Tuesday November 22, 2016
The Ability to Bounce Back: The Art of Resilience
Everyone experiences times in his or her life, which are difficult and trying. We may question how to survive and wonder what steps to take to deal with this time period in our lives. We may look at examples of how others have dealt with difficult times. Many people have faced devastating situations and find ways to move on with their lives. When asking a senior who has lived a long life, or an individual who has survived devastating financial or chronic health problems, what their secret of success is, you will most likely receive varied answers including diet and exercise, support from others or their deep faith in religion and spirituality. You may simply hear that there is no choice but to just deal with life’s obstacles and move forward with the belief that there will be better times in the near future. There are many theories concerning the benefits, characteristics and causes of resilience in individuals. At the same time, parents, teachers and loved ones may question if the trait of resilience can by taught or learned. These questions and theories may be helpful to examine when faced with a difficult time in your life.
You may meet a survivor of a traumatic situation including a Holocaust survivor or a veteran from Iraq or World War II and wonder how one individual prospers in life while others experience prolonged periods of suffering and inability to live a fulfilling life. According to the APA Monitor, psychologists can help trauma survivors by encouraging them to have or develop supportive relationships and encourage the creation of narratives of their lives to help boost their sense of identity.
Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy and a Holocaust survivor, whose writings and research can be seen as the precursor of positive psychology, believed that individuals could find meaning in life through spiritual involvement and by identifying a purpose, even during extremely challenging times. In many ways, he reinforced the importance of “being in the moment,” now found in the practice of mindfulness. Frankl also stressed that compassion, positivity, happiness and empathy results in resiliency. His belief that a shift from self-focus in the search for meaning accompanied by creativity occurs in resilient individuals. Simply put, one can bounce back from all trying situations. The field of positive psychology also emphasizes an individual’s ability to utilize internal strengths while changing the way that one thinks in dealing with crises.
It is not unusual, especially during difficult times, to experience feelings of anxiety and depressed mood, which is sometimes mixed with moments of highs and lows. These feelings do not mean that you are unable to be resilient during overwhelming times of stress. An interesting theory related to resiliency identified and studied by Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, who runs the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, is the link between mental illness and resiliency. He studied great leaders in business and government who had some form of mental illness including Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ted Turner. He felt that historians have often not paid much attention to these features of their lives. Ghaemi demonstrated that their symptoms were not only present in their lives but were relevant to their successful and creative leadership. Mental illness or related symptoms are not inherently bad or good. He also found that creativity, resiliency and empathy are greater in people with these challenges. The take away value for everyday people is that we all face times in our lives in various degrees when we experience depression, anxiety and mood changes. These feelings, no matter the degree, don’t deter resiliency but may enhance one’s ability to maneuver and overcome challenges in creative ways.
Steps to take to increase your ability to be resilient include:
- Identifying your strengths by asking others, including yourself, what characteristics of resiliency you possess.
- Embrace moments of happiness and positivity in your life or step back to recognize the simple things in life that make you happy and bring joyfulness.
- Acknowledge your adversities by examining your beliefs, disputing negative thoughts, and choosing more effective forms of action.
- Don’t identify failures as negative experiences but realize that they can become positive learning experiences.
- Accept feelings of anxiety and depressed mood as part of life, while realizing that this is your body’s way of reacting to a difficult situation. Also remember that these feelings won’t inhibit your ability to be resilient.
- Identify others who have overcome adversities and study the steps they have taken. These people can be famous leaders, admired friends or role models.
There are many theories and ways of looking at resiliency in one’s life. It is something that can be achieved, whether through inherited traits, spirituality, being in the moment, or identifying ones strengths and challenging negative beliefs. Realizing that a crisis is not unsolvable but a chance for personal growth and development is the key to resiliency.