‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’
Confucius

Overview

It is inevitable that you will experience adversity and setbacks throughout your lifetime. Sometimes you simply cannot change circumstances. However you do have a choice in terms of how you react to them. In today’s increasingly demanding and changing world, sometimes it is all too easy to become overwhelmed and feel as if you are sinking.
At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of these challenges might be relatively minor and others may have a major impact. How you deal with these problems can play a crucial role in the ultimate outcome and also on your long-term psychological wellbeing.

Resilient people are able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope with and recover from the knockbacks and challenges they face, which could well include illness, job loss, financial problems, natural disasters, relationship break-ups or the death of a loved one.

If you lack resilience you may become overwhelmed by these experiences and simply fall apart. You may find yourself dwelling on your problems and using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the pain and heartache.

It would be fair to say that some individuals do indeed have personality traits that help them remain calm in the face of adversity. Others may react more emotionally and dramatically. We do, of course, all react differently to trauma and stress in our lives. Some people take a more stoic approach and keep their feelings hidden; others may become more expressive and emotional. Different personalities tend to process information in a variety of ways and your reaction will be part of your coping mechanism.

The key, however, is about the end result. It isn’t necessarily about how far you fall, rather how high you can bounce back; sometimes you will become even bigger, better and stronger as a result of the experience.

Resilient people do not allow adversity to drain their resolve. They find a way to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep going with a strong belief that things can and will get better.

Resilience comes from the Latin resilio, which means ‘to jump back’. Some people describe resilience as the ability to bend instead of breaking when experiencing pressure, or as the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with challenges. The same abilities also help us to be more open and willing to take on new opportunities. In this way resilience is more than just survival, it is also about letting go and learning to grow.

‘Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.’
Martin Luther King

Steps to Success

  • Take emotional control
  • Avoid adopting a victim mentality
  • Be optimistic and keep an open, flexible mind
  • Believe in your ability to overcome adversity
  • SUMO – shut up and move on
  • Learn and grow from every experience

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

We do, of course, all react differently to trauma and stress in our lives. Some people take a stoic approach and keep their feelings hidden; others may become more expressive and emotional. Try these coping strategies in times of stress:

Letting go of the Past

In order to become resilient, it is important to learn one very powerful behaviour: the ability to let go of the past. In order to move forward, it is crucial that we lose some of the emotional baggage that we invariably collect along life’s path.

The problem with carrying baggage is that you can end up reliving and rehashing all your nightmares and trapping yourself in a paralysing loop of negativity. Making a conscious decision to let go and free yourself is key. Many people talk about burying the past – however, the danger of that is if you bury it, you will just go back and dig it up! Without freedom from the past there really is no freedom to embrace the future. Take these steps to help let go of your past and unburden yourself of emotional baggage:

  • Ask yourself a very basic, fundamental question: How am I benefitting from reliving my negative past? Once you clearly understand that it doesn’t serve you in any way it will help you to detach yourself from it. Learn the lesson and move on.

 

  • ‘Shut up and move on’. This is a great bit of advice if you have the propensity to over-analyse. Let’s face it, kicking the past around is not only exhausting; it can also be really boring!
  • Write a letter to yourself about the negative experience and then destroy it and make a conscious decision to let the experience in your mind go at the same time.
  • Start working on new memories. If you focus your mind on the present and start to create dreams for the future, this will help to take your mind off the past.
  • Under no circumstances ‘should’ on yourself. If you hear yourself saying ‘should have’, ‘would have’ or ‘could have’ all you will do is make yourself feel disappointed and regretful. So you didn’t – so what? You can now, if you really want to!

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

It is important to be mindful of the unhealthy coping mechanisms that can be triggered as a result of adversity. Many of us have the propensity to gravitate to a range of bad habits when we are upset or feel out of our depth. However, this only serves to compound the situation. Turn to healthy coping mechanisms rather than these unhealthy ones:

Emotional eating

Eating all the wrong things is one of the most popular coping mechanisms for stress, but this can lead to compromised health, weight gain and additional stress caused from lack of essential vitamins. Comfort eating is a very quick fix, but it is important to remember that we are what we eat, and if we stuff ourselves with junk food we will feel worse. In times of trauma and upset, a diet that fuels your body with premium energy is very important.

Excessive alcohol

A glass of wine can be a good way to unwind and most researchers and physicians agree that a very small amount can indeed have some health benefits. However, drinking alcohol when you feel upset can be a very slippery slope. Alcohol is a depressant, so the best thing you can do when you feel low is to avoid alcohol altogether, especially if you find it difficult to moderate your consumption. Better to enjoy a drink as a treat when you are feeling good about life rather than trying to mask your pain or anxiety.

Compulsive spending

During times of loss and uncertainty the need to fill a void can be quite overwhelming and a quick pick-me-up may seem appealing. Retail therapy is often referred to in jest; however, this can have a serious impact on your life – especially if you are spending money you don’t have. While credit cards can be convenient, they can also get people in a huge amount of trouble and financial difficulties are becoming an

increasing problem. Online gambling – or indeed any form of gambling – can become a huge issue as people look for an instant fix of hope or escapism.

Smoking

For smokers, a cigarette can feel like a good stress reliever. However, contrary to popular belief, smoking does not actually combat stress. In fact, it can make it worse and cause damage to your body. Giving up smoking is not easy and it has been suggested that it can be as difficult as giving up heroin. There are, however, many support programmes and services available to help you to quit. Of course in quitting, you will be giving yourself the greatest gift of all: the gift of health.

Caffeine

People constantly enjoy a dose of caffeine and whilst this may seem the most innocent of vices, it can exacerbate or even cause stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia because it interferes with a tranquilising neurotransmitter chemical in the brain called adenosine. This is the chemical that turns down our anxiety levels; it is our body’s version of a tranquiliser. Research has indicated that caffeine increases the secretion of stress hormones like adrenaline, so, if you are already secreting higher stress hormones, caffeine will boost these even higher and further exacerbate anxiety or depression. It is best to avoid caffeine completely when you are upset.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list and there are a multitude of other unhealthy coping mechanisms including, amongst many others, self-harm, illegal drugs, shoplifting, and internet porn addiction.

Ten Tips for Developing Resilience

Follow these simple steps to increase your ability to bounce back higher and stronger in times of stress and adversity:

1. Take a journey of self-discovery and get to know yourself better.

2. See the glass half-full and choose to be optimistic about life.

3. Understand your emotions and learn to feed them intelligently.

4. Accept change and learn how to be adaptable and resourceful.

5. Manage conflict and cope better with difficult situations.

6. Embrace problems and turn them positively into opportunities.

7. Look after yourself physically, emotionally and environmentally.

8. Make positive connections and develop your relationships and interests.

9. No matter what happens to you in life, believe in yourself and keep going.

10. Set objectives and goals and create a vision of the life you really want.

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