Achieving Resilience: The Importance of Bouncing Back
Never forget that you are stronger than you give yourself credit for. Think of everything you have accomplished in life thus far, from graduating high school or college, to meeting a new friend when you were feeling shy, to passing your driver’s test, to getting a compliment from a co-worker for a job well done.
The going gets tough, but you are tougher. You are resilient as Rocky Balboa—and if you have moments when you don’t believe that, give yourself that positive message anyway. There’s power in manifestation and self-assurance.
Breaking down the definition
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.”
In other words, the word resilience refers to one’s ability to emotionally and even physically “bounce back” after a trauma or upsetting era in their lives. In this article, we’re focusing on one’s psychological resilience and emotional resilience, and less on physical resilience.
“Resilience is a personality trait that can be improved and it’s related to a plethora of positive outcomes,” explains Tyreese R. McAllister, LPC, CSOTP, a licensed mental health practitioner. “Resilience in general is a skillset that can be learned; it’s often built by exposure to very challenging, but manageable experiences.”
The point is, it is not innate – you have to develop resilience over time.
You’re not just born a superhero who never gets upset. That sounds like an amazing trait to have, but, like everyone else, you are human and need to work on your own individual resiliency; step-by-step. You must hone your mental toughness and develop coping skills to help overcome adversity and improve self-esteem.
How come some people seem to focus on the “positive” – or “bounce back” — better than others do? Why do some people wallow, mope, and feel distracted all day using unhealthy coping mechanisms for what seems months on end, when, in contrast, others can (seemingly) move on from a stressful or sad situation with ease? How can we encourage resilience within ourselves?
Questions like these are why resilience is a popular topic of discussion among therapists and non-therapists alike. That’s because resilience is an essential life skill that demonstrates your psychological strength and ability to roll with the punches.
Building resilience is indeed something you can achieve—and maintain. Just believe in one thing first—yourself—and be open to learning every lesson life teaches you. After all, a common quote so many people love and even hang on their walls at home is: “One thing I’ve learned about life? It moves on.”
Learning from others
Resilience is contagious—no, not like catching a cold from someone! It’s contagious because if you’re going through a traumatic situation, such as an unexpected job loss after 10 years, you may ponder: what would my emotionally strongest friend do in this situation? How would they handle the blow to self-esteem and emotional pain and emerge from the shock and sadness with a smile, great attitude, and eagerness to seek new employment opportunities?
Oftentimes, we are encouraged to not compare ourselves to others; that you never know what internal battles some are facing. But overall, it’s accepted in society and by mental health experts to allow others to motivate and inspire you. In that way resilience truly is contagious!
Resiliency is impressive—to yourself, and to others, who (if not jealous) are inspired by your ability to handle emotional pain, and even break down, personal trauma. Thus, many hope to embolden their psychological strength and emotional resistance. It plays a role in how we deal with tragedies and difficult situations.
“The more resilient we are, the more we can handle,” says Dr. Renee Solomon, CEO Forward Recovery. “We build resilience by seeing how we get ourselves through difficult situations and by having a strong support system. If we feel that we have people surrounding us and supporting us, we feel more resilient. Perception is reality so if we think we can handle something and perceive it that way, then we can.”
There are many inspirational true-life stories that combine resilience with forgiveness. When going through a tough time, we view these people and their resilience through our own eyes and help to find inner peace.
The art of finding inner peace
When the mother of a teenage school shooter in Colorado was grieving for her own son, the tragedy overall, and battling PTSD due to being the mother of a school shooter, she found the courage to do something very rare—and brave. She found the psychological strength to reach out to the victim’s families rather than hide away and pretend the tragedy never occurred.
She wrote letters to the parents of every teen victim her own son gunned down, deeply apologizing for her son’s actions, and offering emotional support. She was well-aware these families will never have their child back—but she wanted to let them know she was there for them.
In turn, many parents who received these letters dove into their souls, and decided, to heal, they needed to forgive. They needed to bounce back emotionally as best as they could. They befriended the mother who reached out to them and sparked up a genuine friendship to work through their emotional pain together.
This type of resilience—in this case, the ability to forgive the mother of the teenager who murdered their own child—inspired so many families nationwide. It was an amazing demonstration of the healing resilient people can achieve through the human capacity of forgiveness.
It showed once you’re emotionally strong enough, and emotionally ready, you can tap into your inner strength to guide you through the rest of your life, despite the tragedy and emotional pain your family endured.
The psychology of mental strength
As stated by the APA Help Center’s (n.d.): “Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience.”
You’re resilient daily and don’t even know it. Let’s imagine you’re driving to work, in traffic, and can’t find a parking spot close to the office. It’s pouring and you forgot your umbrella. Bummers all around. But you take a deep breath, park two blocks away, and race in the rain to the office. Fine, you’re a bit late, and drenched, but you made it in. Is it an ideal situation? No. But hey—you did it! You showed resilience through your coping skills; you didn’t let the circumstances out of your control (lack of parking; rain…) ruin your whole day and your mood. Kudos!
It took some mental strength and emotional resistance to get to work that day. It may seem like a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, but for some people, the simple act of getting from point A (home) to Point B (work) through these nuisances, en route to their destination is just too daunting to even attempt. (And they may handle a different series of circumstances easier than you may.)
Let’s clear up a big misconception: resilience isn’t about coasting through life’s many challenges unscathed. Nobody, not one person on earth, has a perfect life with no stressful or upsetting situations. While we face daily annoyances, we also face tragedies such as death and injury.
Resilience centers on experiencing all the distressing curveballs that life tosses at you and thrive without resorting to unhealthy coping strategies or succumbing to mental health conditions. Easier said than done, for sure. But not impossible, as long as you have the sort of self regulation skills you need to move forward.
Tackling emotional distress
Developing resilience comes from handling pain and psychological distress. They’ll teach you a lot about how to be mentally tough over time, and how to handle everyday challenges and tamp down negative emotions.
According to Medical News Today, emotional pain is a state of mental anguish that can take a wide variety of forms. It may result from a mental health issue or life event such as relationship difficulties or financial strain.
And psychological distress, according to BMC Public Health/Springer is: non-specific symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. High levels of psychological distress are indicative of impaired mental health and may reflect common mental disorders, like depressive and anxiety disorders.
An individual trying to improve their resilience may acknowledge they’ve struggled in the past with anxiety disorders, so this time around, when there is a setback, they’ll do whatever they need to—spend time with close friends; go for a jog around a pond—to prevent triggering a panic attack or a bout of depression.
How do we tap into and build resilience?
“Optimism is a strategy found in resilient people,” says Tyree. “Spiritual beliefs, emotional intelligence, cognitive and emotional flexibility and social connectedness are also found in individuals said to be resilient.”
“Resilient people are those who do not dwell on the negative, and instinctively look for opportunities to grow despite their bad experience,” adds Tyree. “The best way to strengthen one’s resilience is to find a sense of purpose. When my daughter was killed, I began a foundation in her honor to address gun violence.”
How self-learned resilience works
Self-learned resilience is the resilience you build within yourself. It involves being self-aware, and not being afraid to learn from distressing situations. It involves developing coping and problem solving skills through mindfulness and building psychological strength.
Every day of our lives is different—even if on boring days it doesn’t seem that way! Truthfully, we have no clue how our lives will turn out, we just have to live life day by day. Everyone experiences ups—such as finding a $20 bill in an old purse or losing 30 lbs after an obesity diagnosis—these little (and big!) events should be celebrated.
On the flip side, life also has downs, such as having a misunderstanding with a close friend, to more traumatic events like the death of a loved one, a severe car accident, or even an unexpected health diagnosis that shakes you to the core.
Never forget some situations that are stressful are out of your control—such as a thunderstorm on your wedding day or learning a beloved family member is sick. In a way, it’s reassuring when you zero in on the fact that most ‘down’ moments are not something you can change—at all—or control. So—you learn how to cope with these ‘down’ moments.
What you can and cannot control
When faced with a crisis or problem, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by situations that feel far beyond your control. Instead of wishing you had a glittery magic wand to change things (and how cool would that be?!) focus only on the things that can change, or some up with a few scenarios in your head.
It’s great to encourage kids to develop this form of coping skill by coming up with a solution to a potential problem in advance. Let’s say, for example, your child doesn’t hit a home run in Little League that day. Instead of brushing off their upset feelings with a brusque comment such as, “Better luck next time,” perhaps say: “You did wonderful! You caught the ball in the outfield twice during the first inning! How about you hit some balls in the yard tonight with uncle Jay? Maybe he can give you some pointers!”
Children develop resilience by coming up with a solution to a problem and discussing that solution, which helps them with building resilience and confidence at the same time, a true act of early self discovery.
Whether you’re a child or an adult, to help build your own resilience, never hesitate to consult with a therapist. They’re trained in helping you find solutions to stressful situations to move on with life with a bit more ease.
Just remember—you are never alone. We’re all fighting some type of emotional battle that’s upsetting, whether it’s internal (you’re mourning the loss of a beloved friend) or external (The offer you put in on a dream condo wasn’t accepted.)
“We will always experience hardship in life. The question is what we do with it and how we learn how to cope with it,” says Dr. Solomon. “Your journey to the path of resilience is shaped by the emotional pain you’ve dealt with and processed over the years. Of course, certain factors might make some people emotionally more resilient than others.”
A positive outlook can take you far in life. There’s an expression, “Fake it till you make it.” And before you roll your eyes at yet another “Look at the glass as half-full…” anecdote, realize that experts who have studied human emotions for decades conclude that those with a more positive life outlook can ‘roll’ through tough experiences with more resilience—especially if they’ve built it up over the years; and really zeroed in on what life lessons taught them.
For example, Hurricane Irma wiped out thousands of homes and caused tons of property damage in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Isles. This was a devastating natural disaster that also resulted in many deaths. To this day, it’s noted as one of the worst hurricanes—along with Hurricane Katrina—on U.S. land.
But people came together from all over the world to help those who lost their homes; bringing food, shelter, supplies, and even offering up their medical expertise. There can be prosperity and “good” out of sadness and trauma. That’s because the human spirit is resilient.
Thanks to financial support from government and businesses, lots of emotional support for families suffering, and just the resiliency of the human spirit, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Isles “bounced back” from that frightening hurricane. It took a few years, but they rebuilt, reconstructed, and came back even stronger.
And you can too.
“In the face of crisis or tragedy, finding a sense of purpose can play an important role in your recovery. This might mean becoming involved in your community, cultivating your spirituality, or participating in activities that are meaningful to you,” says Tyreese R. McAllister, a mental health counselor.
Resilient people often utilize these events as an opportunity to branch out in new directions. While some people may be crushed by abrupt changes, highly resilient individuals are able to adapt and thrive.
When you’re stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Losing your appetite, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis situation. Instead, focus on building your self-nurturance skills, even when you are troubled. Make time for activities that you enjoy.
By taking care of your own needs, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be fully ready to face life’s challenges.
Research suggests that people who are best able to come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with those problems than those who cannot. Whenever you encounter a new challenge, make a quick list of some of the potential ways you could solve the problem.
Bouncing back from psychological distress
Here’s a truth bomb: It’s NOT easy to just bounce back. You can think life is going wonderfully, then suddenly you’re in a serious car accident (not that we are wishing any tragedies on you…) or you lose your job unexpectedly. Most people won’t wake up the next day with a huge smile and think, “Oh, no big deal.” It IS a big deal…and sometimes when you’re going through psychological distress, you need extra help to get through the crushing emotions.
“It is always difficult to bounce back from a tragedy. It usually requires time, understanding, distraction and a solid support system,” explains Dr. Ruth Solomon. “Time refers to having distance from the tragic event. People tend to feel better as there is more space from the event. It helps people heal and move forward as they don’t think about it every day as they did in the beginning.”
After we process the event, says Dr. Solomon, “we need to be distracted so we don’t stew in our pain. Distraction can be any activity or activities that we find pleasurable such as exercise, artistic expression, or watching comedy.”
Life has its ups and downs—recognizing and acknowledging that is the first step is increasing your resilience. Find solutions to the problems, work your darn hardest on staying positive, turn to supportive family and friends, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
“Engaging in self-care practices prior to traumatic events help individuals have established practices that they can engage in easily when traumatic events occur,” says mental health professional Tyreese R. McAllister. “Engaging in self-care, boosts overall health and resilience.”
Don’t be so hard on yourself when bad things happen. Being upset and trying to process your emotions makes you, YOU. surround yourself with people who make you feel loved and special.
Oh—and be kind to yourself. And after all—you’re only human.