What is resilience and how do I get it?

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

Life has many challenges and rewards, but sometimes the rewards seem few and the hardships plenty. Airmen frequently face changes in their lives and career. Not everyone reacts to challenges in the same way; however, the positive ways we deal with distressing events that life throws at us is called resilience. It is the ability to work through adversity, bounce back after difficulties, and come out stronger on the other side. We can develop a skill set that includes thoughts, behaviors and attitudes to improve our resiliency in order to cope with stressful situations.

Factors in resilience

  • The ability to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • Caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
  • Skills in communication and problem solving
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses

Ten strategies for building resilience

The American Psychological Association provides guidance on 10 ways to build resilience:

1. Make connections. Accept help and support from people who care and are willing to listen to you. Become active in volunteering, join a club or faith-based organization, become involved in leadership activities, or invite a friend or co-worker for coffee. The opportunities to make connections and meet new people are endless.

2. Avoid seeing stress as an unending problem. Stressful situations will happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Rather than focusing on the stressor, look beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.

3. Accept that change is a part of living. Sometimes goals may no longer be attainable due to adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help us focus on circumstances within our reach that are actually changeable.

4. Move toward your goals. Create realistic goals and work on moving toward them – even if it is a small accomplishment. Don’t focus on the unachievable, but ask yourself what is one thing you can accomplish today that helps you move in the direction you want to go.

5. Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Learn something about yourself and find ways you have grown as a result of challenges. Many people who experience significant stress report having better relationships, a greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life.

6. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Develop skills and confidence in solving problems and trusting your instincts. Start challenging negative thoughts by identifying ways they are unrealistic or irrational.

7. Keep things in perspective. Try to keep stressful events from being blown out of proportion, even when we feel that the pain or stress is never going to end. Look at the long term view and the bigger picture.

8. Maintain a hopeful outlook. By being optimistic about your future, you become empowered to believe that the best is yet to come. One way to achieve this is to visualize what you want your future to look like, rather than worrying about what you fear. Maintaining a positive, healthy outlook is a small step toward easing stress.

9. Take care of yourself. Participate in activities that you enjoy doing, whether it’s going to the gym, eating healthy, spending time with friends and/or family, getting enough time for sleep, planning a trip or getting a massage. Taking care of yourself physically, socially, spiritually and emotionally are important ways to help keep your mind and body healthy so that you are prepared to cope with situations that require resilience.

10. Flexibility and balance in life. There are many resources available to help us fill our boxes with tools. These resources include the chaplain, support groups, books, online resources and mental health providers. There are even resiliency applications for smart phones available. Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful, including writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings, meditation/relaxation, and spiritual practices.

Resilience is like taking a raft trip down a river. You may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. When traveling down the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience dealing with challenges. If your journey is guided by a plan, the outcome is usually more positive. Being persistent and trusting your abilities to move beyond obstacles are also important. Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can also help with rapids, upstream currents, and difficult stretches of the river. You will need to take breaks and rest alongside the river, but in order to finish, you need to get back in the raft and continue. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.