Updated: Mar 7, 2021
Why do some people bounce back from stress faster than others?
Are you someone who can bounce back from life’s challenges relatively quickly, or do you find it difficult to get yourself back on track?
We all face stress and adversity in our lives – it does not discriminate!
Stress can be caused through ‘everyday’ stressors, such as work stress, relationship problems, health problems, finances, conflicts with peers (friends/work/social groups etc), or a much bigger adverse event, such as a major accident, trauma, natural disasters, pandemics (to name a few!)
Our ability to recover quickly from these stresses is important, because if we are unable to do so, it can become chronic stress. Chronic stress is known to be detrimental to our physical health, such as reduced immunity and increased cardiac problems; as well as our mental health, associated to increased susceptibility to depression and anxiety.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from adversity and to carry on with your life until the next challenge presents itself.
Psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses "mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors". (Wikipedia)
Resilience is not a ‘You have it/I don’t’ situation. It is a learned skill that starts in our childhood. Our parents demonstrated their resilience to us in the way that was demonstrated to them plus their own life experience. However, we are not limited by their experience. We continue to learn and build resilience for ourselves through our own life experiences.
It is possible to build and strengthen your psychological resilience through developing a better understanding of how and why you are affected/triggered by certain events or people in your life, and to learn processes and aspects that can build our levels of resilience.
Some key aspects to help build resilience include :
Understand and accept that shit happens! There is no ‘perfect’ life that is all ‘peace, love and bean sprouts’! That mantra is not living in reality. We can create and control our reality based only on what we have direct control of – which is only our own thoughts, beliefs, patterns and behaviours. Anything beyond that can – and will – affect our lives for good or bad.
Feel the Feels. Suppression of our emotions does NOT build resilience! In an emergency when we need to get out of immediate danger. The fight or flight response (reptilian response) can get us to a place of (relative) safety, even if not out of the situation itself. Once that is done, our mammalian brain will come back online. This is when the emotions will kick in. The ‘stiff-upper lip’ or, ‘Carry on’ attitudes are not ‘dealing with’ our emotions. (Men stuck in the ‘man-box’, in particular, take note!)
Dealing with adversity is also about dealing with loss in at least 1 form – loss of love, loss of family/friends, loss of strangers, loss of safety, loss of environment, loss of confidence, loss of property, loss of spirit, loss of faculties, loss of direction… and more. All loss requires appropriate grief to be felt, and the full process of grief needs to be experienced.
Conversely, feeling the feels of joy, pleasure and happiness is also just as important! Celebrating the good things acts as a counter-balance to times of adversity. It proves that life can – and does – go on, no matter what life throws at us. That is resilience!
Focus on what you CAN do. No matter what adversity you find yourself in, focusing on what you CAN do/change, as opposed to what you can’t do/change is key to building resilience. Seeing and acting on the reality, even just one small thing at a time if that is all you can do in that moment. The ongoing process of one small thing at a time is building the road to resilience.
Build and value good relationships. We all need a support system, our village, to help celebrate our highs, and to provide a shoulder to cry on in our lows. This support system can be our family and friends, our colleagues at work, or it may be a professional person to go to. You don’t need them to ‘fix’ you, you just need them to be there. Seek them out and ask for the help you need.
How often have you wanted to be there for someone in their time of grief and adversity, but wasn’t sure how to approach them, so you hold back from asking/talking? If you are in need, let others know it is okay to help you if they can. Sometimes it’s as simple as just sitting and being with you over a coffee or a meal.
Practice good Self-care. Building resilience also requires us to take care of ourselves at all times, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In these times of busy-ness, we stop making time for ourselves. No time to eat properly; no time to look after our bodies, our mental health; no time to recharge our spirit.
When we allow ourselves to fall into these patterns and behaviours, we weaken our body and mind’s ability to cope when we do come across a new stress or adversity. It is harder for us to respond from a point of inner-strength. We fall into a hole of despair, anxiety, reduced cognitive ability, and other things that prevent us responding better.
Good self care can include simple things such as : improving diet (less sugar, more vegetables), move more (go for a walk during lunch, go to gym/yoga), taking a break (lunch break, toilet break, coffee/tea break, holiday), stay hydrated (more water, less alcohol), connect with nature (walk on the beach, sit in a national park), connect with other beings (make a call, meet for coffee/meal, get a pet)
You don’t have to wait for adversity to build resilience.
Raphael Rose, a Clinical Psychologist with NASA who is a stress and resilience researcher, states, ‘No matter who you are, or what you do, being resilient means you face your stressors, not eliminate them. To be resilient means you learn from your mistakes, not avoid making them.’
You can build resilience at any time – you don’t have to wait until the next adversity or challenge that comes your way! That is something you can’t control!
However, you can look back on past experiences, how you responded to them, whether those responses worked then, are those same responses working for you now, and what triggers may still affect you.
Breathwork Therapy is a simple, safe and highly effective way to find the source of our triggers. With the power of this knowledge, we can see how we are still affected by them, and whether our current strategies are working to build resilience or taking us back into unwanted beliefs, behaviours and patterns. This then allows us to take action towards positive steps in building resilience so we can reduce any impact our triggers may have on us in the future.
We may not be able to change the events or other people's behaviours that trigger us, but by building our resilience to them we can bring increased happiness and inner-peace to ourselves in the present, and build our inner-strength for the future.