What Is Resilience and How Do You Build It?

Resiliency doesn’t mean being tougher than nails, and it doesn’t mean smiling in the face of adversity and struggle. Like the rest of us, resilient people experience anger, grief, sadness, fear, frustration, and all the other difficulties that come with being human.

The difference is that resilient people are adaptable and flexible. They can stand firm against the storms of life, coping and moving forward despite challenges and setbacks.

It seems like some people are naturally resilient while others find it more difficult to bounce back from tough times. Actually, everybody has some degree of resilience, but some of us may need to hone our resiliency skills.

You’ve undoubtedly faced roadblocks that have gradually eroded your resilience and confidence, but if you’re in recovery, building resilience becomes essential. Sometimes, it means tapping into a storehouse of strength that you didn’t realize you had.

Facing and working through long-buried issues and traumas is never easy, but developing greater resiliency will help you keep moving in the right direction.

Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me for my success; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back again.”

Increasing resilience

You can develop greater resilience, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Growing resiliency requires commitment and practice. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.

These tips may help:

Developing perspective: Work on developing a clearer perspective and try not to make a mountain out of a molehill. Ask yourself if this is a real problem, or if it’s just an aggravating speed bump. Sometimes it seems that misplacing your sunglasses or getting stuck in traffic are hugely frustrating. But remember: this too shall pass.

Reaching out to others: Don’t struggle alone, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Reach out to a friend or family member. If you’re in treatment, let your counselors know you’re having a rough time.

Making conscious choices: Don’t lose sight of your goals and choices. You often can’t change what happens, but you can determine how to respond. Work on cultivating a positive attitude and a sense of optimism and hope.

Take care of yourself. It’s more difficult to face your challenges and build resiliency if you’re exhausted or if you aren’t eating properly. Get enough exercise and fresh air. Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated.

Coping with Change: Change is an inevitable part of life, and there’s usually not much you can do about it. Learn to accept the things you can’t change. Adapt and roll with the punches.

Be calm and carry on: Learn skills to calm yourself, and keep in mind that you may need to experiment to determine what works for you and helps you attain a higher level of inner peace and serenity. For instance, take a walk, practice deep breathing, learn mindfulness meditation, or pray to the Higher Power of your choosing.

Let it go: Work on letting go of anger and resentment. Don’t bury your feelings. Learn to express them in a healthy way so you leave it behind you. Write down your frustrations or hit the gym. If you’re having trouble letting go of old issues, talk to a friend or see a therapist who can help you work through your feelings.

Take action: Put some motion to the notion, even if means taking small steps. Don’t sit around and think about the situation. Do something to change it. Take time to work through the problem and make a realistic, doable action plan. You may be tempted to ignore issues that are bound to come up during recovery and afterward, but pretending troubles don’t exist never helps.

Be kind to yourself: Treat yourself with the same patience and compassion that you’d offer a friend. Keep in mind that self-criticism doesn’t help. Making changes is challenging and can be frightening, but it gets easier in time.

Helping others: Volunteering and providing encouragement and support for others is always a great way to build your resiliency muscles. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley notes that helping others provides a sense of belonging that can promote long-term sobriety and cut the risk of relapse in half.

Winning: Recognize triumphs both large and small as you work your way through recovery. Be proud. You earned it.

Safety in numbers: Build positive relations with friends and family, and mend fences if things have gone astray. There is safety and strength in numbers. A strong support system will help buoy you through hard times.

Enjoying life: Remember to carve out time for having fun. Spend time with upbeat friends. Watch funny movies or read humorous books. Laughing will help you forget your worries for a while.

Face your fears, but not all at once: Start slowly and take a single step in the right direction. For instance, if you’re petrified of public speaking, practice speaking up a little more in a small group of coworkers or friends.

Gratitude: Practice an attitude of gratitude. It may sound trite, but cultivating gratitude is one of the best ways to build greater resiliency. University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development published a study indicating that practicing gratitude leads to more positive thinking, greater feelings of calmness and serenity, and reinforced recovery.

Don’t give up: Forge ahead, even if you relapse. A lapse doesn’t mean you’re a failure, and it isn’t an indication that treatment isn’t working. Many people relapse several times before they attain long-term sobriety. Acknowledge the slip and take steps to get back on your program, even if it means getting back into treatment.