10 ways to thrive when life gets tough, two leading psychologists explain
- Leading psychologist Dr Meg Arroll and Dr Aria Campbell-Danesh look at how we can improve resilience
- Tom Boyce, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, says creating resilience in kids is one of the most important things we can do
- Here are 10 ways you can build up your own resilience, and that of those around you
In its simplest terms, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity.
Resilience does not provide immunity to harm, but buffers the impact of stress and allows us to recover more quickly.
Research indicates that resilience is linked to higher qualifications, better work performance, and mental wellness.
If there is one thing we know for certain it is that life is uncertain.
None of us is inoculated from this and it our ability to manage, adapt and bounce back during unexpected, troubled or traumatic times that tests our resilience.
None of us is born with this trait and the good news is that it can be learned and developed.
The key lies in developing emotional coping skills, and strengthening supportive relationships to be able to navigate the tough times, and adapt by learning from difficult experiences.
Through hardship we can find new meaning and strengths. Resilience does not provide immunity from harm but buffers the impact of stress and allows us to recover more quickly.
Whether surviving a tragedy like bereavement, an accident, a natural disaster or horrific event or facing up to more day to day challenges like illness, redundancy, a relationship break-up, failing an exam, being criticized online or in person and so on – discover how to build up your own personal reserves of resilience:
Drs Aria Campbell-Danesh and Meg Arroll, both leading psychologists, explain how to build up your resilience
1. Give it attitude
Attitude is everything when it comes to resilience.
Thinking patterns such as ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘why me?’ leave us feeling angry, frustrated and unable to move forward.
Challenge these thoughts by building an attitude of tolerance and acceptance which should help you to adapt and thrive. Have confidence in yourself and your ability to cope.
2. Download tools to reduce your anxiety load
If you tend to feel overwhelmed by unexpected and challenging events, the NHS-backed Escape Your Anxiety program offers a whole range of free tools and resources to help you understand and manage stress and anxiety including how helping others can help shift your focus away from your own worries.
It also recommends a range of relaxation and mindfulness apps.
Mindfulness can help you to focus on your worries by accepting them uncritically in the moment and then letting them pass. This helps you train your thinking so you become less distracted and disturbed by worrying thoughts: in short, helping you become more resilient by becoming emotionally fitter.
3. Try a therapeutic oil
A World Health Organisation Report suggests CBD oil could be used effectively to treat the anxiety many of us feel during times of stress and change. ‘CBD oil has a lifting and relaxing effects,’ explains Medical Nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer adding it is ‘particularly helpful for reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation and restful sleep.’ Try Healthspan’s High Strength CBD Oil, £18.99 – use one to eight of the drops up to three times a day to help you cope with anxious thoughts (www.healthspan.co.uk).
4. Find your resilience inspiration
Look at the long game.
In this age of Insta, many things do appear instantaneous – success, love, money, etc – although obviously they rarely are.
However, if we believe that this is the case, it can be very difficult to endure life’s frustrations or negative feelings and setbacks.
It can be helpful then to look out for role models, like Michelle Obama who has spoken openly about her struggles and how it has taken time for her to develop a resilient mindset.
5. Use this super simple exercise
During times of difficulty, our mind can ruminate on past regrets, catastrophize about future worst-case scenarios, and continually compare our situation to others.
Rather than following the story lines that our mind creates, we can direct our attention to the present moment.
Try this simple exercise:
- Relax and become fully aware of your breathing
- Focus on the sensations of the breath entering and leaving your body
- When you notice your attention has drifted to something else, simply guide it back to the sensations of breathing.
This exercise has been shown empirically to reduce negative emotional responses to adverse circumstances by 20 percent and become more resilient in the process’.
6. Be kinder to others
Do a few good deeds, nothing builds confidence and the ‘feel good factor’ better than helping someone else out.
By doing even simple things like carrying an older person’s shopping, giving up a seat on the bus to someone in greater need, etc. we’re better able to see the bigger picture in life by thinking about those who are more vulnerable.
This immediately zooms out our life lens – it can become far too easy to continually focus inwards – which can lead to anxiety and low mood.
7. Don’t forget yourself
If you are feeling overwhelmed by events and/or life in general it can be easy to neglect your own needs: not sleeping, not having the motivation to exercise or eat properly are often common reactions to a crisis (as are other unhealthy responses like drinking, smoking and/or taking drugs).
By being physically fit you help boost your overall health and are better prepared to meet life’s challenges head on so try to keep exercising even if you can only manage a brisk walk.
Sleep is crucial: research shows overwhelmingly that a lack of it can negatively affect your mood, thinking and concentration – and getting enough is associated with increased resilience after trauma.
Having trouble sleeping?
Try valerian: one systematic review found this traditional herbal remedy increased the chance of improved sleep quality by a staggering 80 percent when compared to a placebo.
8. Get support on a plate
Eating a healthy varied diet should go a long way to giving your body the support it needs to see you through adversity.
If you skip meals because you are too wound up to eat or are surviving on processed and sugary food this will play havoc with blood sugar levels and is more likely to make you feel jittery (ditto one containing lots of caffeinated drinks) – basically making your ability to cope a lot harder.
A 2015 study has also shown that those who ate more probiotic fermented foods (like live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and sourdough bread) had lower levels of anxiety.
It is thought the probiotics change the balance of bacteria in the gut which in turn helps reduce anxiety and possibly depression.
A probiotic supplement may also help.
9. Big yourself up
List 10 of your unique qualities. Resilience is also about celebrating the wonderful bits of you!
This may feel a little awkward at first but just start with a couple of things and if you get stuck, ask others what they think your best qualities are.
Remind yourself how you have used these qualities to get yourself through setbacks in the past and that you will do so again.
10. Build resilient relationships
Investing in young people’s resilience is paramount.
The human brain adapts and changes during the teenage years more than at any other time, aside from the first three years of life.
The skills, knowledge and relationships that young people develop during this stage are crucial.
Children flourish when they have at least one stable, committed relationship with a parent, caregiver or adult.
If you’re a parent, truly connecting and listening to your child without distractions can strengthen your relationship.
Placing mobile phones in a drawer, turning off the television, sitting at the dinner table and encouraging your child to share their thoughts and feelings, while truly listening in return, can go a long way to model an open, trusting relationship so that they learn to reach out to others when they need support most.
Whatever your age – having a caring, supportive network around you is key to helping you through trying times.
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