Developing resilience - the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences - is one of the keys to coping well with life’s stresses and adversities, according to the HSE West.
Mary O’Sullivan, the resource officer for suicide prevention with the local health authority, says difficult events which change our lives may be the death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness and the recent flooding,
“These are all examples of very challenging life experiences. 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.
“This is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or significant sources of stress, such as family problems, workplace or financial stressors, especially coming up to Christmas. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”
Being resilient does not mean that a person does not experience difficulty or distress, she explains.
“ In fact the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Resilience is not a trait that we have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned or developed.
“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.”
She describes resilience as similar to 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 are important. 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. 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.”
Ten ways to build resilience
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 can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen but you can change how you view and respond to these events.
3. Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be reached because of difficult situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can change.
4. Move toward your goals. 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’s one thing I know I can 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. Take decisive action 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. Keeping 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. Take care of 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 to keep your mind and body able to deal with situations that require resilience.
Where to go for help
Beyond 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 at 1850 609090, Westdoc (out-of-hours family doctor service for participating GPs ) at 1850 365000, HSE Information Line at 1850 241850 and HSE Flood Counselling Helpline at 1800 245600 (both Monday to Friday ), Youth Support - www.spunout.ie or www.reachout.com or www.letsomeknow.ie or Headsup (list of support services ) freetext ‘Headsup’ to 50424.