How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness or other traumatic events; these are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react with a flood of emotion and a sense of uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt over a period of time to life-changing situations. How do they do it? How do they recover when initially that seems impossible?

What Is Resilience?

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. Research has shown that resilience is ordinary and people commonly demonstrate resilience. Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or don’t have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

A combination of factors contributes to resilience. Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.

Several additional factors are associated with resilience including:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strength and ability
  • Skills in communication and problem solving
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses

All of these factors that people can develop in themselves.

Strategies for Building Resilience

Developing resilience is a personal journey. People do not react the same way to traumatic or stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another.

  1. Make Connections – good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in local groups or faith based organizations provides social support and can help in reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit helpers.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems – you can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult circumstances.
  3. Accept that change is a part of living – Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
  4. Move towards your goals – develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly – even if it seems like a small accomplishment – that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
  5. Take decisive action – act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
  6. Look for opportunities of self-discovery – People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respects as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardships have reported better relationships, greater sense of personal strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself – developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
  8. Keep things in perspective – even when facing painful events, try to consider stressful situations in a broader context and keep long-term perspective. Avoid catastrophizing.

  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook – an optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  10. Take care of yourself – Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.
  11. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps keep your mind and body primed to deal with situation that requires resilience.

Resilience involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your life as you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events. This journey can be filled with challenge. If it is difficult to implement the steps outlined above, working with a therapist may be helpful in directing your efforts along a pathway of continued growth.