When you are confronted with a difficult situation, are you someone who bounces back or quickly falls apart? Do you quit things prematurely, question who you are, or avoid conflict? If your answer is yes to these questions, it can mean you lack something called psychological resilience.
Resilience is the ability to cope and adapt to unfavorable situations, threats, tragedy, disaster, illness, trauma, and stress. If it helps, you can think of resilience as the process of “bouncing back” from adversity. Someone who is resilient will generally be able to solve problems, make decisions, keep an optimistic and calm attitude, manage their own feelings, and understand others’ feelings, among other helpful personal and interpersonal qualities.
Being resilient means being able to mentally and emotionally cope so you can protect yourself from the negative effects of stress. And life can be enough of a challenge as is, as these stressors can occur at any time, making it hard to develop and maintain resilience. Not only that, but there are other obstacles in life that can keep someone from developing resilience.
What obstacles can keep me from building resilience?
One major obstacle to developing resilience is helicopter parents, and you may already be able to guess what this means. Sometimes, when parents want the best for their child or do not want to see them suffer, they become overprotective and hover, like a helicopter. The problem with this is that it prevents their child from being exposed to life stressors that can teach them resilience. Those who have helicopter parents rarely learn to do much for themselves. As a result, they often grow up doubting their abilities and struggling to handle challenging situations or solve problems because they didn’t experience the necessary trial and error to learn how to get through things. If you have a parent with a tendency to take over your school projects or fight your friend battles for you by calling your friends mom instead of letting you work it out amongst yourselves, this is an idea of what helicopter parenting looks like.
You may have also heard before that accepting failure is crucial to success and self-growth. It is because processing failure and achieving success is about learning from your mistakes and accepting your shortcomings. Success does not have to only apply to your job or schoolwork – it can be about your relationships, sports tryouts, auditions – really any event or situation where you step outside of your comfort zone, even just a little bit. Yet there are people who rarely succeed or grow because they are afraid of failure; they are not necessarily scared of failure itself, but the adverse and uncomfortable emotions that follow failure.
Failure will always be an excellent opportunity to learn and grow. By coping with those unwanted emotions and feelings, you build more resilience, and maybe that is what success looks like to you right now – reinforcing your emotional wellness. In either case, the issue is that many people today avoid doing anything that they may fail at. People who play it safely inside their comfort zones are not making enough mistakes, having enough experiences, or welcoming enough unpleasant feelings to learn from and develop resilience.
It is important to be aware of both stressors and obstacles because resilience is a tool for coping with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, but lacking resilience can contribute to the development of these issues also. Your emotions and feelings are continually filtering how you perceive things, which determines how you respond to your experiences. Then, how you react and respond to things dictates your mood. So, when you struggle to regulate your mood because you never learned how to manage or cope with your emotions, it impacts your mental health and state of mind, contributing to depressive and anxious thoughts. Having resilience can help offset the stressful factors in life that increase the risk of depression and anxiety and lead to a happier and calmer life.
How can I strengthen my resilience?
It is important to remember that resilience is not about avoiding your problems but instead being able to face them. This is one reason why mindfulness helps build resilience because mindfulness is about living in the moment and being present with your experiences, rather than letting life pass you by. Also, because increasing your resilience takes time and intention, as does mindfulness, we will focus on how you can improve your resilience from a mindfulness perspective:
Find meaning in your challenges
One of the first ways you can start building resilience is finding meaning in the difficulties you face. This doesn’t mean you have to take on the perspective that everything happens for a reason but rather, seeking a reason in everything that happens. When you are mindful, you are actively open to your present circumstances and experiences, so part of being mindful means finding more clarity and seeing a situation for all that it is, and not just the negative side. Practicing finding meaning over time can even help you begin to appreciate life’s difficulties.
Notice how you feel
When something challenging or stressful comes up for you, whether an event or a thought, pause and take a moment to notice how you feel. Acknowledge your body sensations and thoughts, and welcome them in. You don’t have to try to figure them out or label anything; just be present with it all, and sit with the uncomfortable.
Take in the good
When you experience something good today, whether it’s an act of kindness or the feeling of sunshine on your back, pause and take it in. Let this good feeling register in your mind for 30 seconds, and recall this memory five more times throughout the day. This is a lot like how gratitude works; as you practice noticing the good and how it feels, the more likely and capable you will feel about choosing more positive and optimistic thoughts, and this can become habitual.
When you dwell on your current thoughts, emotions, and struggles, you are not being mindful because you are living in the past. By focusing on something that has already happened, you focus on a piece of the story that is now out of your control. One way of adapting to change is by letting go of your regrets, and you can do this through self-compassion. For every negative thought about yourself or a regret you find yourself ruminating on, replace it with a self-loving thought. Say something positive about yourself and keep practicing this. This practice helps remind you that you have the power to choose your thoughts and how you react in future situations.
Remember that when you are resilient, it does not mean you will experience fewer difficulties than someone who isn’t, so it’s essential to be proactive about strengthening your resilience, no matter who you are. Resilience is like a muscle, and you can work on making it stronger every day.