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Building Resilience During Adversity

The capacity to recover quickly in challenging times is important to life and survival. This challenge is most evident today, during a global pandemic in which significant pressure has been placed on us. Pressures that test our physical, emotional, mental and financial well-being is now a common thread we all share and must overcome.

For decades, research has considered resilience to come from within; we are born with the resources that help us cope with stressors and adversity. These innate developmental characteristics are assets that can be reinforced but not taught or learned. For example, positive temperament, a biological mechanism has been described as an important protective shield that helps us “bounce back” from difficult situations. However, recent studies explain resilience as much more complex than these innate qualities. We understand that additional factors, both internal and external, play a significant role in protection and a person’s ability to positively adapt to hardship. Three key supportive elements (1) Individual (2) Social (3) Existential provide the foundation that can strengthen resilience and promote growth. Focusing on attributes in these three areas will increase your ability to weather the storm. The following are strategies you can utilize to reinforce resilience.

Individual support- Build on Personal Attributes:

  • Practice communication and listening skills- Effective communication requires a conscious effort and paramount in building resilience. The ability to relay your thoughts and feelings effectively will help you gain the support you need from others. Some effective communication strategies that will help improve these skills include focusing on expressing a clear message. Make sure the message is understood. Take the time to engage others in what you are trying to communicate. Remember to use nonverbal communication that is consistent with the message and practice eye contact when communicating with others.

  • Engage in Work/Activities- There is truth in the quote, “Hard work is good for the soul”. Research has shown a positive correlation between work and well-being. In physics work is defined as a process of energy transfer to the motion of an object via application of force. Any physical activity you engage in is work and will help relieve stress in situations that challenge you. Work can serve as a distraction and help you feel accomplished; improving self-esteem and self-concept, ultimately helping you feel good about yourself. Explore different activities and engage in those that work best for you.

  • Practice self-care- This is such an important part of resilience and one that is often overlooked. We must take care of ourselves to have the ability to “bounce back”. It is important that you preserve your mental and physical health. Eat healthy, sleep well, and exercise your mind and body. Studies have shown a 15-20-minute walk 3 times a week supports healthy life. Adding a 5-10-minute meditation exercise to your regimen will also make a difference. Keep in mind, when you are not healthy, your resilience will diminish.

  • Balance your life- Balance provides stability. It gives us the capability to control our body in position while we stand and move. If we lack balance, we fall. This concept also holds true in life. Keeping balance allows us to be less overwhelmed and view things in perspective; allowing us to see things more clearly. A crucial component that helps maintain balance in life is the ability to set boundaries. When we lack boundaries, we take on too much which results in feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Learning to say “no” is necessary not only to maintain life balance but to help build resilience.

  • Develop a mantra- Affirmations or positive statements help us overcome self-defeating thoughts. These statements are very personal in nature and require practice. During difficult times, such as in a pandemic, our minds will tend to wander to a negative place. The unknown and inability to “control” a situation may result in high levels of stress and anxiety triggering behaviors that are counterproductive. This leads to self-doubt and insecurity. Decide what affirmations help you refocus your energy toward a more positive and productive state of mind and verbalize them aloud. Affirmations are an excellent tool when you repeat them internally, but work best when you hear them expressed.

External Support- Build Connections and Relationships:

  • Family- Whether it is family or friends, positive relationships will help improve your psychological and physical well-being. Relationships are a source of strength that can mitigate challenges. However, positive relationships are not created overnight. They must be fostered and cultivated through experiences. For example, learning to give and take is an important part of developing a positive relationship. Evaluate your social support network and assess who in this network provides care, love and support. It is these relationships that will strengthen resilience as they build trust and offer encouragement and reassurance. For those who may take away, decide whether you should limit contact or break away. These relationships will have a negative impact on your ability to overcome adversity.

  • Community- Helen Keller once said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”. This is most evident during difficult and challenging times. Our community can serve as a refuge when we are struggling to overcome. Whether we volunteer or seek assistance from community resources, the support you find will help bolster resilience. Researching organizations and groups that are a good fit with your value and purpose will help build a supportive network and a protective shield against trying situations.

Existential Support - Reinforce Cultural Norms and Traditions:

  • Assess and Identify your Values- Values are what you personally believe is important. While our values may differ depending on our life experiences, they give us purpose and drive our actions. If we value education, for example, we are more likely to obtain a college degree. It is the purpose we find in life that helps us endure and build fortitude. Take the time to evaluate your values. What do you believe is important in life? How can you work towards living your values? Remember, your core values can be a source of strength. When faced with struggles focus on the values you have identified that give you purpose.

  • Engage in cultural traditions- There is evidence that culture has a significant impact on resilience. Our cultural background often dictates how we respond to situations. It has helped shape our existence and encompasses all areas of life. How we communicate and relate with others comes from cultural norms. While we often adapt these cultural norms as we grow older, it is crucial that we incorporate some traditions to our everyday routine. Traditions provide a structure and foundation that create positive memories and promote a sense of belonging. When we practice our cultural norms, we feel a level of comfort and security which is much needed when faced with trials and tribulation.

  • Exercise spirituality- There are situations that are beyond our control. We cannot find reasons for it. The ability to cultivate spirituality is essential for bolstering resilience. Faith helps us cope and manage difficult times. It provides hope for situations that do not have short term solutions. When we can exercise spirituality, such as meditation and prayer, we can transform the pain to something meaningful thus giving us peace and purpose to move forward and endure. To strengthen your spirituality, develop a spiritual community. Find a safe space and time to connect with a higher power or a power greater than yourself.

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Dr. Maria Dowling is an entrepreneur, certified Core Energy Coach and founder of Aim Consulting Company. She is a

neuroscientist who holds a doctorate degree in Psychology, Masters in Pharmacology and an MBA with specialization in entrepreneurship and innovation.


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