1. A: ACCEPT that change is a normal part of life. To paraphrase the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

May you seek help from the higher powers

to grant you the serenity

to accept the things you cannot change;

Courage to change the things you can;

and the wisdom to know the difference.

  • B: BUILD a strong and caring support network among family and friends. Spend time on these relationships. Ask for help and do not be afraid to accept offers of support. Consider joining self-help or support groups.
  • C: Take CARE of yourself. Listen to your body and what your mind is telling you. Nurture time for self-reflection. Journal, spend time on coloring books, exercise regularly, and/or take a hot bath to relax.
  • D: Be DECISIVE. Try to act rather than wishing that the problem would go away. Seek professional help, if necessary.
  • E: Remember your goals and do one thing EVERYDAY to come closer to it. The key here is doing something regularly, however small. If you would like to appreciate the arts better, join a pottery class or volunteer at a local museum. If you would like to mentor youth in your community, make time to coach your daughter’s football team.

Learn and build upon past experiences to learn about your possible stressors and recognise trigger points. What has helped you, or continue to help you overcome difficult situations? Remain flexible: perhaps you may need to hold your deep emotions, however uncomfortable. On other occasions, you may want to move past them and avoid getting triggered.

Are there particular friends and family members whom you tend to reach out to regularly? Perhaps you are now able to help others who have been in a similar situation as yourself. How does that make you feel?

Trust in your ability to navigate and steer your journey as build your mental resilience. Remember that you are not alone.

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