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Five Ways to Build Resilience

When you think of the word “resilience,” what comes to mind? Strong? Unbeatable? Weatherproof?

When it comes your health and wellness, resilience—as defined by the American Psychological Association—is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”

In working with my patients, I like to compare resilience—and specifically strengthening it—to the analogy of weight lifting to build muscle. The more we practice lifting those weights, the stronger we feel. Also, if an injury does happen, we heal faster.

So how do we train for greater resiliency? We all know that, in life, we don’t have control over the many things that happen to us. But we can learn how to respond rather than react to life. Over time and with practice, this improves our resiliency—we can then heal faster from tragedy and stress.

Here’s how you can strength train so to better bounce back from the many challenges life throws your way:

  1. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the here and now. Often when we face a high-stress situation, our mind will look to future possible scenarios to prepare for them and protect itself. Many of these events will never happen and only cause us anxiety and unnecessary fear. Try to be aware of the many “what if” thoughts and come back to what is happening right now. For instance, maybe take a few deep breaths and pick five green colors in the room to bring your awareness to the present.
  2. Practice Gratitude: When we are faced with a tragedy or stress, it can be difficult to express gratitude. However, practicing gratitude in the face of challenges helps us to feel more optimistic and hopeful. It also helps us to not focus as much on the negative situations we may be facing. A simple gratitude activity you can do is to write three things you are grateful for at the end of each day—notice how that makes you feel.
  3. Feel your feelings: Many times we think that being strong means we shouldn’t feel or express “negative” emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, etc. Truth is, being resilient means you are comfortable feeling your emotions. To build resilience, practice feeling and expressing your positive and negative emotions in a safe space. Journaling is also a safe way to express emotion as can be talking to a trusted friend who can let you have a good cry without judgment. Exercise such as a long walk in nature can help to release pent-up frustration.
  4. Volunteer: During difficult times, being there for others can help us to get out of our head and into our hearts. This practice allows us to connect with another person and not feel so alone. We come always feeling more hopeful, and it adds more meaning to our lives, which may otherwise feel confusing or meaningless.
  5. Reframe your thoughts: Being able to turn your negative thoughts into positive thoughts is a skill that takes quite a bit of practice—but it’s very possible and you can do it! When you reframe your interpretation of life in a way that’s more positive, you will likely become more aware of how thoughts affect emotions and how those emotions then create our behaviors or reactions. For example, a common negative thought is: “This situation I am in is hopeless.” Left as it is, this thought could create a lot fear and hopelessness. So the goal is to choose to respond with a thought that builds resiliency, such as: “I’ve been through tough times in the past and can get through this, too.”

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