Resilience is the ability to manage the stress response. Managing our stress response is critical to us all so that in times of stress we may actually find benefit and not damage our psychical and mental health. Contrary to popular belief, stress in itself is not bad. Stress can facilitate growth and self-esteem once we have mastered the challenge that induced the stress. Resilience predicts success in many areas of life. We all face setbacks, but only some of us know how to respond to them creatively and productively. Many environmental factors are not under our control, but when stress arises, there are tactics that can build and strength our resilience, that are under our control.
Known strategies to build resilience:
1. Learning to accept ourselves, including our faults. This does not mean being complacent or and that we do not try and work on our faults but we should not waste energy on self-criticism. We have to work with what we have.
2. Learning to manage stress and regulate emotions, particularly the negative ones such as anger, sadness and fear. This is extremely important when coping with negative events. The negative emotions, especially in high volume, can impair our ability to perceive reality, to think clearly and respond appropriately in a difficult situation.
There is a therapy approach, called DBT (Dialectical Behavior therapy) which is, really, a collection of skills for emotional management. DBT skills were initially constructed for borderline personality disorder. In my opinion and clinical experience, they can be highly effective for all of us in dealing with stress.
3. Use of cognitive reframing. Many times reinterpretation of an event can give it a different meaning, which can help us cope with a difficult event. We can reframe the source of stress as a challenge and not as a catastrophe or a negative event. Depending on the specific source of stress it can help to reframe in a less personal way. (“It is not about me.”)
4. Exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep habits all help us cope with stress. Exercise has been shown to strengthen attention, decision making and memory. Of course we are always being admonished to live a healthy lifestyle, and this is easier said than done. Still it is important to recognize that these lifestyle habits we have will have an important influence on how we deal with stress.
5. Support system – Get support from friends. According to some studies, this may be the most important tactic. Close friends help you vent, help with your reality testing, give you good advice. Some people tend to shy away from friends in times of hardship. This is very unfortunate.
6. When things are going well tackle new challenges. If you dare to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone when things go well, you are more likely to be able to cope with less favorable circumstances.
Adapted from Southwicck, S. & Charney, D. : Ready for Anything. In : Scientific American Mind, 2013 (5) 32-42.