Build resilience through challenges with physical exercise

7 ways to build your resilience according to a psychologist

Having a rough couple of years? Now’s the time to build your resilience!

Whether we’ve directly been affected by COVID-19 and government restrictions or not, the stress and anxiety has been felt by all of us. The accumulation of stress, worries, the need to make sense of contrary information, and inability to make long term plans can take a toll on our mental health. To help you through it, let’s discuss 7 ways to help you find strength by becoming more resilient.

What is resilience?

Resilience is what gives us the psychological strength to cope with anxiety and suffering.[1]Walker FR, Pfingst K, Carnevali L, Sgoifo A, Nalivaiko E. In the search for integrative biomarker of resilience to psychological stress. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017;74(Pt B):310-320. … Continue reading It’s like a reserve of inner wellbeing you can count on to get through tough times. In psychology, we see that resilient individuals are better equipped to handle difficulty and go on with their life.

It’s never that straightforward to deal with loss or periods of incertitude, transition and change. The good news is, we can learn to become more resilient so that we can deal with challenges better.

Build your resilience with these 7 tips

1. Develop your sense of purpose

Whether it’s being engaged with local charities, helping out at your religious temple, or protecting nature by picking-up trash on the weekend, we all need a sense of purpose. Some of us are naturally drawn to a cause or a movement. Yet sometimes, we need to reflect on what matters to us and what we can do to make things better. Approximately 25% of Americans have a clear sense of purpose, but don’t worry it’s something you can develop.[2]Khullar D. Finding Purpose for a Good Life. But Also a Healthy One. The New York Times. Published January 1, 2018.

Having something we care about that is bigger than ourselves helps us gain perspective, feel useful and that we can make a difference. Helping others is a great way to get our mind off our problems. It’s also a great way to gain perspective. Our situation can be tough, but it’s likely not that bad in comparison to some other people’s experiences.

Even better, individuals with a sense of purpose, control and a feeling that what they do is worthwhile tend to live longer.[3]Kobau, R, Sniezek, J, Zack, M M, Lucas, RE, Burns, A. Well‐Being Assessment: An Evaluation of Well‐Being Scales for Public Health and Population Estimates of Well‐Being among US … Continue reading That’s probably because feeling like you have a sense of purpose is also linked to higher health, with fewer strokes, heart attacks, better sleep, lower risk of disabilities and dementia.[4]Musich S, Wang SS, Kraemer S, Hawkins K, Wicker E. Purpose in Life and Positive Health Outcomes Among Older Adults. Popul Health Manag. 2018;21(2):139–147. doi:10.1089/pop.2017.0063

Related: 4 ways to find your sense of purpose & feel empowered

2. Grow your self-confidence

When we are self-confident, we trust ourselves. It means that we believe in our own abilities, qualities and judgment. We tend to believe that self-confidence is something some people just happen to have. On the contrary, self-confidence is something we develop over time, through experience.

Confidence is linked to increased resilience, general health and mental wellbeing.[5]Perry P. Concept analysis: Confidence/self-confidenceNurs Forum. 2011;46(4):218-30. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6198.2011.00230.x

There’s no magic recipe to becoming self-confident, but there’s a lot that’s in the choices that we make. It starts with taking care of ourselves and feeling self-love. In addition, it requires we quiet the voices in our head that are constantly comparing ourselves to others and being judgemental. It’s also surrounding ourselves with people who are positive for us and that we trust.

A little advice I give to my patients is “fake it until you make it.” With self-confidence it actually works! By pretending you are confident, you will experience what it feels like and it will come more naturally with the image of yourself that others will reflect back to you as a confident person.

3. Nourish your friendships

When we become an adult, it can seem like we have a lot fewer friends than when we were in school. That’s alright, we don’t need thousands of people in our life. We just need a few of the right kind of friends.

Simply enough, we need people in our life that are caring, supportive and that we trust. These are the ones you confide in when life gets tough and will give you a hand when you ask for help. Of course, friendship goes both ways and requires that we nourish the relationships.

In other words, through solid friendships we develop our social support network. Having friends and family that are there for us and offer emotional support is a great part of feeling confident and has been linked to lower rates of depression.[6]Grav S, Hellzèn O, Romild U, Stordal E. Association between social support and depression in the general population: The HUNT study, a cross-sectional survey. J Clin Nurs. 2012;21(1-2):111-20. … Continue reading

Related: Do you have healthy relationships? Learn the 6 traits of a healthy vs toxic relationship

4. Be adaptable

When things don’t go our way, being adaptable is a big part of resilience. By learning how to become more flexible we are better equipped to face a crisis when it occurs.

For people who feel rigid in their opinions despite new information or who have a hard time with change, this can be particularly challenging. Think about it like a creative exercise and practice it in regular situations. Instead of assuming just one outcome, imagine different scenarios. How would you find solutions? What would be your options? This mental exercise is a great way to train your brain into finding new ways out of an issue and build your resilience.

With stress we tend to see only the “worst case scenario” and to take it for granted. Take some distance to allow new perspectives by knowing that you have the competences, skills and ability to face whatever challenge life throws in your path, as attested by your life until now.

5. Become an optimist

Being an optimist means that we are hopeful and trust that things will get better. Optimists expect good things to happen, whereas pessimists assume the worst cases scenario. However, it doesn’t just affect our mental health, it also helps with our coping skills, lowers stress, helps physical health and makes us more persistence with our objectives.[7]Carver CS, Scheier MF, Segerstrom SC. OptimismClin Psychol Rev. 2010;30(7):879-889. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006

One way you can become optimistic to build your resilience is by practicing gratitude. Simply take 5 minutes in your day to reflect on 3 things that you feel grateful for in your life. This simple habit has been shown to increase your optimism as well as your resilience.[8]Wells T, Albright L, Keown K, et al. Expressive writing: Improving optimism, purpose, and resilience writing and gratitudeInnov Aging. 2018;2(Suppl 1):241. doi:10.1093/geroni/igy023.900

With this simple gratitude exercise, you allow yourself to acknowledge your own satisfaction so you can annihilate some of the frustration that living in society inevitably throws our way.

6. Reframe the problem

When you take some distance or shift your perspective you are able to look at a problem from a different angle. That’s cognitive reframing, a technique used in psychology to change a mindset, find new meaning, find a resolution or change a behavior.[9]Clark DA. Cognitive restructuring. In: Hofmann SG, Dozois D, eds.,The Wiley Handbook for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, First Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2014. … Continue reading

Reframing is a great tool to build your resilience. It helps you see the events that you are going through in a new light, get out of a negative thought pattern and find new ways to deal with the issue.

I like to tell my patients: “The devil that you see on the wall is finally only the shadow of a mouse, easier to see and to deal with in this new frame.”

7. Take time for yourself

There’s no guilt in taking care of your own needs particularly when you are going through challenging times. When we’re stressed or anxious, we tend to set self-care aside. Yet, depleting our wellbeing is only going to make the situation worse.

With my patients, I always talk about wellbeing management and the toolkit that’s available to each of us. By increasing our wellbeing, we also decrease our anger, stress and anxiety. In that toolkit are breathing techniques, meditation, daily pleasures and time in nature.

To build your resilience, you actually need to make time to take care of yourself. By recharging your batteries and finding the little things that make you feel good, even if temporarily, will help you cope better.

Finally, don’t neglect your body. Keeping habits that strengthen your immune system will help you deal with mental stressors too.

Key takeaways

  • Resilience is a skill that we can develop so we are better equipped to get through periods that shake our mental health.
  • Having a sense of purpose, feeling self-confident, having social support, being adaptable and optimistic, reframing issues and practicing self-care are all useful to build your resilience.

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*Be mindful about your health. This article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.