10 Ways To Build Resilience: Why You Shouldn't Fear Adversity

You know the Kelly Clarkson song that goes like, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”?

The song itself isn't that old, but the message behind this phrase has actually been around for a couple of centuries.

When we’re in difficult situations, we may feel like we are not able to handle what we’re going through.

Have you ever felt this way? Has a situation ever seemed so overwhelming and stressful, that you couldn’t see getting to the other side?

The truth is, we do get to the other side, eventually. And often times, after overcoming adversity, we come out stronger than before.

I’m sure if we could all chose to never feel pain or suffering again, we definitely would, without a second thought. But can adversity be beneficial in some way? How do these kinds of challenges make us stronger?

And how can we all build that strength in order to deal with everyday stress more effectively?

In this blog post, I want to talk about the concept of resilience and why it's so important. Let's get into it!

What Is Resilience?

We live in a world where being in pain, feeling hurt or experiencing something difficult is seen as an undesirable event.

No one wants to feel bad, and as a society, we’re constantly in search of how to feel “good”.

Unfortunately, no matter who you are or where you live, feeling “good” all the time isn’t realistic. We all have and will experience difficult things – whether it’s personal challenges, the death of a loved one, serious illnesses, or a life-changing accident. “Bad” things happen all the time.

And the truth is, we need these “bad” things. Adversity makes us stronger, even if the challenges we face are painful and stressful.

Being bullied, experiencing workplace harassment, living in a difficult relationship, having a mental illness are just some examples of everyday challenges we may encounter.

Every difficult experience we face brings forth a whole set of emotions and uncertainty. In the moment, we may feel as though we are unable to overcome this challenge. We may be tempted to give up.

But when we get to the other side, we realize that we actually did have the strength to overcome what we thought was impossible.

In many cases, whether we realize or not, we come out stronger, and more capable. And we can thank the concept of resilience for this adaptive strength.

The Definition Of Resilience

In psychology, resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”

Beyond this simple definition, we also know that resilience exists on a continuum. Resilience is not a cure-all for every kind of adversity that we face.

For example, just because someone is able to build resilience in the face of workplace stress, doesn’t mean they are able to manage relationship stress the same way.

Resilience changes over time and depends on how an individual interacts with their environment and the experiences that shaped their development.

For example, greater maternal care during infancy can lead to greater resilience but the same level of care during adolescence may interfere with the development of  a person’s independence and sense of individuality.

Why We Need Resilience

The answer is probably obvious – who doesn’t want to feel stronger and more capable while handling everyday challenges? I mean, I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to not feel like a helpless mess any time I experience a stressful day at work.

Research shows that resilience can help protect us from feelings of anxiety and depression. Greater levels of resilience are correlated with lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress. Resilience is also positively associated with greater life satisfaction and well-being.

Being resilient is important because it reminds us that although the situation at hand is uncomfortable and difficult, we can trust ourselves to overcome it.

Resilience helps us learn better, perform better, reduces our chances of engaging in risky behaviour, helps us become more in tune with our social circle and lowers rate of mortality and improve our physical health.

Storytime With Sarah

To give you an example about the importance of resilience, I want to share the experience of a friend of mine (whose permission I have to share this story).

While completing her graduate degree, my friend had to face quite a lot of challenges. Her supervisor wasn't...the greatest. And the environment that my friend had to work in was constantly stressful and anxiety-inducing. Combined with a lack of support and guidance and the added pressure of academic deadlines, you can imagine how difficult this must have been.

In the beginning of her degree, my friend was constantly stressed out and anxious. She couldn't sleep, she wasn't eating properly and she began to withdraw from her family and friends. Every time she faced even the slightest hiccup, a full-blown breakdown would ensue. It was terrible.

She realized that none of this behaviour was healthy and while she couldn't change her situation (changing a graduate supervisor is way more trouble than it's worth), she had to do something about her reactions.

So with the help of her family, friends and a therapist, over time, she was able to manage her anxiety and stress. Instead of stressing out at every challenge and losing sleep, she knew that she would be able to overcome it.

While the situation with her supervisor didn't get any better (she had to face lots of challenges before graduating), she was able to get through the challenges she faced because her level of resilience had increased significantly from when she first started her degree.

Instead of balking in the face of any unexpected (and expected) challenge, she faced it with confidence (and a little anxiety), knowing that she would get through it.

Long story short: resilience is necessary for us to function in a healthy way. We may not be able to avoid pain and challenges but we can change how we react to those situations.

So how do we build resilience?

10 Ways To Build Resilience

Being resilient isn’t a walk in the park. Frankly, it’s the opposite. Being knocked down, just to get back up again is hard.

Think of building resilience like building muscle. Building a muscle takes time, energy and a whole lot of pain. You’re going to be sore and achy for a while.

Similarly, building resilience will take time and effort, emotionally and mentally. Here are some ways you can take the next step in building your resilience:

1. Build A Supportive Social Circle

One of the most important steps in building resilience has do to with the people around you. Having healthy relationships with people you care about, love and enjoy being around will help you develop resilience.

Being around people who validate your emotions, experiences and thoughts is crucial so that you can feel safe and comfortable. It reminds you that even if you do feel lonely at times, you are not alone.

Finding people who are trustworthy, compassionate and treat you with respect is crucial on your path to building resilience.

Try joining a group or club that is centred around something you enjoy. Whether it’s based on hobbies/interests, your career or your faith/spirituality, find a group of people who you have things in common with.

It also helps to be on the other side: listening to others, offering support and advice can help you create meaningful connections.

Remember to look for people who avoid toxic positivity and instead chose to acknowledge and validate all your emotions.

2. Take Care Of Yourself (For Real, Though)

We’ve talked a lot about self-care on this blog but it really is the backbone of resilience. You can’t become resilient if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Self-care doesn’t have to be face masks and candlelit baths or picturesque strolls in nature.

It can be sleeping in, eating on time, exercising regularly. Ask yourself: while stressed, how do you tend to neglect your well-being?

Self-care also involves some inward care as well. If that negative inner critic seems to be particularly loud when you're facing difficult challenges, here are some tips to help tune it out.

3. Avoid Taking The Easy Way Out

When we’re faced with adversity we often resort to comforting habits that help relieve the stress and temporarily make us feel better. This can include binge-eating, alcohol and drugs.

While in the moment these may feel like the best solution, they end up doing more harm than good.

Additionally, it can be tempting to find “easy” solutions to the problems we face.

Got reprimanded by your boss for a mistake you made one time? Maybe you should just quit.

Got into an argument with your significant other? You should probably break up.

Sometimes those options are reasonable but often times, we’re just running away from our problems.

Stand firm and withstand the storm. It’s going to be tough but if you don’t try, how will you know whether you can actually overcome it?

4. Accept Change

Change helps us develop resilience because change puts us outside of our comfort zone. A change of thoughts, emotions and behaviours is necessary as we learn to adapt to challenges and adversity.

Change can be scary and uncertain but it’s the first step in this journey. Don't be afraid of change, instead embrace it as an opportunity to practice to your resilience.

5. Change Your Perspective

I know being optimistic and having a positive outlook is difficult when everything seems be going wrong. And I’m not saying you have to put on your rose-coloured glasses and pretend like you’re living a perfect life.

I am saying that changing your perspective to look at the positive side of a situation can you help re-orient your thought processes.

Remember how you dealt with difficult things in the past and remind yourself that you have overcome challenges before and you can do so again.

Identify patterns of irrational thinking where you jump to the worst conclusion and try to get out of that maladaptive thinking trap. Replace every negative "what if?" with a positive one.

6. Develop And Work Towards Your Goals

Your goals don’t have to be monumental or long-term.

Small things like, "I’m going to try to be more positive today" or "I’m going to eat on time and take breaks from work when I need to" can be helpful as you learn to trust yourself and build your resilience.

Bigger, long-term goals can help you work towards achieving meaningful accomplishments that you may been putting off.  

7. Face Your Fears

Fear plays a big role in preventing us from being resilient. We are afraid which is why often run away from facing difficult situations.

But facing our fears is a key in building resilience because we have to stop avoiding negative emotions. Being afraid is normal, but standing up to what scares us is essential if we want to overcome challenges in a healthy and adaptive way.

8. Don't Be Afraid Of Failure

A fun-fact that you may remember from last week’s blog post on failure: failure helps build resilience!

Failure in itself can be seen as an “adverse event” that you see as a challenge. Being less afraid of failing can help you on your path to becoming more resilient.

On the other hand, reframing the way we see failure can also help us become resilient. Rather than seeing failure as negative event, we can see it as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and how we can improve.

Let yourself fail. Learn from your failures. And don't be afraid to fail again!

9. Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Sometimes, we can't do it all alone. Asking for help in your journey to build resilience is crucial.

Facing challenges by yourself can be isolating, depressing and frankly, impossible at times. This is where your social circle comes in. Reach out to your loved ones and ask for help when things seem tough.

Often times, seeking professional guidance with the help of a therapist can make a big difference as you develop greater resilience in your everyday life.  

10. Be Kind To Yourself

Finally, the most important step: be kind to yourself during this process. Developing resilience doesn't happen overnight.

Chances are you will experience some setbacks as you build up your strength and confidence in the face of regular challenges. Stay strong in the process and don't internalize any disappointment you may encounter.

Developing resilience takes time. You cannot rush it, so don't beat yourself if you don't notice an immediate change right away.

Self-compassion is key. Resilience helps us look a challenge in the eye. Even if we experience stress and anxiety, we know that we can trust ourselves to overcome the challenge. Even if you make mistakes, slip and fall down, trust yourself enough to know that you're able to stand up again.

Before You Go

Developing resilience is necessary but by no means is it easy. We're often more resilient than we think. In fact, you may already be practicing many of the tips I just outlined.

But becoming cognizant of our levels of resilience only helps to improve them.

So the next time you face a challenge, take a second to think: what would you normally do? And what can you do to develop a little more resilience in the face of adversity?

As always, if you have any questions about this topic or need some additional support, flip me an email, or book an appointment with anyone from my awesome team! You can also book a free phone consult at anytime.

Until next time!