Resilience - the art of coping

Have you ever wondered why some people are more able to deal and cope with challenges and stresses than others? Some people are seemingly able to have a lot on their plate and don’t seem phased by it, while others feel overwhelmed and anxious. There’s lots of reasons for this, including personality type, the different ways we think about ourselves, and the world and the experiences we've had in life. One of the factors that influences how we cope and manage with stress and anxiety is 'resilience'.

What is resilience?

Resilience can be understood as being the way that we, as humans, deal with and respond to challenges as they happen in our lives. Psychologists often describe resilience as our ability to 'bounce back' when difficulties and challenges occur. Having resilience doesn’t mean that we won’t find things difficult or challenging, but it means that we’ve found helpful ways of responding. The great thing about resilience is that it is a skill that can be learnt and developed.

Researchers have discovered some interesting findings about resilience over the years. Firstly, our levels of resilience directly relates to our emotional and mental well-being. The more resilient we are, the more able we can be to manage the stresses and challenges of life. Secondly, it’s been found that our levels of resilience can vary between situations and context. This means that there may be situations that I feel like I can cope with/in, such as with family and friends, but situations at work that I find difficult. Because of this, it's important to be aware of moments where I may be more or less able to cope, and make necessary allowances. Thirdly, researchers have found that the resilience level of an individual is a key factor and predictor as to whether counselling is successful. This makes sense, as often the counselling process involves talking about difficult and challenges thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories.

What can I do to develop my resilience?

The first thing I would say is to do your own research. There’s lot of really accessible information online, so searching terms like 'resilience development' will give you lots of resources, strategies, and ideas. Also, a counsellor or psychologist will be able to help you with developing your resilience, and support you in trying different strategies that enable you to cope and respond to stresses. It is important to say, however, that just reading some articles on resilience and/or talking to a therapist about it, won’t automatically make you resilient. As resilience is a skill that needs to be learnt, it often takes time, effort, and energy to develop. I often tell people that resilience is like a muscle. In the same way that I develop and grow a physical muscle by repetition and working out, I can develop resilience by practising new skills on an ongoing basis. Be patient with yourself as you work to develop your resilience - it can take time and work to learn different ways of utilising resilience skills.

With that in mind, here are some things to think about in relation to developing your resilience...

1. Focus on, and be aware of, your strengths

Having confidence in our ability to cope with difficulties is key to us feeling like we can manage and cope. By focusing on, developing, and being aware of our strengths, we're increasing our self-confidence and inner resources that can be used when we are faced by challenging situations.

2. Develop your support structure

Having people around us who we know are there to offer us emotional and practical support is really important. It’s also important for us to learn ways of effective communication, so that when things are hard, we’re able to express and share what we’re experiencing.

3. Problem solving

Problem solving is a key element of our ability to cope with challenges and stress. Being able to come up with different and varied ways of dealing with situations as they occur helps give us a feeling of control, rather than feeling out of control.

4. Work on ways to manage your emotions

We all have, experience, and deal with emotions - they’re a key part of being social and interpersonal beings. Emotions, however, can seem scary, and often overwhelming. If, when faced with difficult and challenging situations, I have unhelpful ways of managing my emotions, for example by avoiding them or overeating, I never truly process them.

In conclusion, resilience is an important skill to learn. Having confidence in our abilities to cope with and bounce back from adversity is really important to our psychological and emotional well-being. The great thing with resilience being a skill is that it can be learned and developed. I’d recommend spending some time learning about some resilience strategies, and, if needed, see a therapist who can support you with this.

The great thing about resilience and knowing we can develop it is that it means there’s hope - hope that we can have more control over the challenges we face rather than them feeling in control of us.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Dr Jamie Stephenson (CPsychol, DCounsPsych, MSc, MBACP)

Dr Jamie Stephenson is a Counselling Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln where he teaches and researches about counselling theories and practice. He has a private practice in Lincoln where he offers psychotherapy working from an integrative approach.… Read more

Written by Dr Jamie Stephenson (CPsychol, DCounsPsych, MSc, MBACP)

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