Inside: We must build resilience to equip us for the storms of life. Every one of us will experience stress, loss, or hard life circumstances in varying degrees. This post offers 7 ways to build resilience in the storm. This post contains referral links.
Life is messy. You’re imperfect. Show up anyway.
This has been a tagline of my work for many years. But sometimes life is not just messy or imperfect but also heart-crushing, scary, threatening, life-altering, or devastating. Sometimes we aren’t sure we’ll survive it.
No matter what, simply because we are human in this real world, we will experience stress, loss, or hard life circumstances in varying amounts. No matter how careful, wise, and well-planned we are we can’t escape this inevitability. We don’t get to control all of life circumstances, nature, or other people’s choices.
But we can prepare for this reality to some degree.
We can do the work to put down deep strong roots of self-awareness and self-compassion, we can develop a healthy mindset and life-giving patterns of thinking and behaving, build healthy community, set aside an emergency fund, practice mindfulness, implement simple morning and evening routines that keep us rooted, or learn to ask for help.
We can build resilience, wisdom, health, and skill – on purpose – so that when the storm comes, we are anchored and able to tilt, not break. Building a resilience bank account doesn’t mean we’ll walk through struggle with ease or that there won’t be times we feel like we’re drowning and forget how to breathe.
What it does mean is that our chances of survival are higher. The probability that we will walk through uncertainty or upheaval and come out scarred but alive and maybe even whole on the other side, increases exponentially.
And even if you’re already in the thick of the storm, now is still a good time to consciously build resilience in ways you are able.
WHAT IS RESILIENCE (AND WHY DOES IT MATTER)?
Resilience is the ability to effectively cope and adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. Higher resilience is associated with lower levels of anxiety, psychological distress and mixed anxiety/depression. Resilience lessens the severity of depression symptoms among people who have experienced trauma in childhood and later life, as well as among people with severe health conditions.
There is a growing body of research supporting the benefits of resilience training for mental health and well-being, using mindfulness training and CBT, for instance. CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence-based therapy that teaches you new ways of thinking and behaving to help you get control over your anxiety or addiction, or cope with grief, trauma, chronic pain, and more. I respond well to EMDR for trauma healing.
A healthy mindset which includes our relationship with stress (stress-mindset) and a sense of our capacity to learn and overcome (growth-mindset) can further build resilience and help us live with strength and courage. This is not the same as “positive thinking” or suppressing emotion or denying systems of oppression that impact your wellbeing, all of which have negative (sometimes dangerous) effect on the mind and body.
Truth-telling or permission to be real in safe spaces is essential for health and happiness.
Self-compassion has a positive impact on physical health, subjective well-being, and is also positively associated with building resilience. Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding when facing suffering (self-kindness), seeing one’s failures as part of the human condition rather than proof that we are bad or broken (common humanity), and having a balanced awareness of painful thoughts and emotions (mindfulness). More on self-compassion toward the end of the post.
Finally, it’s worth planting a seed about post-traumatic growth which involves a personal transformation after trauma. It is not simply bouncing back to the level of functioning prior to trauma/adverse event, but a sense of positive growth beyond pre-trauma functioning. An estimated one-half to two-thirds of people show PTG but you may not experience PTG if you were already resourced to deal with the challenges that came your way.
refusing shame as you navigate the storms of life
In our desire to help someone navigate a hard season of life, or in an effort to “make them ok” so that we feel more comfortable, we should never attempt to minimize their pain and suffering or the impact of their loss or rush them through their process. This is harmful, not healing.
There is already far too much judging, shaming, and isolating that goes on in this world when someone is suffering, and to build resilience we need to be careful whose voice we’re listening to and feel free to push people out of our inner circle into wider berths of contact/impact if they do not feel safe or healthy. You do not have to tolerate bypassing, arrogance, unsolicited advice-giving, or anyone speaking over your lived experience.
Truth-telling or permission to be real in safe spaces is essential for health and happiness and will help you build resilience and navigate the storms of life.Krista xo
8 journaling QUESTIONS for exploring resilience and owning your story
You can use these as journaling prompts, reflection questions, or bring them to your next therapist appointment or friend date and hash them out with someone you trust and you know loves you or has your back.
1. What does courage look and sound like to you? Who are the examples of living with courage that you want to emulate – why do these people stand out to you?
2. Life is messy and imperfect. Making peace with this reality and doing growth work to learn that we are strong and resilient – this might include developing a healthier stress mindset – will reduce our level of frustration or pain in life. Are you still holding the belief that life “should” be easier or smooth sailing? Do you believe that stress is automatically “bad”?
3. There can be pressure in our society to live with false and relentless positivity, but spiritual bypassing does not lead to true healing or reparation. What do you think about the idea that being strong and courageous does not mean you have to always be OK?
4. Notice, without judgment if possible, your primary coping mechanisms (we all use coping mechanisms). What do you use to deal with pain – is it wine, busyness, eating, Netflixing, exercising, fits of rage, shopping, tears, hiding under the covers? Is this working for you?
5. Is it possible that you are far stronger and more capable than you generally give yourself credit for? Think of examples from your life (or ask a trusted friend or partner to help with this) that could serve as evidence of your strength and capacity to show up to life with courage.
6. I love the Emily Dickenson poem Hope is the Thing with Feathers. Hope lights the path for us even in the darkest seasons. What is your relationship with hope? What about optimism? This article offers interesting insight related to hope vs optimism.
7. Pay attention to the voices, ideas, information sources you’re allowing into your headspace. Do you need to unfollow, unsubscribe, take a news break, stop hanging out with certain people? What boundaries around media, expectations, or relationships would support you in this season?
8. What do you wish people knew about your life or what you’re going through? How do you wish they’d show up for you or make space for you to be raw and real?
7 accessible ways to start building resilience in the storm
Here are some ideas for practicing imperfect action to build resilience and keep you feeling grounded or anchored when life feels hard.
1. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO RECEIVE HELP
Asking for and receiving help can be uncomfortable and deeply vulnerable work but we need each other. I want to acknowledge that this can be complex for many reasons: Sometimes our pleas for help go unheard; we do not have the money or access to the help we need; there is shame and stigma around admitting we are struggling; trauma has taught us uber-independence as a way of feeling safe and getting our needs met. Many of us grew up believing the story that strength and courage look like being self-sufficient. I decided from a tender age that I “shouldn’t” have needs or wants. Perhaps you’re always willing to care for others but pride, guilt, or shame hold you back from receiving loving care in turn.
To build resilience we must learn to ask for and receive help. Help might look a million different ways including allowing someone to bring you food, drive you to a medical appointment, or sit and cry with you. It could include asking for a hug, house-cleaning support, taking medication, or going to an A.A. meeting. Life can be excruciatingly hard at times. We don’t have to do it alone.
You can’t bully yourself into wholeness. You cannot shame yourself into freedom or joy. You CAN learn to befriend your whole self – including your mean inner critic – by practicing self-compassion and deepening understanding of your stories and behavioural and emotional patterns and slowly transform your inner critic into your inner best friend.Learn more about the workshop!
2. make the decision to become your own best friend
Some things require us to make a deliberate choice – and then to practice and pick ourselves up when we fall and then practice some more. Like any healthy and beautiful relationship, our relationship with ourselves deepens and becomes richer over time. We learn to trust ourselves as we honour our needs and keep our commitments to ourselves. We learn to feel safe in our bodies and our lives as we build and guard life-giving boundaries and use our voices to claim what we want and need.
You may have spent decades believing the lie that it is selfish to put yourself first or that to be a good person you must pour out every last drop of yourself. We have permission to reserve some energy and space in our lives just for us and we are allowed to feel healthy and whole just because! Loving ourselves is about filling up and does not need to be earned so take a nap, savour a yummy snack, read a book for pleasure, belly laugh heartily, lounge in the sun, walk in the woods, speak to yourself like your own best friend. The Worksheet I’ve shared below will help you identify what you’re looking for in a best friend so you can offer it to yourself.
3. MINDFULNESS will help you stay anchored in this moment
I liken mindfulness to pulling my heart back from yesterday and my mind from tomorrow so I can live fully present in today or in this moment. Sometimes this breath, hour, or day is all we can handle.
There is a place and time to explore your past or to dream and plan for what’s next. Yet to avoid overwhelm in painful seasons, when we have limited energetic and emotional reserves, it will calm anxiety and boost our sense of agency if we limit the scope of our attention to what is absolutely necessary or to what we’re experiencing in the moment. My Brain Download Worksheet can help you triage all your to-do’s and expectations and shiny ideas so you can focus on what is most important.
4. END YOUR DAY WITH A 3/2/1 EXERCISE
Gratitude can keep us anchored when life goes awry. Gratitude does not negate or “fix” the painful circumstances of life. The goal isn’t to pretend that we don’t feel grief, loss, fear, anger, etc., but gratitude does remind us that life isn’t all or nothing and it can keep us from spiraling into despair.
When you are ready to build resilience, this is a great time to try out my 3/2/1 exercise. As a brief overview, this means identifying 3 things you’re grateful for, 2 things you did well today, and 1 thing you could do differently next time (from a place of curiosity, not judgment). If this is too much, you could simply identify (mentally or on paper) 3 things you’re grateful for, morning and night. I have practiced this exercise for years and continue to do so as I grieve and heal from trauma and it really does make a positive difference.
5. COME BACK TO BASICS to free up emotional and energetic bandwidth
Create a Back to Basics or Tiny Intentional Practices List of habits that keep you grounded; a tried-and-true list like this to fall back on when life gets hard can keep us from drowning. Deepening self-awareness helps us identify the habits that feel the most impactful or life-giving. What keeps me feeling steady may look different from what you need. For instance, I recognize that while talking feels incredibly hard for me as I grieve, writing is healing. Or while some people need more social time when they’re hurting, I crave even more solitude.
My Back to Basics list includes 2L water/day, 8 hours sleep, 2-3 walks in the woods/wk, lots of natural light, gratitude, permission to laugh even in the midst of grief or heartache, healthy touch, calming essential oils, lots of veg, and writing in some form. In this season I LOVE this way of tuning in to my needs/emotional state every three to four days and making peace with the ebb and flow of life.
6. RELEASE YOUR GRIP ON WHAT WAS: flexibility promotes resilience
This is not something that can be forced but when we’re walking through hard seasons of life, getting to a place of surrender or acceptance of what is can shift us into greater mind-body-spirit calm (we might wish our current reality was different yet acknowledge that like it or not, it is true). You may need to wrestle hard with the idea of accepting or consenting to “a new normal” as you navigate uncertainty or life challenges. I certainly resisted the truth that my son was gone and never coming home again – but all the railing against reality while natural and understandable cannot bring him back.
Death, a scary health diagnosis, loss of a career or significant relationship or whatever it is YOU are dealing with, require us to make our way, in time, as slowly as needed, to a place of surrender (or whatever word feels “safe” or accessible to you). I do not recommend suggesting “surrender” to someone you love who is hurting. This is something we need to get to on our own time when we are ready as there can be intense emotional, spiritual, and psychological work involved.
7. stay grounded in self-compassion TO build RESILIENCE IN the storm
Practicing self-compassion is essential for weathering the storms of life, whether devastating and life-altering or more in line with “normal hard life stuff.” It is free and accessible for all of us and is one of the most life-giving choices we can make. If we have truly befriended ourselves (no.2) then we’re likely already practicing self-compassion. There are two types of self-compassion: gentle self-compassion and fierce self-compassion (which motivates us to take action to alleviate suffering).
You deserve love, safety, support, and all manner of good-thing. Life can be gut-wrenchingly hard at times and struggling is not a reflection of character or worth. You matter. You matter. You matter. You might want to start by rating your current level of self-compassion and then you can choose an exercise or a guided meditation to help you practice. But honestly, every single time you offer yourself kindness, you are practicing self-compassion.
None of these ideas are offered as “quick fixes” or a cure for the pain you are walking through. They cannot heal a heart that has been cracked open, mend a body that is ailing, end a global pandemic, or make normal life feel perpetually calm and certain. I’m not a fan of simplistic or “pat answers” for human struggle but I am a fan of telling the truth about the messiness of life and then asking myself “now what?” A sense of agency (an important component of resilience) feels deeply important and empowering to me so I remind myself that even in the fiercest storm, I can choose one step forward.
Life may never be the same again after our experience of loss or struggles, but we can live with courage and resilience and recover, heal, or rise above one deep breath, one tiny step, one conscious habit at a time.
NOW WHAT? If you desire compassionate, holistic, and evidence-based support for your journey, reach out to schedule a free (zero pressure) chat to figure out if working together 1:1 would be a good fit for your needs in this season.