By Myron Burns, PhD. O2X Clinical Resilience Specialist (Counseling and Health Psychologist)
What is resilience?
To understand resiliency, we must first look at how stress affects us. Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. The proper amounts can motivate us to perform, complete a task, and fight or flee a dangerous situation. However, too much stress can be detrimental to our mental and physical health. Stress weakens the body’s immune system and leaves us susceptible to various illnesses and diseases like hypertension and cardiovascular issues.
Everyone encounters stress, but the stressors for tactical athletes are much different. Tactical athletes work in high stress environments that are often unpredictable, dangerous, and traumatic. While tactical athletes need to possess physical attributes to navigate the unique situations they find themselves in, mental preparation and maintenance are just as important.
Psychologists define resilience as bouncing back from adversity, trauma, tragedy, and danger, or from family, work, or health problems. Resilience builds character. While these adverse events are painful and difficult, they do not have to determine the outcome of our lives. Resilience deals with controlling these aspects of our lives. Here are 5 ways, backed by science, that will help build resilience.
5 Science-Backed Ways to Build Resilience
1. Reframe Your Outlook
Do you see the glass half full or half empty? Optimists are the most resilient. Pessimists will only see the glass half empty, always focusing on what’s wrong as opposed to what’s right. Optimists not only see the glass half full, but they are also happy to have a glass of water when they know others may have none. When you think you have it worse, there is always someone who would love to trade places with you. Be appreciative of your special talents and abilities.
2. Control What You Can Control
There are things you can and cannot control. Knowing the difference between the two is key. We cannot control others, but we can choose how we react to them and the situations/circumstances we find ourselves in. Take this example involving some veterans of the Vietnam war. While captured and held in solitary confinement they developed a system of tapping to communicate with one another. They were able to identify what they could control in that situation–the ability to communicate and still support each other.
3. Embrace the Negativity
Research has shown that humor can be helpful during stressful times. Sometimes we may take ourselves too seriously, or don’t take the time to laugh at ourselves. Being around funny people or watching a funny movie/show can also be helpful. However, too much humor, laughing everything off, using dark humor (i.e., laughing off and dismissing tragic events you’ve seen and how it affects you) and not embracing the negativity or our fears can be problematic.
You may have heard some people say they want a stress-free life, but if you are living and breathing, that is not realistic. Others may ask or question why bad things happen. If life was always full of success, we would lose appreciation and not know how to handle difficult circumstances. Going through negative situations and bouncing back from those difficult circumstances helps personal growth, builds character, and prepares us for the next challenge.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness involves being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Some beneficial mindfulness strategies include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing – low and slow breathing: 5 count inhale, 7 count exhale Benefits:
- Helps relax you
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces heart rate
- Helps reduce anxiety and stress
- Meditation (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) Benefits:
- Helps with anxiety and stress
- Promotes Self-awareness
- Helps focus on the present
- Helps reduce negative emotions
- Increases imagination and creativity
- Helps with patience and tolerance
- Guided Imagery and Visualization by focusing on a positive/relaxing image
- Sleep issues
- Journaling – Some people say they don’t want to talk about their stressors, or they keep things bottled up. Like, “I am tough and I don’t need to process or deal with this issue.” Or, “It is a part of the job.” With this in mind, consider that the headaches, back pain, and muscle aches someone experiences may not always be the result of physical causes, but the mental stress that gets built up from work and family life. Sometimes these physical pains are our bodies saying it’s time to process and deal with these stressors. This is where journaling could come in handy. Benefits of journaling:
- Reduces anxiety (which is related to thinking)
- Creates awareness and helps regulate emotions (by seeing how our thoughts are affecting our behaviors and emotions)
- Journaling simply helps you get out all the stuff you have been keeping bottled up
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – involves tightening and relaxing your muscle groups, one at a time. The goal is to release tension from your muscles, while helping you recognize what that tension feels like.
- Lowered blood pressure
- Decreased muscle tension
- Helps reduce the body’s need for oxygen
- Helps reduce fatigue and anxiety
- Improves strength, balance, and flexibility
- Helps with back pain relief
- Relaxes you, helps reduce stress, and helps you sleep better
5. Move toward your goals
Set some realistic goals and do something regularly—even if it’s a small accomplishment (e.g., What’s your 1% today?)—that allows you to move toward the things you want to accomplish. Instead of viewing the task as unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move towards where I want to go?” Set short-term goals that build toward accomplishing long-term goals. For example, if someone was told they needed to lose 30 pounds, just focusing on the 30 pounds might seem unattainable. But if we were to focus on the first week losing 1-2 pounds and then the next week and so on, we could meet that goal.
Becoming More Resilient
We all have different levels of resilience, but if you’d like to become more resilient, it is a skill you can work to build. Daily practice, and putting in the effort before you encounter hardship can help navigate the difficult waters and ward off stress-related issues. Remember, it’s not about why we go through difficult circumstances, it’s how we overcome them.