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  • Melanie Lopes, MFT

Keys to Building Resilience

resilient woman

When you’ve been struggling for a while and you keep trying to find ways out of the struggle but you just haven’t seen results yet, it can be hard to fully believe that you can bounce back... and it can be even harder to believe that you can move forward and reach your bigger picture goals.

Maybe you're still holding onto a little bit of hope, but as more time goes by, you start to doubt yourself and your abilities. You wonder if your goals are unrealistic or unachievable. Or you may start to feel like there are too many external circumstances working against you, so you lose your motivation and instead you keep waiting for things to change and you come up with justifications for why you can’t move forward... or why you can’t take that next step until _______ happens (fill in the blank).

Meanwhile as this is going on, you’ve got this nagging voice in your head telling you that you SHOULD be handling things better or that you’re just not good enough or strong enough or whatever enough, and you’re constantly comparing yourself to others who seem to be able to get back on their feet so much quicker and easier.

resilience building

So when you hear someone talking about building resilience, bouncing back, and getting back on track, you might be thinking:

“This is just another person who’s going to tell me to improve my self-care or learn to handle stress better…get some exercise...keep my chin up and stay positive and everything will just work out...”

Don’t get me wrong - all of those things are important for building resilience, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Here are five key components to building resilience and helping you move forward and through challenging times:

1. Stress & anxiety management:

Starting at the foundation, in order to build resilience you need to improve your ability to cope with stress and anxiety and all of the difficult emotions that come up when you face an obstacle, challenge or setback. Being able to manage your stress and anxiety effectively can help bring you calm stability, a better mood, greater confidence, and greater feelings of competence in being able to manage difficulties and challenges when they inevitably arise. It can also bring you clarity in your thinking and an improved outlook, greater optimism, and hope. This includes learning to watch your thinking and remembering to reality-check your negative thoughts to see if there is another way to look at things that isn’t so dismal and hopeless.

2. Self-compassion:

When you’re going through a challenging time, you’re dealing with both external and internal struggles. The external struggles are basically your circumstances - the challenge that you’re facing - whether it’s a natural disaster, or a big life change or transition, some sort of setback, or a loss of any kind. The internal struggles include things like self-doubt, self-criticism, pessimism, fears, and disappointment - essentially the things that keep you stuck and prevent you from moving forward, seeing your full potential or following your dreams.

If you want to move forward, you have to address these internal struggles and you can do so by offering yourself understanding and treating yourself with kindness and care. In other words, you have to practice self-compassion.

So instead of beating yourself up, doubting yourself, comparing yourself to others, and telling yourself to “get it together already”, you have to take the time to actually figure out what will help you get it together - what exactly you need to do to de-stress, relax, and unwind or move forward. Not what someone else says you should do, but what is going to work best for you.

In order to do this, you need to learn to stop with the tough love and self-criticism and try approaching yourself with kindness and curiosity, to build deeper understanding of what you’re feeling and what you’re needs are so that you can then offer yourself the kind of care you need and deserve. Because the better you feel about yourself, the better you can feel overall, and the more you will be able to believe in yourself and your ability to move forward.

3. Keeping perspective & practicing gratitude:

When you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you can start to develop tunnel vision, where you can only see what’s right in front of you, and often times, what you are most focused on is the most painful part. And when you focus in on the negative, this limits your perspective.

Without greater perspective you tend to be more reactive, sometimes seeing things as more urgent or dire than they are, you can miss or misread signals, and you’re left with limited understanding. Without broadening your perspective you receive limited input or feedback, you can get stuck in negativity and fear, and without seeing the bigger picture you can feel lost.

keeping perspective

But if you can step back and keep things in perspective you can see the whole story, the details and the greater context, the negative and the positive. You can find relief, get a clearer picture of what’s happening or needs to happen, and see the possibilities and alternatives, which allows for better problem-solving and a greater feeling of confidence and trust that its going to be alright or that you’ll find a way forward.

Overall keeping things in perspective gives you an opportunity for learning and growth. And one way to help keep perspective is to practice gratitude. Remind yourself of those things you are grateful for because gratitude helps keep things in perspective and it helps you to focus in on the good and be able to take it all in.

4. Creating momentum and building motivation:

It can be hard to create momentum when you keep running into obstacles or setbacks and you’re unsure what to do next or where to even begin. You can feel lost or like you’re running in circles and it makes it hard to move forward if you’re not clear on your next steps, your goals, or what you’re moving toward. Or perhaps you already do have some goals in mind but you’re feeling stuck and kind of like your wheels are spinning in the mud.

Either way, you need a plan, a way to get unstuck, get clear on your next steps, and build motivation to keep you going. This starts with creating goals and a vision for yourself – how you would like to see yourself in your ideal life – to help you get clear on the next steps. Then you can take a closer look at what’s getting in the way of taking those next steps, that way you can begin trouble-shooting how to overcome the obstacles while also finding ways to build and enhance your motivation to get going and keep going.

5. Getting feedback, help, & support:

When faced with challenges, obstacles, or setbacks some of the biggest difficulties are not knowing how to move forward, not having what you need to move forward, and being able to acknowledge that you don’t know how and you don’t have what you need. In other words, being able to acknowledge that you need help.

getting help

The truth is, everyone needs help or support at some point, and this is especially true when you are trying to move forward and through challenging times. There comes a point when you’ll need to turn to others for support, guidance, feedback, and perspective.

Asking for help, and being open to receive it, can give you the opportunity for growth and development. It can open up new possibilities and help you strengthen and improve different areas of your life. It can increase your motivation because involving help from others gives you more accountability, not to mention that feeling supported can be motivating. You can also gain new wisdom, perspective, and greater feelings of competence, which in turn helps you overcome obstacles. And ultimately, asking for and receiving help sets you up for greater chances of success, satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness.


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