“Fall down seven times, get up eight.”
What is Adversity?
The experience of stress and the reaction to stressors are a part of human evolutionary history. Though stress can serve as a method of alerting us through negative emotions such as anger, fear, or anxiety that disharmony and imbalance are being experienced (Rybak and Decker-Fitts 2009). Furthermore, individuals tend to focus on negative emotions. Having a greater tendency to focus on negative emotions over positive ones has increased the likelihood of survival in regard to escaping dangers; thus most of us have inherited a tendency to attend more strongly to real and perceived threats as compared to focusing on positive emotions (Heartmath 2006).
On the other hand, due to this commonly inborn tendency to focus on negative emotions over positive ones, most of us tend to dwell on negative aspects and problems leading to more stress and slower recovery from stressful events in our life.
Have you noticed some people seem to have the power to not only recover rather quickly after something knocks them down but also cultivate an improved level of functioning compared to before the stressful event? This is the ability to adapt and it is a powerful skill that can be cultivated. The ability to adapt to difficult or challenging life experiences and come back stronger without being overwhelmed by changes, challenges, and pressure is known as resiliency.
According to Merriam-Webster, resilience is defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.” Resilience is how you bounce back from these experiences and how you learn to navigate issues the next time because let's be honest—we are likely to experience more obstacles in our lives. These obstacles are not meant to tear you down or break you; the important aspect is how to learn from the experience, be stronger, and confident you can handle the next obstacle.
Let’s start by taking a moment to reflect on how you have previously responded to adversity or obstacles in the past.
If you experienced a stressor in your home life, how did you respond? Did you isolate yourself, cry, respond with anger, leave the space, address the issue head-on, or find something to distract your mind and avoid the issue?
What about a conflict at work? Did you know how to navigate the issue, who to call for assistance, or did you procrastinate on responding to an important email?
It is important to reflect on how you tend to respond so you are aware of yourself and your typical behaviors.
Why Is Resilience Important?
Why is resilience an important skill to have developed in today’s world? Life is always changing and nothing in life is permanent. Individuals are frequently encountering some level of stressor, adversity, significant life change, crisis, or traumatic event.
Resilience is a strength that makes it possible to set a positive, productive, and fulfilling direction in your personal life, marriage, and family. Resilience helps individuals cope with changes, challenges, and pressure.
According to research by Karen-leigh Edward, an Australian professor of mental health nursing, resilient behaviors provide protection from the experience of depression and resilience can increase the risk of not being depressed. Some studies suggest that a resilient mindset works as a protective factor against anxiety.
How Do You Build Resilience?
The short answer:
Think about the last time you traveled. Did you just get a plane ticket, pack some clothes, and go? Not exactly. You may have checked the best time of the year to travel, figured out where you wanted to stay, researched the weather, and explored some of the recommended restaurants or activities. Essentially, you prepared for the trip. Now imagine you went on your trip and the weather was colder than you expected. How would you respond? Would you stay in your room the entire trip, would you buy some appropriate clothing, or adjust the activities so that you can enjoy the experience? You now realize that the weather can change unexpectedly so that next time you travel, you pack a variety of clothing or layers just in case. Adjusting and recovering from the issue, reflecting, and learning from the experience is how you build resilience.
Now let’s dig a little deeper into resilience. Psychologist Buckwalter mentions three core psychological attributes at the heart of resilience which include:
“If your personal life is characterized by these traits, you have the core components needed to build resilience.” According to the psychologist, these core attributes must be experienced on both an emotional and cognitive level. “With strength, we know we can survive. With meaning/purpose, we know there is a reason for us to live another day. With pleasure, we know that we have been given the ability to enjoy life deeply.”
Weathering a stressful storm and bouncing back from adversity lead people to developing strength, meaning/purpose, and pleasure that they didn’t know were possible. The good news is that resiliency is something you can learn and continue strengthening over time and with experience.
In the article, Dr. Al Siebert’s Five Levels of Resiliency, some factors behinds resiliency development and enhancement are explored. According to Dr. Siebert, who is the author and a director of The Resiliency Center, “Everyone is born with the potential to develop these abilities.”
The five levels of resiliency are identified as:
Maintaining your emotional stability, health, and well-being
Focus outward: good problem-solving skills
Focus inward: strong inner “selfs”
Well-developed resiliency skills
The talent for serendipity
The first level is essential to sustaining your health and your energy. This is the first layer of the foundation of resiliency. Sustaining your health and your energy means you need to take good care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. This may include the following:
Maintaining a healthy diet
Getting quality sleep
Doing activities that truly engage you
Acknowledge the good in your daily life
Counting your blessings/having gratitude
Focusing on here and now
Consider what you need to do to move forward (Don’t live in the past)
Invest time and energy in healing a relationship in need of strengthening
The second level focuses outward on the challenges that must be handled: problem-focused coping skills. Learn how to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
1. Define the problem; analyze the factors or causes contributing to the unwanted situation.
2. Be creative and identify multiple solutions.
3. Evaluate and select the best solutions.
4. Implement solutions.
5. Reevaluate/assess the effectiveness of your interventions.
The third level focuses inward on the roots of resiliency—developing strong self-esteem, self-confidence, and a positive self-concept.
This is where we have a deeper understanding of ourselves. We understand and accept who we are. Pay close attention to a positive view of ourselves and our strengths and abilities. This will help you ward off fears. Better coping skills and dealing with fears will result in a boost of your self-confidence and self-esteem. Dr. Siebert believed that your mind and habits will create barriers or bridges to a better future. Self-esteem, self-confidence, and a positive self-concept directly impact the way we act every day.
The fourth level covers the attributes and skills found in highly resilient people. The following are some of the attributes and skills displayed by highly resilient individuals:
Hold a positive view of themselves and their abilities
Can make workable plans and maintain them
Possess strong communication skills
Have a healthy social support system (This may include contact with others who can be trusted, either family, a friend, or a therapist, with whom they can share most difficult thoughts which is important in recovery)
View themselves as a survivor rather than a victim
Manage emotions effectively
Accepts that change, challenges, and pressures are a part of living
Have an ability to leave their comfort zone when needed
Can delay urges for immediate gratification
Can utilize counterfactual thinking (This is an ability to deal more effectively with hardships by imagining how things could have been worse)
Can find meaning in adversity
Have a sense of purpose and meaning
The fifth level describes what is possible at the highest level of resiliency. It is the talent for serendipity—the ability to convert misfortune into good fortune.
When we become highly resilient, we grow through adversity and can convert a disruptive event into a desirable or unexpected positive development. This development could take several forms:
Improved relations with others
Identification of new possibilities for one’s life
Increased personal strength
Enhanced appreciation of life
Effective Coping Skills
Acknowledge that change is a natural part of life to evolve and adapt to survive and progress. For instance, technology continues to evolve to fit the needs of the demand, music and fashion continue to change with time, and companies must evolve or become antiquated. So why wouldn’t we be expected to adapt and evolve as our world changes?
Coping skills are helpful techniques and tools to navigate maladaptive emotions, decrease stress, or prepare you before taking on a challenge. The following are helpful coping skills that can prove to be useful in rebounding and building resiliency:
Making to-do lists
Getting adequate sleep
Self-reflection/learn to keep things in perspective
Keep going even when you want to stop