It’s what you do when faced with distress that defines your resiliency.
This Sunday, I was thinking about what it means to be resilient.
Research shows that most people consider themselves to be fairly resilient, but in reality, they aren’t emotionally or psychologically prepared to handle adversity when it strikes. That’s fine, because becoming resilient is a multi-step process that doesn’t always consistently move in a forward direction. The experience of feeling distress is part of it all. It’s what you do with that feeling that defines your resiliency.
How each person reacts to stress and trauma depends on their genetic, developmental, psychological, and environmental background. But, since 90 percent of individuals will experience some sort of trauma in their lives, some patterns have emerged.
The majority of people who are confronted with extreme adversity initially react with depression and anxiety before things move back to normal in about a month. That doesn’t always happen, because the scope of experience is wide and distributed disproportionately. However, emotional, social, and spiritual fitness often helps people move toward resiliency.
These aren’t steps that people should be expected to take alone. Michael Christopher, Ph.D. is the Director of Clinical Training at Pacific University, and his lab is examining something called Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training (MBRT). It’s program of preventative intervention for stressed-out first-responders. The eight-week course includes experiential and didactic exercises like body scans, sitting and walking meditation, and facilitated discussion.
There are four factors for most people regarding building resiliency to change: Mindfulness, exercise, support from other people, and optimism.
“A good deal of research suggests mindfulness training is a key method to increase resilience,” Christopher tells me. “It is particularly effective when combined with physical exercise, social support, and an inherent sense of optimism.”
A common misperception about resilience is that it is a “static trait that is determined at birth.” Researchers now know being resilient is something that can be improved with practice.
According to the American Psychological Association, the road to resiliency includes accepting that change is part of living, nurturing a positive view of yourself, and avoiding viewing a crisis as insurmountable.
But that’s not always easy. On one hand, huge issues like systematic adversity, health problems, and disasters are precisely that — they’re huge and can feel too big to overcome. On the other hand, it’s easy to dismiss things like problems at work or at home because they don’t feel big enough. While they can nag at your being, you may also try to bury your feelings because you’ve dismissed your problems as unimportant.
It’s important to remember that life, like resilience, is multifaceted. No one benefits from you swallowing anxiety and stress, and those who would judge you for reaching out for support aren’t worth it.
In a conversation about resilience, Arizona State University’s Frank Infurna, Ph.D. advised that “the idea that ‘it is okay to not be okay’ following adversity is important.”
In the end, to feel resilient is to feel supported by your community and feel that there is an opportunity for excellence in the future. The first step to getting there is realizing you’re willing to get some help, and allowing yourself to be patient with the process.
A version of this article first appeared as the Sunday Scaries newsletter. Sign up for free to receive it on Sundays.
(For the source of this, and many other important articles, and to see a stop-motion animation somewhat associated with it, please visit: https://www.inverse.com/article/58094-how-to-be-more-resilient-to-change/)