Resiliency: Bounce Back Better

Every year in high school, our marching band took a week-long trip to participate in a competition somewhere in the US. It was a fun and exciting time. But just imagine 50 adolescents stuck in a bus together, with minimal adult supervision, for 15 hours and you can get an idea of the chaos and drama than usually ensued. On one particular trip, my friend, Stacy, broke up with her boyfriend on the first day. Of course, she cried and I spent most of the night at the hotel consoling and commiserating with her. The next morning, when it was time to leave, she was still in bed, blankets over her head, ignoring my pleas to get up. “Go away”, Stacy told me miserably, “I just want to stay here and wallow a while longer.”

Isn’t that the temptation that we all have when things go horribly wrong? We just want to wallow a while. But we know that we have to somehow pick ourselves us, dust ourselves off and keep moving forward. Psychologists have labelled this ability to recover, adapt and move through adversity, as resiliency.

Often when something negative happens to us, we start playing it in a loop inside our heads. We review it over and over, asking “what if” and “why did I do/say that”, a process called rumination. We become stuck on past events which cannot change, instead of focusing on our own reactions to the events, which can change.

We are all resilient to one extent or another, but studies have shown that people with higher resiliency are more successful, happier and even healthier than those with a greater tendency to wallow.

The good news is, while some people may naturally be more resilient than others, we can consciously increase and cultivate greater resiliency in our lives. These exercises may be able to help.

FOCUS ON FEELINGS

Instead of replaying the negative event over and over in your head, asking “why” or “what if”, focus on your feelings about the event. Take 20 minutes to write, stream of consciousness-style, about the situation and think about your feelings before, during and after. Be sure to label each feeling. Think about how your emotions have changed over time.

Once you have a better understanding of how your feelings about the situation, start to address each one. Tell yourself (silently or out loud):

  • I am feeling ______ because of ____________
  • Everyone feels __________ sometimes. It’s a normal human emotion.
  • It’s OK for me to feel ____________.

STRATEGIZE

Start to separate what has actually happened from what might happen, ie. “My boss was really unhappy with my presentation and yelled at me.” versus “My boss was really unhappy with my presentation and he’s going to fire me, and I won’t be able to find a new job, and I’ll lose my house, and …”

Ask yourself:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • If that happens, what can I do in response to it?
  • What is the most likely thing that could happen?
  • If that happens, what can I do in response to it?
  • What is one step that I can take today that will prepare myself for the most likely situation?

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

Self-compassion is always a good strategy, but it is especially important to boost resiliency in the face of a stressful situation.

  • Remind yourself of things that make you feel better – exercise, calling a friend, walking the dog, taking a long bath.
  • Set aside time for mindfulness, meditation and prayer.
  • Imagine placing the stressful situation or person in a soap bubble and blowing it away gently.
  • Place your hand over your heart and breathe deeply.
  • Write a list of all of your positive qualities.
  • Cultivate forgiveness – for other and for yourself. Living with resentment and guilt not only creates psychological stress but real physiological stress as well and can damage your physical health.

There is no guarantee in life that stressful or negative situations won’t occur. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that they will occur. We are only faced with two options – give up or move forward. Purposefully cultivating increased resiliency when the stakes are low, can definitely help us move through those high-stakes crises that are inevitable in every life. With resiliency, and the strength of God, we can all thrive.

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