While it may be difficult to remain composed during tough times, it is possible to develop skills that will allow us to better manage difficult situations. This collection of skills is known as resilience. Learning how to be more resilient can help us cope better and recover more quickly.

Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience

The following are some practices that can help you become more resilient and better equipped to deal with emotional pain.

Change the narrative

When something bad happens, we often think about it a lot, which can make us feel worse. This process is called rumination; it’s like a cognitive spinning of the wheels, and it doesn’t move us forward toward healing and growth.

The goal of expressive writing is to get something down on paper, not to create a masterpiece. It involves writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. This can help us gain new insights into the challenges in our lives and move us forward.

A 1988 study found that people who wrote expressively for four days were healthier six weeks later and happier up to three months later when compared to those who wrote about superficial topics. In other words, the researchers suggest, we’re forced to confront ideas one by one and give them structure, which may lead to new perspectives. We’re crafting our life narrative and gaining a sense of control.

After we’ve looked at the negative aspects of an experience, we might want to think about its positive sides. “Finding Silver Linings” asks you to remember a time when something bad happened and try to list three good things about it. For example, you could reflect on how a fight with a friend brought up some important issues and allowed you to learn something about their perspective.

According to a 2014 study, practicing looking on the bright side on a daily basis for a period of three weeks can help an individual become more engaged with life and decrease pessimistic beliefs. However, this was not found to be the case for a group of individuals who simply wrote about their daily activities. The study found that this was particularly beneficial for people who consider themselves staunch pessimists and who also became less depressed. However, the effects of the practice were found to wear off after two months, suggesting that looking on the bright side is something that needs to be practiced regularly.

Face your fears

The practices in the text are helpful for dealing with past struggles, but what can be done for fears that are happening in the present?

This practice is designed to help you overcome your fears so they don’t get in the way of your life. You cannot talk yourself out of these fears, you have to face them head on.

You can gradually get over your fear by repeatedly exposing yourself to it in small doses. For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, start by talking more in meetings, and then work your way up to giving a toast at a small wedding. Eventually, you’ll be able to handle a big speech or TV interview.

In 2010, researchers conducted a study in which they gave participants a little electrical shock every time they saw a blue square. The participants soon began to fear the blue square as much as an arachnophobe fears a tarantula. However, the researchers then showed the blue square to the participants without shocking them. Over time, the participants’ fear of the blue square (as measured by the sweat on their skin) gradually disappeared.

Exposure therapy is a method of treatment that helps us change the way we react to a particular stimulus. If we have flown 100 times and the plane has never crashed, our brain starts to learn that it is safe. This may not completely extinguish our fear, but it will likely give us more courage to confront it.

Practice self-compassion

When we are experiencing fears and adversity, we may feel like we are the only ones going through it. We may wonder what is wrong with us. In these situations, self-compassion can be a more effective way to heal. Recognizing that everyone experiences suffering can help us to be more compassionate with ourselves.

Participants in a study who took an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion course reported higher levels of mindfulness and life satisfaction, as well as lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, compared to those who did not take the course. These benefits lasted up to one year.

One practice, the Self-Compassion Break, is something you can do any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress. It has three steps, which correspond to the three aspects of self-compassion:

  • Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” “This hurts” or “This is stress.”
  • Remember that you’re not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” “We all feel this way” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
  • Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like “May I give myself compassion” or “May I accept myself as I am” or “May I be patient.”

An exercise called How Would You Treat a Friend? could help if being kind to yourself is a challenge. In this exercise, you compare how you respond to your struggles—and the tone you use—with how you respond to a friend’s. This comparison often unearths some surprising differences and valuable reflections, such as why you are so harsh on yourself and what would happen if you weren’t.

If you have trouble being compassionate to yourself, start by writing a self-compassionate letter. In the letter, remind yourself that everyone struggles and that you aren’t solely responsible for this shortcoming. If possible, consider constructive ways to improve in the future.

Optimism Is the Key

Even though I’m now known as the father of positive psychology, it was a long and difficult journey getting there. I spent many years researching failure and helplessness.Group 1 is asked to solve an anagram, such as TOHOPS, by making as many words as possible from the letters in a given amount of time (usually one minute). Group 2 is asked to do the same thing with a nonword, such as ZYZZYVA. Group 3 is asked to do nothing. Groups 1 and 2 are then asked to unscramble an anagram and a nonword. The results are as follows: People in Group 1, who had worked on an anagram, unscrambled the anagram very quickly but were no faster than people in Group 3 at unscrambling the nonword. People in Group 2, who had worked on the nonword, were slow at both. It was found that humans do the same thing that was shown earlier. In an experiment from 1975 that was replicated many times, subjects were randomly divided into three groups. Group 1 was asked to make as many words as possible from the letters of an anagram within a given amount of time. Group 2 was asked to do the same thing with a nonword. Group 3 was asked to do nothing. Groups 1 and 2 were then asked to unscramble an anagram and a nonword. TheThe participants in the second group can hear the same noise as the first group, but can’t turn it off no matter how hard they try. The participants in the third group, the control group, can’t hear anything at all. The subjects are typically faced with a new situation the following day that also involves noise.The first and third groups of people learn quickly to avoid the noise, while the people in the second group typically do not do anything to avoid it. In phase one, the second group failed and realized they could not control the situation, so they became passive.Their learned helplessness has caused them to give up.

Some people never become helpless when experiencing inescapable shocks or noise, even though it would be expected. It’s unclear what separates these people from others.We developed questionnaires assessing people’s “explanatory style” as optimistic or pessimistic by analyzing the content of verbatim speech and writing. We discovered that people who don’t give up interpret setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable.We created the Penn Resiliency Program, under the direction of Karen Reivich and Jane Gillham, of the University of Pennsylvania, for young adults and children. This program is designed to help young people develop the skills they need to cope with stress and adversity.The program is designed to help teachers learn optimism techniques that they can teach to their students.The MAPP degree program at Penn teaches positive psychology through a Master’s degree. The program is now in its sixth year.

How humans react to extreme adversity is generally split into three categories. On one end are the people who fall apart and experience negative effects such as PTSD, depression, and suicide. In the middle are most people, who react with symptoms of depression and anxiety but eventually return to their previous state. This is resilience. On the other end are people who experience post-traumatic growth and become better off than they were before the trauma. As Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

I explained to General Casey that the army could readjust its priorities to focus more on growth by teaching soldiers psychological skills to prevent them from experiencing a decline in performance after facing setbacks. He instructed the organization to assess resilience and teach positive psychology to create a force that is psychologically fit as well as physically fit. This $145 million initiative, which is overseen by Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, is known as Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) and it has three components: a test to gauge psychological fitness, self-improvement courses that are available to soldiers after they take the test, and “master resilience training” (MRT) for drill sergeants. These components are based on PERMA, which stands for positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment—the key elements of resilience and growth.

Testing for Psychological Fitness

A team of researchers headed by Christopher Peterson from the University of Michigan created the Global Assessment Tool (GAT), a 20-minute questionnaire that focuses on identifying strengths rather than weaknesses. The test is designed to measure four areas of fitness: emotional, family, social, and spiritual. All four areas have been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, and according to research, they are the key to PERMA.

The GAT results allow people who took the test to choose appropriate advanced or basic courses so they can become more resilient. The GAT also provides a common way of describing soldiers’ assets. The data generated from the tests will allow the army to see how psychosocial fitness levels vary among units and in the organization as a whole. This will help them identify both positive and negative aspects.

Building mental toughness.

This part of the MRT training is similar to an online course that helps soldiers deal with their emotions. The training starts with the ABCD model, which says that a person’s emotions are not caused directly by the events that happen to them, but by their beliefs about those events. The soldiers learn to separate their thoughts about a difficult situation from the emotions those thoughts create. They also learn how to get rid of unrealistic beliefs about what might happen.

The book then focuses on thinking traps, such as overgeneralizing or judging a person’s worth or ability based on a single action. It illustrates this with the example of a soldier who struggles to keep up during physical training and is dragging the rest of the day. His uniform looks sloppy, and he makes a couple of mistakes during artillery practice. The book asks readers whether it is natural to think that he lacks the stuff of a soldier, and points out that this kind of thinking can have a negative effect on both the thinker and the other soldier. The book also discusses “icebergs”—deeply held beliefs such as “Asking for help is a sign of weakness”—and teaches a technique for identifying and eliminating those that cause out-of-kilter emotional reactions.

 

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