Finding the Path to Resilience

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    How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? How do you react to traumatic events such as the death of a loved one, job loss, a difficult illness, a terrorist attack, and other catastrophic situations?

    Generally, people manage to adapt over time to situations that dramatically change their lives and increase their state of tension. What allows them to adapt? It is important to have developed resilience, the ability to adapt and overcome adversity. This is learned in a process that requires time and effort and that commits people to take a series of steps.

    This essay is intended to help readers take their own path to resilience. It provides information on resilience and some factors that affect people to face their problems. Much of the information offered focuses on developing and using a personal strategy to improve resilience.

    What do we understand by resilience?

    Resilience is the process of adapting well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threat, or significant sources of stress, such as family or relationship problems, serious health problems, or work or financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from a difficult experience, as if one were a ball or a spring.

    Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience. One example is the response of people in the United States to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and their individual efforts to rebuild their lives.

    Being resilient does not mean that the person does not experience difficulties or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have experienced great adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is probably full of obstacles that affect our emotional state.

    Resilience is not a characteristic that people have or do not have. It includes behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone.

    Some factors in resilience

    A combination of factors contributes to building resilience. Many studies show that one of the most important factors in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that emanate love and trust, that provide role models, and that offer stimulation and security, help to affirm the resilience of the person.

    Other factors associated with resilience are the ability to make realistic plans and take the necessary steps to carry them out; a positive view of themselves, and confidence in their strengths and abilities; skills in communication and problem solving; the ability to handle strong feelings and impulses. These are all factors that people can develop on their own.

    10 ways to build resilience

    Build Relationships- It is important to build good relationships with close family members, friends and other important people in your life. Accepting help and support from people who love and listen to you builds resilience. Some people find that being active in community groups, faith-based organizations, and other local groups provides social support and helps give them hope. Helping others who need you can also benefit you.

    Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable obstacles- You cannot prevent stressful events from happening, but you can change the way you interpret and react to them. Try to look beyond the present and think that things will get better in the future. See if there are any subtle ways you feel better as you deal with difficult situations.

    Accept that change is part of life- It is possible that as a result of an adverse situation you may not be able to achieve certain goals. Accepting the circumstances you cannot change can help you focus on the circumstances you can alter.

    Move toward your goals- Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly that moves you toward your goals, even if it seems like a small accomplishment. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem like you cannot accomplish, ask yourself about the things you can accomplish today that help move you in the direction you want to go.

    Take decisive action- In adverse situations, act in the best way you can. Taking decisive action is better than ignoring problems and tensions and wishing they would go away.

    Look for opportunities to discover yourself- Many times as a result of their struggle against adversity, people can learn something about themselves and feel that they have grown in some way on a personal level. Many people who have experienced tragedies and difficult situations have expressed improvement in managing their personal relationships, an increase in personal strength even when they feel vulnerable, the feeling that their self-esteem has improved, a more developed spirituality and a greater appreciation of life.

    Cultivate a positive view of yourself- Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

    Keep things in perspective- Even when faced with very painful events, try to see the stressful situation in a larger context, and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

    Never give up hope- An optimistic outlook allows you to hope that good things will happen in your life. Try to visualize what you want instead of worrying about what you fear.

    Take care of yourself- Pay attention to your needs and wants. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps you keep your mind and body ready to face situations that require resilience.

    Additional ways to build resilience may help you- For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic experience or other stressful events in their lives. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build relationships and restore hope. The key is to identify activities that could help you build a personal strategy for building resilience.

    Learn from the past

    Have some questions to ask yourself. Focusing on your past experiences and sources of personal strength can help you identify resiliency strategies that work for you. Explore the answers to the following questions about yourself and your reactions to challenges in your life. This exercise can help you discover how to respond effectively to difficult events.

    Consider the following:

    What types of events have been most difficult for you? How have these events affected you? When you are stressed, has it helped you to think about the important people in your life? Have you come to for help? What have you learned about yourself and your interactions with others during difficult times? Has it helped you to offer support to others who are going through a similar experience? Have you been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how? What has helped you feel more hopeful about the future?

    Maintain an attitude of tolerance and flexibility

    Resilience involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your life as you face difficult circumstances and traumatic events. You can achieve this in different ways by:

    Allow yourself to experience strong emotions and also recognize when you have to avoid them in order to continue functioning. Get ahead and take actions to address your problems and face the demands of daily life. Also, take a step back to rest and energize yourself again. Spend time with your loved ones to receive their support and encouragement, and also their care. Trust others and also trust yourself.

    Places to look for help

    Getting help when you need it is crucial to building resilience. Beyond family and friends, people find help in:

    Self-help and support groups. These community groups can help people struggling with difficulties such as the loss of a loved one. By sharing information, ideas, and emotions, people in groups can help themselves and find support by recognizing that they are not alone in this difficult situation.

    Books and publications written by people who have successfully managed adverse situations such as, for example, surviving cancer. These stories can motivate readers to find strategies that can help them personally.

    Online Resources. Information on Web pages can be a source of ideas. You have to be careful with the quality of the information, as it varies depending on the pages you consult.

    For many people, using their own resources and the kinds of help we have mentioned can be enough to build resilience. However, on some occasions a person may not progress or have difficulty progressing on the path of resilience.

    A licensed psychological professional, such as a psychologist, can assist people in developing an appropriate coping strategy. It is important that you get professional help if you feel unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or stressful experience, such as surviving a hurricane.

    Different people tend to be comfortable with different styles of interaction. A person can feel comfortable and establish rapport and empathy by working with a mental health professional or participating in a support group.

    Continue with your journey

    To summarize several of the main points in this essay, think of resilience as akin to taking a trip down a river on a raft. In a river, you can find rapids, turns, slow moving water, and shallow areas. As in life, the changes you experience along the way affect you differently.

    Traveling down the river helps you get to know it and remember the past experiences you have had with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you think works for you. Perseverance and confidence in your ability to avoid boulders and other obstacles are important.

    You can gain courage and insight by successfully navigating the rough waters. Trusted people accompanying you on your journey can especially help you deal with the rapids, currents, and other difficulties of the river. You can get off the raft and rest on the river bank. However, to finish his journey he must get back on the raft and continue on.

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