The beginning of a new year is a time when everyone thinks about new beginnings- especially after a year like 2020. Can we really wipe the slate clean? We want to, but past hurts, mistakes, and losses linger. We can make a new year’s resolution, but that doesn’t mean we are suddenly free from all the weight we’ve been carrying. In reality, each new day is an opportunity to start again, but we can’t erase what happened the day, week, or year before. So how do we not only keep going, but actually turn things around in the process? The answer is resilience. Resilience is the superpower that allows us to not only integrate our past misfortunes into our present selves and survive, but to emerge stronger than we were before. We hear it mentioned from time to time, but where does it come from and how do we get it?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is defined (by psychologists) as the process of adapting well in the face of trauma, tragedy, adversity, threats, or significant sources of stress. These could be anything from serious health issues, to family or relationship problems, to workplace and financial stressors. Sadly, in 2021, loss of jobs and income, will top the list of problems for many.
Recent studies have found that while some people are more hardwired for resilience than others, we can all benefit from particular action steps to help us develop resilience in the first place or build on what’s already there. The good news then, is that neural plasticity goes both ways. It unfortunately allows for trauma and setbacks to impact our brains and behavior, but also can be countered with positive outcomes if the right steps are taken. Not everyone adapts and recovers as well as the next person, but if you incorporate these science-backed strategies into your life, you’ll be on your way to developing adaptive responses that can also change your brain and outlook for the better.
Using these tools to get you through adversity and managing it along the way will result in a stronger you on the other side. Here are some of the most important evidence-based strategies we know of to help build resilience:
- Expressive writing/journaling- the big feelings need to come out of you and onto the paper
- Exposing yourself to things that scare you or upset you little by little instead of avoiding them (face your fears and let yourself feel unpleasant emotions instead of pushing them away)
- Practicing self-compassion which includes positive self-talk, starting where you are, and forgiving yourself for your shortcomings and mistakes
- Meditation- a body scan (systematic relaxation) is a quick and powerful way to bring your thoughts to the present through guided meditation focusing on relaxing each body part one at a time (Google it! And bonus challenge- do one with your team before your next big meeting- some only take 3 minutes)
- Fostering a growth mindset and learning how to reframe your thoughts- does a negative situation define us or can we grow from it somehow? You can influence your emotions by choosing your thoughts and reframing the way you view things
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of your positive relationships as one of the best tools in your box, because every time we connect and have interaction that nourishes us, we strengthen the fibers in the brain that are responsible for resilience. So let’s fuel up on self-love, reframing our losses, and engaging our support systems, and let’s bounce back stronger than ever to make 2021 a great year.
Maria Slavin, MS, OTR/L is the Director of Client Relations at Linke Resources, LLC, a professional and executive search firm specializing in human services, behavioral health, healthcare, and education.