No life is free from pain or suffering. Unfortunately, we will all experience difficult times at one point or another in our lives. While we may not be able to control the things that happen to us, we can control how we react to them. Fostering a sense of resilience is the way to go.
Psychologically defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress,” resilience allows us to be strong through even the most troubling periods. If you’re looking to boost this trait, there are plenty of small changes you can make. Take a look at our expert-backed advice.
Start looking at the bright side“It’s easy to fall into the trap of solely focusing on the negative aspects of a challenging situation; after all, our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative,” says Dr. Sharone Weltfreid, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. “So, what can we do instead? We can challenge ourselves to consider the upside of our situation. We make the choice to not allow our hardship to define us, overwhelm us, or completely colour our perspective.”
Practising reframing negative experiences daily can lead to low levels of pessimism, according to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Whenever you experience something negative, take a moment to stop and notice the positive side of it. Slowly but surely, this habit will become a reflex.
Avoid catastrophizing situations“Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion (i.e. faulty thinking) in which we predict the worst possible outcome for our situation and exaggerate its impact. For example, if you make a minor mistake at work, you may be convinced your boss will fire you.”
“Naming our experience allows us to gain distance from it and take perspective. We can then ask ourselves, ‘What is the likelihood of the worst-case scenario happening?’, ‘What is the best-case scenario?’, and ‘What is the most realistic scenario?’ You can also consider if there are any actions you can take to improve the situation,” explains Dr. Weltfreid.
Invest in your future selfThings may feel unstable right now. However, investing in yourself could help assure a happy and bright future. “When you are uncertain about what the future may hold, by investing in your future you can offer yourself some assurances,” says Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, Psy.D., host of the Sex Therapy with Dr. Jones podcast.
“This could be learning a new skill, going back to college, investing money, or any number of things that are important to you. This way, regardless of what happens in the future, you are assured that one area of your life is taken care of.”
Savour everyday joys“Even in the midst of hardship, we can always find pleasure in everyday joys. When you identify something positive during your day, like taking a warm shower or receiving kind words from a friend, take the time to really revel in the positive feelings associated with the event,” says Dr. Weltfreid.
If you need a prompt to get you started, there’s a daily habit you can try. “One activity that can help you to savour the good in your everyday life is to write down 3-5 experiences of happiness at the end of each day. Knowing that you will be writing about your positive experiences can help you to scan your environment to find events that bring you joy.”
Get more sleep each nightWhen you’re feeling overwhelmed by worries, getting your 40 winks can be difficult. However, it’s in difficult times that quality sleep is most important. Research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that more sleep would make most people happier and healthier, while sleep deprivation has the opposite effect.
“When we sleep well, we boost our immunity, regulate our moods, heighten our brain functioning, and decrease our stress,” says Dr. Weltfreid. “To maximize our chances to get good sleep, we need to do what we can to ensure that our circadian rhythm stays balanced.”
Suggestions to do that include: “maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, having a sleep space that is dark and cool, avoiding bright lights, limiting caffeine intake in the afternoon, exercising in the early morning or afternoon, and getting morning sunlight for about 30 minutes. You also want to engage in activities before bed that help you wind down and relax such as meditation, a warm bath, and reading.”
Take pride in overcoming challengesNeedless to say, 2020 has presented all of us with challenges. When you’re trying to overcome the obstacles ahead of you, it’s hard to see the bigger picture. However, try to reframe this challenge as an essential task, and take pride in how you are managing it.
“There is a saying that today's troubles are tomorrow's testimonies,” says Dr. Jones. “By remembering that you have overcome hardships and adversity in the past, you can remind yourself of your resilience and ability to overcome things that may come in the future.”
Get in touch with natureIf you’re feeling overwhelmed by the strains of the modern world, take a break in the great outdoors. “Though nature has a way of capturing our attention and bringing us to the present, we can increase our connection to it via mindfulness,” says Dr. Weltfreid. “Try to immerse yourself fully in nature by engaging all of your senses.”
“Notice how the wind feels on your face, listen to the birds chirping, [and] observe the beauty and uniqueness of each tree. When we intentionally focus our attention on the beauty and wonder of nature, we allow ourselves the opportunity to get outside of ruminative or worrisome thoughts and experience joy, curiosity, connection, and gratitude.”
Use positive affirmationsIf you’re looking to boost your self-esteem and resilience, using positive affirmations could be the answer. You may want to write down positive statements that fill you with strength and leave them in visible places around your home. On the other hand, some people find that it is helpful to repeat affirmations to themselves as you might a mantra.
If you’re stuck in a negative thought cycle, you can even try using affirmations to change your mindset for the better. “This is a great way to combat negative thoughts,” says Dr. Jones. “Whenever a negative thought enters your mind, by offering a positive thought in its place you can combat being overwhelmed by negativity.”
Engage in mindful breathingHow you breathe can have a remarkable impact on your emotional well-being. “One of the foundational mindfulness meditations involves focusing your attention on your breath; appropriately, it’s called ‘mindfulness of breathing’,” explains Dr. Weltfreid.
“Find a comfortable position and close your eyes, or if it’s more comfortable, soften your gaze. Next, experience the sensation of your in-breath and out-breath without attempting to change it. When you notice that your mind has wandered, which is completely normal, gently redirect your attention to your breath—your anchor to the present moment. Continue redirecting your attention to your breathing each time you are distracted.”
Dr. Weltfreid also suggests using popular apps, such as Headspace or Calm, as well as guided meditations on YouTube, such as the ones by The Honest Guys.
Focus on physical exerciseWhile you may be feeling lethargic and unmotivated, engaging in physical exercise could be one of the best ways to boost your resilience. Not only does this activity give you something to focus on, but it will also improve your physical and emotional wellness.
“There are so many benefits to exercise, both physically and mentally,” says Dr. Jones. “Besides the hormonal releases inside of the body, the time spent running or participating in activities allows you to clear your mind and refocus on important things in your life.”
Try to be present in the momentMindfulness doesn’t have to be hard. “You can practise mindfulness informally by exercising non-judgmental present moment awareness during your everyday activities such as eating, listening to someone, or walking,” says Dr. Weltfreid.
“As you mindfully approach each activity, try to engage as many of your senses as possible. If you take a walk, try to view the details of your surroundings. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your surroundings. Know that you will feel less anxious and more centred, the more that you can keep your attention on the present moment.”
Speak to the people around youSometimes, all you need is a little help from your friends. “Resilient people rely on social support to help them through difficult times,” explains Dr. Weltfreid.
“Seek support from people who are empathic and understanding. If you do not currently have such people in your life, consider reaching out to people from your past, trying to befriend a co-worker or neighbour, or thinking creatively about developing connections. Speaking to people at this time can help you to feel less alone and isolated.”
Offer support to other peopleOne way to boost your resilience through difficult times is to offer support to those around you. In doing so, you can strengthen your social connections and experience the satisfaction of being able to help others through this period.
“We are social creatures and as such need to stay connected to each other. Reach out to people to check in with them about how they are doing,” says Dr. Weltfreid. “Be a good listener and offer your understanding and support. You can also try to make new connections by joining an outdoor exercise class or an online book club.”
Avoid compounding your problems“There are situations in life that are unavoidable. Dealing with them is difficult enough as it is. However, for some people, when they are exceptionally stressed, anxious, or nervous, they look for other situations that are not healthy to be a part of. I call this the ‘nuclear option,’” says Dr. Jones.
“It’s like they want to blow up everything in their life at once. I recommend, when people feel this way, to avoid [negative] situations and people who encourage these situations until you are clear-headed and capable of making positive and meaningful decisions.”
Remember that this won’t last foreverNothing is permanent. If you’re facing tough times, you may find it hard to believe that they will ever come to an end. However, you can use the knowledge that they will to embolden you and make you feel stronger through a difficult period.
“When we are suffering, it can be difficult to imagine that we will ever be free of suffering. We can counter our tendency to project our current suffering into the future by reminding ourselves of the popular adage, ‘this too shall pass’. Believing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel can help us persevere during these challenging times,” says Dr. Weltfreid.
Avoid ruminating on negative thoughtsAre you caught up in a vicious cycle? When your mindset is negative, your outlook will be too. “When we ruminate, we continuously replay the same negative thoughts about an upsetting situation,” explains Dr. Weltfreid. “We may repeatedly beat ourselves up for a mistake we made and consider all of the alternative ways we could have behaved.”
“Rumination keeps us living in our minds and prevents us from moving forward. It is a pathway to depression and anxiety and inhibits our ability to think more broadly. We can break out of this negative neural network by shifting our attention to a pleasant activity. For example, we can read a book, speak to friends or family, or listen to music.”
Practise self-loveDo you find yourself looking for validation from others? It’s time to stop. “Self-love is the foundation upon which we can create a happy and fulfilling life,” says Dr. Weltfreid. “When we love our true selves, we do not need external validation that we are worthy.”
“By not making our worth contingent on external factors, we experience more stable self-esteem. We live by our values and engage in the world from our core strengths. We also seek meaningful connections with people who have our best interest in mind.”
Enhance your self-care practiceThere has never been a more important time to practise self-care. Looking out for your baseline needs and ensuring you are happy and healthy could boost your resilience. The good news is that you can incorporate this practice into your daily routine.
There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding self-care, but it doesn’t have to be difficult to get started. Keep things simple. “Self-care practices include exercising, eating well, sleeping well, etc.,” says Dr. Weltfreid. “When we nourish our body, mind, and spirit, we send the message to ourselves that we are of value.”
Learn the art of forgivenessAre you holding grudges against people? When things get difficult, we often look for someone to blame. Engaging in forgiveness could lead to long-term happiness, according to research from the University of Leicester. This change may also help you become more resilient.
“I am a big advocate for forgiveness,” says Dr. Jones. “Failure to [forgive] often leads to bitterness and resentment. As a Jewish practitioner, I strongly believe in showing kindness to others. I believe that by doing acts of kindness, we bring joy into our own lives.”
Learn some self-compassionThe story you tell yourself dictates how you feel. If you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re not good enough or that you can’t cope, you will start to believe that narrative. Switch things up and speak to yourself as you would a good friend. By doing so, you can learn to practise self-compassion and give yourself some needed support.
“We also build self-love by offering ourselves self-compassion versus criticism when we are facing difficulties,” says Dr. Weltfreid. “For example, when we are facing challenges, we can provide reassuring words to ourselves, e.g. ‘It's okay, everyone makes mistakes’.”
Source: Expresso Communication
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