A few weeks ago, when I moved back to London, I found a brain education center on my doorstep that specializes in healing, breathing, and Thai-chi. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It did to me too, and naturally, I signed up. Positive energy is exactly what I needed.
After one class—one!—I canceled my membership. During that class, I started crying. The woman running it congratulated me and told me it was the toxins leaving my body. It wasn’t. I wasn’t crying because I was so overwhelmed with all the wonderful things in my life. I was crying because I couldn’t believe this was my life: being in a room full of strangers, pressing a silver bullet to our heads and calling out “ow” (them with their eyes shut, me with them open for balance) whenever it hurt, which is apparently a good sign.
I’m a positive person. I read self-help books, practice gratitude and yoga, journal daily and (try to) meditate. But I’m also realistic. Simply not every second is amazing. Yet the world could be ending right now and, based on the chants during that class, they would still think it’s wonderful. Even cancelling my membership was like the episode of Friends where Chandler tries to cancel his gym membership. I ended up enlisting my housemate to fight my battle with the cult, and thankfully, due to her strength, she didn’t sign up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging people who thrive in those environments. I personally just don’t do well in situations where I’m made to feel much less enlightened or inferior to others. As lovely as it would be to receive our quota of bad things, I’ve realized that whatever we go through doesn’t make us exempt. Apparently not even brain surgery, as while writing this a close family member has recently been given a life changing diagnosis. You will probably get through one thing, only to be faced with another.
Anger, grief, fear and sadness are natural human emotions and perfectly justified reactions to many situations. You shouldn’t hold on to them, but you should be allowed to feel them and then let them go. You don’t have to be airy-fairy about it or sit back and believe that what will be will be, but you do have to learn to accept things and build resilience while dealing with these life events, as change is inevitable.
Becoming resilient means having the capacity to cope with stress and adversity and is a skill that can be developed through the challenges we face.
Here are 10 ways to strengthen it:
1. Have a positive view of yourself.
Remember that life is happening for you, not to you. Believe in your abilities and reduce limiting beliefs. Approaching your problems and challenges with the confidence to handle them makes it easier to accept responsibility and take action. Imagine seeing yourself through the eyes of someone that admires you and notice all the strengths and qualities you have. Stopping to realize what we’re good at can prepare us for situations that are out of our control, remembering our strengths and ability to handle them.
2. Face your fears.
Resilient people are flexible when it comes to changes and understand that challenges are a part of life. While a little bit of fear can be a good thing and stops us from doing crazy things, most of the time it holds us back. Imagine the worst possible outcome, then find a solution to it so that you’re prepared and reduce the anxiety of it happening. Also remember that if the worst possible outcome can happen, the best is also achievable! You read about people achieving amazing things all the time. Ask yourself, “If they can, why can’t I?”
3. Grow through what you go through.
Life wasn’t meant to be easy, and probably won’t get any easier. Bummer. But as nice as it would be for us to have a nice time, doing nice things with nice people, it wouldn’t shape us! Growing is a part of life and things are meant to test us. Be brave and courageous and view changes as an opportunity for growth. Highly resilient people are able to adapt to situations, grow through them, and thrive as a result because they are stronger. Ask yourself what you learned from a negative experience or failure, then write it down to help with a future one.
4. Practice random acts of kindness.
Being selfless and caring for others in your own time of need can really help gain strength and perspective. It makes you emotionally aware and increases your consideration for others while also helping you grow as a person. It could be as simple as giving a compliment, listening to someone, or helping someone with their shopping. Whatever it is, trust me when I say these seemingly little things are huge to the person on the other end. Giving will lift your mood as well as help the other person, and although some days you will be kinder than others, after a while you won’t even need to think about it.
5. Laugh it off.
When was the last time you laughed so hard that your eyes were streaming and your belly hurt from the effort? If you can’t remember, you need to really consider upping your laugh game. There are so many benefits of laughing, including reduced stress, boosted immune system and improved relationships. Something terrible might be happening to you right now. But knowing nothing we do or say is likely to improve the situation or make it go away, wouldn’t you rather be happy and laughing than miserable?
6. Know that worrying is a waste of time.
The very act of waiting for bad news means that it hasn’t happened yet and might not happen at all. Accept the things you cannot change and avoid letting the future and those “what if’s” affect your current mood and the present moment. Choose not to worry, let the news come when it does, and remember that whatever it happens to be you will handle it, because you always do, and something good is about to happen.
7. Nurture relationships.
I’ve always loved my own company, but lately I’ve realized too much of it can be a bad thing. Having a chat or a quick coffee with a friend or family member can be a huge mood booster. It reminds you that there are other things going on and also that you’re not alone. Resilient people actually lean on other people from time to time, and while it can feel uncomfortable to do so, often people are so glad you reached out. Everyone has problems in their life, and meeting you is probably also helping them!
8. Add meaning to your life.
You don’t need to hit rock bottom or have an epiphany moment to realize you need “to find your purpose.” It just has to be something you enjoy and is meaningful to you in order to help you view setbacks with a broader perspective. Whether that’s becoming involved in your community, taking up a new hobby, or reading a book you enjoy, resilient people take a break from the daily stresses and recharge by doing something they are passionate about and love. Think about what lights you up and then do more of it.
9. Find the silver lining.
Challenges often have the ability to help us find the positives—at least, that’s one benefit. Jokes aside, I know at first it can seem impossible in a truly terrible situation to see anything good, but it’s helpful in these moments to remember that there is always something to be thankful for. For example, I currently have double vision and see two of everything. But I’m grateful that I have sight at all and can read my favorite books, write in my journal, watch movies, see my loved ones, the list goes on. Ask yourself how a situation could be worse and then remember all the things you still have and can do in this moment.
10. Remember that everything is temporary.
You’ve overcome things before and you’ll do it again. Remaining positive during dark times can be tricky but being hopeful doesn’t mean ignoring the problem. It reminds you to stay thankful while trusting that better days are on the way. The beauty of life is that we never know what is coming next. Everything can change in the blink of an eye, but remembering this will help you to avoid taking things for granted. Problems won’t stay problems forever, and eventually they will become lessons or insights or a new way of living. Similarly, the good things are only temporary too. But in recognizing that everything is temporary, you’ll be able to seize every opportunity, stop wasting time on things or people that don’t add value to your life, and live your life, remembering that you only get one.
Being positive won’t make things go away, nor should we expect it to. But it will help to accept that life can be really crappy sometimes, and yet even in the hardest of times, there is a flip side really close that will be worth the wait. We just have to balance being optimistic with the reality of our current issues, in our personal lives and beyond, and build resilience to help us through.