Building your resilience
There’s a famous quote about how life is 10 per cent what happens to you and 90 per cent how you react to those things. If that’s true, then when tough, confronting or challenging events occur, how well you respond to them depends — at least in part — on something called resilience.
“Resilience is a term that means the ability to bounce back from adversity,” explains Dr Melissa Weinberg from Deakin University’s School of Psychology, who stresses how important it is to note the ‘bounce back’ part of that definition. “So by resilience, we don’t mean being able to ‘withstand adversity’, because being resilient doesn't mean that you won’t experience difficulties or emotional distress, or that you’re shielded from those things. We’re not robots, and part of being human means that when difficult life events occur, it’s completely normal – and healthy – to feel anger, grief, sadness and a range of other emotions, for an appropriate length of time,” she notes.
“Resilience is the process of recovery and finding your way back from that.” Research shows that resilience is more ‘ordinary’ than ‘extraordinary’ – in other words, it’s not an unusual human trait. But it’s also true that some people are more resilient than others, and there are a few different reasons why.
Genetics, early life experiences and even your personality play a role, but certain techniques can also foster resilience. That’s good news because it means that, as well as factors outside of your control, resilience also relies on behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be practised and developed.
Why is resilience important?
So what’s so good about resilience anyway? To answer that question, Dr Weinberg says it helps to remember that we all have an optimal level of happiness or wellbeing, which is a set point that allows us to function well in day-to-day life. “If we operate too far below that set point for too long, so that we experience adversity and don’t manage to turn it around or bounce back, that can have a negative knock-on effect for our physical and mental health.” In fact, research shows that resilience could offer a degree of protection against depression. It may also protect against burnout and improve how effectively people can manage their own health.
How can I work on my mindset for resilience?
Resilience has also been linked to more successful long-term weight loss, with a 2015 study labelling it as one of the traits that plays a key role in helping people maintain their weight-loss results. One explanation may be that resilience encourages healthy choices while stress — and our body’s reaction to stress — have been shown to contribute to weight gain.
WW member and Coach Michael Allan-Ross has first-hand experience. Joining WW in 2016, he’s lost 37kg and kept it off, despite facing some challenging times along the way. “Since starting, I’ve had some major life changes that have affected my journey,” he says. “But I’ve retained the confidence and resilience that I developed on the program, and that’s helped me to keep on going”. “I’m much stronger and less susceptible to negative feelings now. Something has clicked: I just won’t put up with my old mindset of defeat. I now teach my members to break that cycle of worthlessness, too.”
“We all have an optimal level of happiness or wellbeing, which is a set point that allows us to function well in day-to-day life.”
7 ways to grow your resilience
Use these science-backed strategies to build your resilience, one step at a time.
1. Be kind to yourself
People who are self-compassionate when life doesn’t go to plan – that is, they’re forgiving rather than critical of themselves – are more likely to demonstrate better resilience, say researchers. A simple, yet effective way to start practising self-compassion is to consider how your ‘self-talk’ compares to how you’d talk to a friend in the same situation, and tweak your language and thoughts to be more in line with the latter.
2. Prioritise sleep
A couple of different studies have made the connection between getting enough, good-quality sleep and improved emotional resilience, but at least one in three adults in Australia and New Zealand aren’t getting enough of it. If you’re one of them, try to wake up and get to bed at the same time each day, which will help regulate your body clock and aid in getting a better night’s sleep.
3. Lean on others
Having a robust social support network, and drawing strength from it when the chips are down, builds and fortifies resilience. Don’t forget to reach out to your fellow WW members in your WW Workshop or on Connect, whenever you need support.
4. See the funny side
Humour has officially been named as a healthy coping mechanism for when you’re dealing with a challenging life event, thanks to the way it builds resilience by easing tension. So don’t be afraid to use your sense of humour to lighten the mood when and if it’s appropriate.
5. Be optimistic
Research shows that optimism and resilience are traits that tend to go hand in hand. Naturally more of a glass-half-empty kind of person? Like resilience, optimism is something you can nurture. One way is to spend five minutes a day visualising your ‘best possible self’ – how you’d love your life to be in a year or two from now. People who did that for a study conducted in the Netherlands felt more optimistic two weeks later.
6. Lend a hand
Pick a cause you feel passionately about, so that you’re happy to ‘donate’ your time or skills without prospect of gaining anything yourself, and your resilience may benefit, according to a study published in journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. To find a volunteering opportunity that fits, head to govolunteer.com.au or volunteeringnz.org.nz.
7. Do yoga
A number of studies have confirmed a link between practising yoga regularly and improvements in resilience. In one study, it took just six weeks of once-weekly yoga sessions to produce a positive result. It may be because yoga can improve mindfulness, something that’s also associated with improved resilience.
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