Some of us are just over the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions. We’re sick of judging ourselves, setting ourselves up to fail, or living in a cloud of negativity. 2020 was a rough year and you know what? We don’t need that! This year, instead of making another resolution to lose that mythical ten pounds, we’re picking a word of the year to live by. That word? Resilience. Whether you’re reading this on New Year’s or not, whether you’ve had a terrible year or not, being more resilient is something we should all strive for. We shouldn’t try to erase anything bad from our pasts, but instead learn to live with what we’ve experienced and grow beyond it.
What Does Resilience Really Mean?
Resilience can be summed up simply as the capacity to recover from difficult events. But that little definition doesn’t quite get to the heart of the word. Should you be expected to bounce back quickly and completely, like you’re jumping on a trampoline? Does it mean that you should just get over something, shed it like a snake sheds its skin, and never look back? No! Not only is that unrealistic, but it is not healthy, or productive.
Being resilient does not mean that you never experience stress, or emotional turmoil or pain. It also doesn’t necessarily have to mean you are “tough.” Rather, it has more to do with working through suffering: addressing it head on, finding ways to work through it, and coming out the other side with strengthened coping strategies.
Why Is Resilience Important?
According to Amit Sood, MD, the executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being and creator of Mayo Clinic Resilient Mind in Rochester, Minnesota, resilience is “the core strength you use to lift your life.” All of us are bound to face some sort of adversity at some time, whether it’s illness, family problems, financial instability, loss of a loved one, bullying, or a shared national tragedy, so we all need the ability to cope and move forward. Developing strategies for resilience is important because, once you have those strategies in place, you will be ready to face your next challenge and overcome any setbacks that you may experience.
In addition, people who aren’t resilient are more likely to feel overwhelmed by challenges both big and small. They are more likely to feel helpless in trying situations, and could even turn to unhealthy coping strategies like self-medication, avoidance, and isolation. Confronting negative experiences and working through them as they come is the best path forward – but can you build your resilience, like you would a muscle in your body?
How Can You Become More Resilient?
The good news is that resilience is not a fixed trait, or something that you need to be born with. More good news? Resilience in the face of adversity seems fairly common, which would suggest that people are pretty good at strengthening their coping strategies. For instance, one study reported that even though 50 to 60% of the U.S. population has been exposed to some sort of traumatic event, only 5 to 10% of those people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
You can build resilience, especially if you think of it as a process, and you follow certain steps to strengthen it. Think of the following steps as you live with this word of the year in mind, and try to:
- Develop self-awareness – The first step in building better strategies for adapting to and coping with stress is to actually take a good, hard look at how you react to stress. If you know that you isolate, or that you take your feelings out on those you love, recognize that and see how you can try to change those patterns.
- Remain focused – In practical terms, you can keep yourself focused on regulating your emotions with stress-reduction techniques like breathing exercises or mindfulness practices. But remember also to stay focused on how you can control the outcome of events in your life, as opposed to feeling like external forces are completely in control.
- Find coping mechanisms – There is so much you can do to help you deal with any challenges that are thrown at you. Try journaling, exercising, socializing, spending time outdoors, pursuing a creative passion…the possibilities are endless. These types of activities aren’t meant to be a simple distraction; rather, they are a way to be more present, tap into the enjoyable side of life, and even work through the emotions that are coming at you.
- Be more optimistic – If you can find ways to be more present and enjoy life, then you’ll also be able to face your problems with more optimism. And when you’re feeling more optimistic about a situation you’re faced with, you’re more likely to feel in control of that situation. Build your optimism by focusing on what you can do in any given situation, and try to find any problem-solving steps that you can take.
- Strengthen connections – There’s never any shame in relying on friends and family when you need them!
- Tap into your strengths – Know your weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stress, but also know your strengths! Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your talents and use them when you’re faced with difficulties. You’ll feel more and confident and capable, and therefore, more ready to face adversity.
Learning to be more resilient doesn’t mean “toughening up” or just “getting over” the challenges that you’re faced with in life. It means building up the skills you need to face adversity and continue to grow in the face of it. We’ve all faced tough times – sometimes together, as in the past year! – and we all need to know how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and use our experiences to get stronger. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” We’ll drink to that this year!