Resilience: Bouncing Back from Hard Times

What is resilience?

Resilience is your ability to recover quickly from problems and cope with life. You can learn resilience and how to get better at it. Developing resilience requires some work, but the rewards are great.

How do I know if I’m resilient?

Everyone has tough times. Ask yourself, “Do I bounce back from them?” or “Do I get stuck emotionally?” For the resilient person, good days are more common than tough ones. You are also able to cope with your different roles or jobs, such as parent, professional, and/or partner, and meet the demands of each role most of the time.

What can I do to become more resilient?

Try to fit in at least one or two of these self-care activities in your life every day:

Get enough sleep

Know when you are tired and honor your body’s need to rest. In the evening, turn down the lights and avoid looking at screens like your TV, computer, and phone. Try to avoid stressful conversations before bedtime.

Ask for and accept help

Many tasks of daily living – childcare, cleaning, cooking, carpools – can be shared with friends and family. Accepting help from others and providing help to them increases your connection with those around you and decreases feelings of loneliness. Don’t try to “do it all” or be a “Super Mom.” When you are stressed trying to do everything, you become less resilient and less happy.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating healthy food helps you stay healthy and feel better. Choose lots of different foods. Eat fruits and vegetables that cover the colors of the rainbow. Avoid sweets and fatty foods and large portion sizes, which can make you feel tired. Drinking alcohol can make it hard to sleep and increase anxious and depressed feelings. Drink no more than one standard serving of alcohol at a time and no more than 3 or 4 drinks per week total.

Move your body

Exercise is powerful! Women who exercise feel more resilient quicker and enjoy their lives more. Start by finding ways to become more active throughout your day: take the stairs, walk or bike to work, walk during your breaks, or stretch your muscles for 5 to10 minutes before bedtime. Build up to include more activity. Pick up an exercise that you enjoyed in the past and get back into it. Do different exercises on different days or try something new. Your exercise doesn’t need to be complicated: even walking is good. If you walk, you should walk fast and try to sweat. Your goal should be 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

Calm your mind (even 30 seconds helps)

Mindfulness and meditation are simple and easy to start. They help decrease stress and increase your resilience. The For More Information box at the end of this handout has websites with free mindfulness exercises and meditations.

Mindfulness is being aware of your surroundings, body, and/or thoughts. You do not need a special place for it or to do to it a certain way. Start in a comfortable position and then focus on something like your breathing, a word that calms you, or music. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing and relax your body. Practice mindfulness for a few minutes a few times a day.

Meditation is a longer, more focused period of awareness. You can have an object or saying that you think about. You can use things that make you more comfortable (like a pillow to sit on) or do things that help you start meditating (like lighting a candle). You can find a teacher or class to help you or learn to meditate on your own.

Connect with others

When you share your joy and your sadness, it makes your good feelings increase and your hardships feel less difficult. Even simple companionship – spending time with friends and family who support you – can improve your quality of life and increase your resilience. People and pets both provide these benefits.

Focus on good thoughts, not bad ones

Focusing on negative thoughts gets in the way of feeling good. Recognize what you can’t control and let it go. Focus on managing what you do have control over. Ask yourself, “Are my expectations realistic? For me? For the other person?” Be willing to change your expectations if your answer is “no.” Don’t try too hard to be perfect with housekeeping, parenting, your body, or any aspect of your life. Look for ways to be more flexible as a parent, partner, friend, or professional. Be kind to yourself: think positive about who you are. If you start thinking negative thoughts, don’t think of yourself as a “failure.” Be thankful for what you have and try to express this to yourself and others.

Create a sense of meaning in your life

Invest time and energy into something you believe in, other people, or things you enjoy. Volunteer your time, be part of a faith community, spend time in nature, create or enjoy art or music, or make time for hobbies.

Learn and grow from all of your experiences

When your next difficulty happens, look at the skills you have that can help you cope. Find a mentor, book, website, or class to help you grow so that you cope better in the future and enjoy greater resilience.

What can help me succeed in building resilience?

  • Do self-care activities early in the day or at the same time every day. Focus, energy, and willpower decrease over the course of the day. If you don’t take care of yourself until work is over, your house is clean, and your children are asleep, you are less likely to take care of yourself enough.
  • Change it up. To avoid boredom, vary your activities.
  • Combine resilience activities to get a greater effect. For example, blend time in nature and connecting with others. Ask a friend or family member to go hiking or take your dog for a walk.
  • Tell someone that you are trying to increase your resilience. Letting a friend, family member, or health care provider know about your efforts will give you support. Change is difficult. Cheerleading and check-ins from others may make this process easier and more successful.
  • Reward yourself. Set goals and be proud when your resilience has increased. Noticing when you do a helpful activity will encourage you to keep trying to increase your new resilience skills.

For More Information

American Psychological Association: The Road to Resilience

Greater Good: Mindfulness

Pocket Mindfulness: 6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today

UCLA Health: Free Guided Meditations

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