If you’re struggling to cope with challenges, you may need to grow your inner resilience and bounce back. Writer Andrea Childs investigates.
Most of us face tough times at some point – a relationship break-up or the loss of a job, for instance – and how we react to those challenges is determined by our inner resilience. Some of us have resilience in spades – we are able to stay positive, dust ourselves off and bounce back from a difficult situation – while others are floored by exactly the same issues. Trouble is, we don’t know which camp we’ll fall into until the crisis hits.
Our level of resilience is shaped by our genes, our environment, and most importantly, the challenges we face growing up. ‘How loved you felt as a child is a great indicator of how you manage all kinds of situations in later life,’ says Bessel van der Kolk, founder of the Trauma Research Foundation. ‘Different traumas at different ages impact on our perceptions, interpretations and expectations.’ Early traumatic experiences sculpt the brain, she says, so that we grow up to become easily stressed in times of difficulty.
Right now, Covid-19 is making many of us feel more vulnerable than ever, whether we’re born a tough cookie or we’re one of life’s more sensitive souls. But we can build our resilience to setbacks. ‘Social support, having a positive disposition, talking to others, having a faith or belief in something greater than yourself, and being able to see opportunities in difficult situations – all of these are proven to help make us more resilient,’ says Dr Michael Pluess, professor of development psychology at Queen Mary University of London.
The gold standard of recovering from a crisis, says psychologist Dr Miriam Akhtar, is to use it as a launchpad – to bounce forward, rather than back – to bigger and better things. ‘Bouncing forward is transformational,’ says Dr Akhtar. ‘It’s the old adage of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!’
Want to grow your inner grit? Here’s how…
Develop a growth mindset
‘Flexibility is key to being able to bounce back from adversity,’ says Dr Susan Kahn, an organisational psychologist and author of Bounce Back: How to Fail Fast and be Resilient at Work (Kogan Page). ‘When you have a fixed mindset, you believe a setback is defining and absolute – you tell yourself you can’t do your job, you’re a terrible mother, you’ll never find love.’ A growth mindset is the opposite because you see difficulties as an opportunity – you’ll train for a new career, try a different approach with your kids, join a new dating site.
‘A gratitude journal can help you appreciate what’s good in your life and enhance your mental wellbeing and resilience,’ says Dr Kahn. She recommends writing down three things you are grateful for at the end of each day. ‘You could also start the day with affirmations – say out loud positive statements about yourself and your life,’ Kahn says. ‘This helps to create new neural pathways in our brains, so optimistic thinking starts to come more naturally.’
Rest and recharge
When life is tough, it’s really important to give yourself a break. ‘Exercising, eating well, socialising, taking a break from work – these help maintain your physical resilience, so you’re better able to cope with emotional pressures,’ says Dr Michael Pluess. We often take shortcuts to switch off or to find solace – a glass of wine, crashing in front of the TV, comfort eating, shopping. But self-care is the best way to build strong foundations.
Be more mindful
Intensive meditation has been shown to improve resilience, but studies also suggest that a shorter, regular mindfulness meditation practice can help people stop thinking about their problems and failures, which boosts their ability to try again. Dr Kahn recommends using an app like Headspace to help your meditation practice.
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