Our modern world moves quickly and we must constantly adapt to the changes. The stresses of working full-time and managing a home, taking care of children or perhaps aging parents, can fill up our days – not to mention create potential for some very difficult situations. Fitting in friends, exercise, hobbies or relaxation can be difficult. And as rates of depression and anxiety continue to rise, we need to manage the stress.
Have you ever wondered why some people are better able to adapt and go with the flow? They have developed resilience, which is a concept that has grown out of psychological research over the past 30 or so years.
But what is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to spring back into shape after being bent, stretched or compressed. As it applies to people, resilience means the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. This definition needs qualifiers because there are many situations in life that we cannot recover quickly from, nor would we want to. Sometimes just getting through a major loss exhibits resilience.
The competencies of resilient people reveal some important skills for us to consider, and some fascinating new brain science indicates the simple ways in which we can enhance our own resilience.
Qualities of resilient people
Drawing upon research, highly resilient people often:
• learn from experience, assimilating new and unexpected information and integrating the insights that comes from them.
• adapt quickly and are flexible mentally and emotionally.
• have solid self-esteem and inner strength that can be a buffer against the unpleasant or hurtful things that come at us.
• have strong self-confidence and know that future actions can be based on current experience and past success.
• have good friendships and loving relationships.
• know that talking to others who truly care diminishes the impact of difficulties.
• can modulate their emotions.
• can express feelings honestly and when circumstances warrant, can repress strong feelings.
• expect things to work out well and have optimism based on values and beliefs, as well as tolerance for uncertainty.
• view others with empathy – even the perspective of antagonists can be considered.
• use intuition and trust creative hunches.
• have curious natures and playful, childlike curiosity of wondering and asking questions.
• have clearly defined boundaries and will not accept mistreatment.
• know how to find resources and support.
• can take difficult situations or misfortune, learn from it and not feel victimized.
While these all seem like wonderful qualities that many of us would love to possess, the intent is not to shame those who do not yet possess such strategies in their emotional or cognitive tool kit. We are not all raised on even footing and we know that we haven't been given equal opportunity to develop our resiliency to the same capacity.
Emphasizing the concept of resiliency does not undermine the challenges some have faced – in fact it is quite the opposite. The greater the challenge, the greater the testament to a person's strength and ability.
While there is no magic bullet for possessing the qualities above – we know it is completely possible to learn new skills.
Looking at an example from the list of resilient qualities – if we know that seeing the glass as half empty doesn't serve us – how do we become more optimistic? Optimism is a practice that can be learned. If we develop these skills, our stress levels drop. Worry and negativity can sap our energy and take away the potential for happiness.
Here are three concepts to think about as you go about your daily life. If you start to consider things a little differently, you will further develop the competencies of resilience.
Taking things personally
Have you ever come into work in the morning and said hello to a co-worker and had them quietly mutter a response? Did your mind go back to the afternoon before, wondering if you had done or said anything to them that would cause them to be angry with you? How about a situation with a family member who may not have wanted to talk to you? Did you wonder what you had done to cause their withdrawal?
We misinterpret the world frequently by taking things personally that have nothing to do with us. We can ask people we're close to if there's a problem, but it is also up to others to let us know if we have offended them. We can waste a great deal of energy worrying about problems that don't exist.
The ABCs of cognitive understanding
This skill can be very helpful in managing our emotional responses and developing empathy and optimism. We can also gain insight into what is behind our behaviour.
• A stands for Adversity, representing the difficult things we have to deal with in life.
• B stands for Belief – what we believe about the adversity will determine C.
• C is the Consequence. This is the emotional response we have.
Here is a simple example:
• A Someone cut me off in traffic.
• B How dare they do that to me! That is not right.
• C The emotional response could be anger or frustration.
• A I remember the last time I cut someone off.
• B It was a mistake.
• C That person doesn't know me, why should I take it personally?
The new emotional consequence could be little or no emotion – just an acknowledgement that the person made a mistake as we all do. This quick self-analysis comes in handy for many of life's frustrations.
Change your brain
In Hardwiring Happiness, author Dr. Rick Hanson puts forth new brain science and some surprisingly simple techniques to literally change the structure of our brain. Dr. Hanson states that parts of our brain are primitive and lean towards awareness of negative stimuli because that is what humans had to pay attention to in order to survive. However, the research being done in neuroscience indicates that new pathways are always being created in the brain by positive experiences as well. This malleability is called neuroplasticity.
Dr. Hanson says that our positive experiences can be fleeting, but all we need to do to create positive pathways that lead to greater happiness is to hold onto the experience and take it all in for 20 more seconds. If we do this six or more times a day, the pathways become hardwired. The positive experiences can be small moments such as holding a baby, seeing something beautiful in nature, feeling love, or being absorbed in something creative. He states that taking in the good is the deliberate internalization of positive experiences in implicit memory.
• Have a positive experience.
• Enrich it.
• Absorb it.
• Link positive and negative.
There are simple things we can do to increase our resilience. We can take things less personally, look for the beliefs in our head and change them to create less emotional stress, and make a point of absorbing wonderful moments in our lives. We have much to be thankful for and in our busy lives it is important to value and pay attention to what matters.
If you are struggling and need support, counselling is available to Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage. Reach out for support here or sign in to mybluecross® to confirm your coverage.