Five Ways to Cope with Change and Build Resilience
Rebecca Robin, IIN Content Editor
Resilience is the tool that helps us navigate life’s many challenges.
The current landscape of our world has brought up intense emotions for people across the globe. When experiencing chronic stress and distress, it can be difficult to focus and you may feel as though your energy is drained. When facing challenging situations, such as staying safe and healthy amid a global pandemic, your body is focused on survival. The energy you muster may be the bare minimum to get through the day and will not necessarily be geared toward being productive or positive. Learning how resilient human beings – including yourself! – can be is a key component of building this inner strength that will allow you to tackle whatever comes your way.
Resilience is an important trait that can be learned and applied when going through any difficult experience. This is what can help you cope with and recover from unexpected changes or losses that occur in your life.
Resilience can be built through self-reflection, shifting and refocusing your goals, and doing things that advance self-growth. You can plan for things to go a certain way, but the true test of resilience is in acknowledging your emotions and responding to them in a way that moves you forward, learning from the situation, whether failure or success.
Whether you’re experiencing the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or a new start in a new city, resilience is a powerful tool to help you overcome adversity, process what you’ve learned as a result of this adversity, and apply that knowledge to any future challenge.
Our experiences and unique genetic makeup are key indicators in how we build resilience.
Resilience is the ability to overcome setbacks and use tough circumstances as an opportunity to move forward and grow. Each of us has a unique combination of experiences, environmental agents, and genetics that affects our ability to build resilience. By understanding these factors, you can discover how to build and strengthen your inner resilience.
Research has shown that the most significant influence on building resilience depends upon personal experiences and strong relationships. This begins in early childhood; people who grow up with supportive and loving parental figures are more likely to better manage difficult situations in the future. Exposure to stressful but manageable experiences can also help you build valuable coping skills. Not all stress is bad! Eustress, or “good” stress, can help motivate you. Learning how to transform this kind of stress into something positive is a great indicator for building overall resilience. Situations such as job rejection or a failed relationship are examples of when you can decide how to respond to such adversity in a manner that allows you to grow.
Our genetics also impact the way we respond to adversity. DNA studies have found that variations of genes regulate your sympathetic nervous system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and the production of serotonin – all systems that control your body’s biological response to stress. These systems dictate how you perceive happiness and sadness, and understanding the role your physical body has in responding to difficult situations can help you fine-tune the external tools needed to regulate your stress response and build resilience.
Here are five concrete ways to help cope with change and build resilience.
1) Reevaluate your goals to find a sense of purpose.
High-stress circumstances can encourage you to reevaluate or reaffirm the areas of your life where you are focusing your mental and physical energy. This is an opportunity to challenge your goals, leading you to find your “personal why” – your purpose – which can help you curate a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
The journey to finding your “personal why” can start with something as simple as writing your goals and dreams on a piece of paper. Write out these goals for the day, week, month, and even year and think about how they fit into a greater cause for the future. This could be taking a passion project like cooking, painting, or playing music and figuring out how you can use it to better serve yourself and others. Maybe it means taking the plunge and signing up for an online course on how to create a virtual cooking school platform or volunteering to teach a painting class in your community.
Especially during times of trauma or tragedy, emotions can surface that prompt you to evaluate which parts of your routine and lifestyle are serving you, and returning to your written goals can also affirm you’re moving in the right direction: toward your desired outcome. By reevaluating how you want to spend your time and energy, your goals will be more specific and actionable, better allowing you to act on them. Learning how to go through this process is resilience in action, creating a path out of a difficult situation toward future success.
2) Let yourself feel and process your emotions.
It’s important to allow yourself to feel your emotions to the fullest extent. This is a healthy process that can help you understand yourself better and learn what is causing you to feel a certain way. Emotional resilience is created out of allowing yourself to ride through the ebb and flow of an emotion and facing the feeling head-on. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to the larger goal of building resilience and can also be extremely cathartic.
When you allow yourself to cry or safely express stressful feelings, you are acknowledging and validating the emotion. This is known as emotional awareness, or the ability to better cope with situational circumstances that bring up feelings of anger, sadness, or fear.
As you become more in tune with how and why certain emotions come up, you can better handle the curveballs that life throws your way. You can identify why a certain thought or experience makes you sad or uncomfortable and learn how to approach the situation in the future with renewed perspective and tools to pull from to resolve the situation.
This can be done by examining a moment of anger or fear and identifying how you can use your emotions to process and learn from the experience. For example, examine the way you react to a disappointment, such as getting passed up for a promotion at work. Your initial reaction may be anger or resentment, however, this is a moment where you can (and should) choose to pause, take a breath, and reflect. Ask yourself why you didn’t get the promotion – were you not going above and beyond in your work? Were you showing up late to meetings?
When you take a moment to use effective coping tools, you can reevaluate your performance and change your behavior for a better future result. This is how you build resilience because you’ll inevitably face disappointment again, but you’ll rewire your thinking to ensure you don’t immediately react.
3) Let go of the need to “be in control.”
Life isn’t always going to go your way. There are going to be speed bumps that derail you – from the little hiccups in your daily routine to more long-term setbacks. The challenge is to accept and learn from these disappointments and recognize that some matters are simply out of your control. Once you embrace this concept, you can begin focusing more energy on what you can control.
Our energy is often clouded by a focus on the negative or an obsession with fixing things that are out of our control. Steven M. Southwick, professor emeritus of psychiatry and author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, notes that resilient people “reappraise a difficult situation and look for meaningful opportunities within it.” This means accepting reality at face value and learning to direct your energy and mind-set toward seeing the positive.
Perhaps you had plans to spend your Sunday enjoying the outdoors, only to find a rainstorm messed up your plans. You can wallow and be upset that you can’t spend time outside, or you can transform your mind-set to enjoy the time indoors, taking the opportunity to do something you’ve been putting off, such as going through your clothes to make donations. Our brains are hardwired to default to negative emotions, but resilience allows for a steady shift toward positive emotions for better coping.
4) Nurture yourself.
Nourish yourself with positivity. This can include everything from the foods you eat, the rituals you take part in, and the people you surround yourself with. The rituals and the relationships are considered primary food, the things that nourish you off your plate. This nourishment is key in learning how to heal yourself and recharge in response to setbacks and disappointments. Nourishing yourself with primary food can help you cultivate a resilient attitude and a sense of inner peace and acceptance that translates into your interactions with others.
Because resilience is cultivated from within, it can be helpful to engage in practices that create a positive and accepting attitude. Meditation, for example, can help you connect with your breath, which is incredibly important during times of stress and may also help you feel calmer and clearer. When interacting with people around you, this calmness and clarity translates into understanding and kindness, which then spreads a ripple effect of kindness in others.
Similarly, sound meditation or “binaural beats” can be transformative for your mood and productivity levels. Binaural beats are the result of two tones with slightly different frequencies in each ear. The combined sound creates a frequency that synchronizes brain activity and promotes a sense of calm. Binaural beats can also include hidden affirmations and mantras, feeding your subconscious with positive messages that cultivate resilience. As you contemplate actionable ways to build resilience, meditation and sound treatment are powerful tools that can shift your mind-set and bring important matters into focus.
5) Be giving and kind to others.
Resilience is synonymous with strength and perseverance, but there is also a degree of selflessness that can be acquired from building and refining this skill. When you push yourself to find a sense of purpose or commit toward participating in causes that serve the greater good, you are working toward becoming a more giving and inclusive person.
As humans, we are primarily driven to action by doing what feels good. As you build resilience and put in effort toward matters that align with your passions, you will begin to see the fruits of your labor and find more joy in the way that these actions may serve others.
For example, using your passion for cooking to make a meal for the family struggling next door not only makes you feel good because you love cooking but because you’ve helped your neighbors in need, paying kindness forward. As you focus on the needs of others, you can better find the strength and resilience to push through your own hardships and setbacks.
Putting resilience into practice as you navigate a new normal.
As an aspiring or current Health Coach, resilience is an integral tool in navigating your health journey. Once you harness and build these traits within yourself, you can better coach clients to integrate these tools into their own lives.
We have all experienced our own unique setbacks throughout our journey of life. The goal is not to erase the memories of these setbacks but rather use them as a means of picking ourselves up and forging ahead. This is when your resilience is tested, and challenging yourself to default to the positive instead of the negative to grow will allow you to ace that test over and over again.
As a student at IIN, you’ll learn more about the emotional and mental aspects of health that cultivate resilience, taking a deep dive into the areas of primary food that nourish and help you become your most healthy and empowered self! Learn more by checking out our free Sample Class.