Many people have had the odds stacked against them at some stage in their lives. We may have been hit by tragedy, hardship, injustice, illness or loss of some sort but manage to cope. In fact some emerge from major challenges stronger and go on to surmount even greater obstacles.
It’s all down to resilience, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or significant sources of stress, such as family problems, workplace or financial worries.
“These are all examples of very challenging life experiences,”explains Mary O’Sullivan, the HSE West’s resource officer for suicide prevention.
She says many people react to such circumstances with a range of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.
“Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enables us to do so? It involves resilience which means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”
This is within all our grasp. She says resilience is not a trait that we have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned or developed.
Being able to cope with challenging issues does not mean that a person does not experience difficulty. In fact the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.
Stressful life events
“Developing resilience is a personal journey. We do not all react in the same way to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. People use varying strategies.”
Ms O’Sullivan says resilience can be compared to someone taking a raft trip down a river.
“On a river you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way. In travelling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan that you consider likely to work well for you.”
Perseverance and trust in your ability to work your way around boulders and other obstacles is important, she stresses.
“You can gain courage and insight by successfully navigating your way through white water.”
Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can be especially helpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents, and other difficult stretches of the river, she believes.
“You can climb out to rest alongside the river. But to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue.”
She offers the following tips to help you build resilience:-
How to become more emotionally resilient
1. Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You cannot alter the fact that highly stressful events happen but you can change how you view and respond to them.
3. Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be reached because of difficult situations. Accepting circumstances which cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that can.
4. Develop realistic goals. Do something, even if it seems very small, that helps you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself “What one thing can I accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
5. Take decisive action. Act on difficult situations as much as you can rather that detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss.
7. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
8. Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
9. Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualising what you want rather than worrying about what you fear.
10. Look after yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps your mind and body to deal with situations which require resilience. The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal plan to foster resilience.
Where to go for help
In addition to caring family members and friends, people may find it helpful to turn to support organisations such as:
The Samaritans, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Telephone 1850 609090
Westdoc (Out of hours GP service) Telephone 1850 365000
HSE Information Line (Monday to Friday). Telephone 1850 241850
Headsup (list of support services) Freetext Headsup to 50424
* HSE information courtesy of American Psychological Association.