There are so many ways in which we can work towards more happiness in our lives. Lots of small and some bigger things, some quick and some that take more time and effort. But, there will inevitably be times when something happens or we experience something that really knocks us for six. It’s at these times, happiness can feel so far from reach. I know, because I have been there.
Sometimes, life really does seem to take an unplanned turn and can throw us completely off balance. Stress, loss, grief and trauma will likely affect us all at some point and, while these things can be incredibly unpleasant and cause us pain, how we respond to them can really affect our wellbeing and how well we bounce back from them. Fortunately, there is lots that you can do that will help build resilience which is ultimately at the heart of how well we deal with life’s ups and downs, especially the downs.
Resilience is generally considered to be affected by three things. How we developed as a child and teenager, external factors such as our beliefs and relationships and internal factors such as our emotions and how we manage them, how we interpret things and how we respond and behave in a situation.
Resilience is a skill, it can be learnt and we can build better ways to cope and more helpful ways to respond that will help us ‘bounce back’ from life’s challenges. The more we learn the things that help us be resilient the more likely we are to be in the future so there really is some truth in the age-old statement of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’
The first thing that I think helps us in times of need is by remembering that we are not alone. If I’ve come to learn anything it’s that if you have experienced something, the likelihood is that someone else out there has too. More than ever before there are ways that you can find and connect with others who will have had similar experiences whether that’s through support groups, online forums or even through platforms like Instagram. Just the recognition that there are other people out there toughing it through life’s stuff can help us start to feel better and that we aren’t alone. This kind of brings me on to the next point that I believe is so valuable. Talking about things.
Talking about our problems is a huge step forward in building resilience. I used to be a terrible ‘stiff upper lipper’ with a ’keep smiling’ attitude. Unfortunately, when sh*t really did hit the fan for me it just wasn’t possible to keep up the ‘its fine’ façade anymore and I had to learn that it was ok, not to be ok.
I didn’t used to be bad at talking, quite the contrary, but over a decade of living with a non-sharer and almost pathological avoider of talking about anything remotely negative left me seriously out of practice. I discovered however, that talking really is beneficial and a problem aired really is a problem halved. When we talk about things, we do feel lighter, we literally feel like we ‘get it off our chest’ and it is one of the things that has benefited me the most. It also invites other people’s perspective and sometimes we really need that.
It’s important to recognise that there will be times when actually you need more than to just ‘phone a friend.’ When stuff gets really tough, even the most resilient people on the planet ask for help when they need it. It was explained to me like this. If you fall and break your leg badly what do you do? Do you leave it or do you go to the nearest A&E, find a Doctor and have them help you?
You could leave it, the pain would probably start to ease eventually, the break will probably heal by itself but it won’t have healed properly and you will like experience problems with it again and again in the future.
Our emotional and mental health is no different from our physical health in that, sometimes, it requires the help of others even an expert and there is no shame in that. So, when recovering from something traumatic it’s sometimes necessary to seek additional help and support. Most of us wouldn’t suffer a broken bone in silence yet so many of us would put up with feeling sad, stressed or anxious and not do anything about it.
This quote is framed in my kitchen. It’s been there a while. I’ll be honest, there’s probably been a few occasions in recent months when I’ve come very close to pulling it off the wall but, it has actually been very useful and served as a real reminder to me everyday to find something good, to find something positive. Even when things are hard, there are still things that we can be grateful for. It’s the Pollyanna theory that you can read more about here.
Seeing the good, being grateful and even recognising that there are others suffering in the world can be incredibly helpful in creating a resilient attitude. Not allowing yourself to stay stuck by focusing on the negatives but instead looking for positives helps us move forward even when we can’t make sense of a situation or what’s happened.
Most of us don’t choose adversity or the bad things that happen to us and in many situations understanding what went wrong, the cause and what can be learnt is an important part of processing adversity. As humans, we need to rationalise and if you’re a natural problem solver like me it’s necessary. However, sometimes, there just is no reason, there will never be an explanation and there is no sense to be made, sometimes, things just are as they are. This can be especially hard and it’s at these times where learning to let go and accept ‘what is’ becomes necessary otherwise we risk staying stuck. That doesn’t mean that the pain or distress of whatever has happened goes away automatically, but it’s often only once we get to this point that we can actually start to heal. To be able to move on, we must free ourselves from the exhaustion of trying to analyse a situation.
Staying present is also necessary for building resilience. Most of us have a tendency to stay stuck in the past or worry about the future. I’m the latter. I think this is why I have always suffered anxiety because of the dreaded ‘what if’ (although interestingly I don’t anymore, especially since things actually got pretty tough – but that’s for another post).
Reminiscing, remembering happy times can be beneficial, in can be pleasant, who doesn’t like sharing old stories but it can also be destructive when we relive old wounds or go over a negative situation – the things you said or did, the ‘if onlys’. On the flip side, worrying about every last little thing that might happen leaves us perpetually on edge, with stress hormones racing through our bloodstream. The fact is worrying does us no favours what so ever. Most of what we worry about never happens or if it does the fact that you’ve worried about it will not have prepared you for it (which is what so many worriers think) so it’s pointless. If you’re a worrier you are now probably thinking, ‘oh god, that thing I worry about, if it happens I won’t be prepared which means it will be far worse than I thought, so now I’m even more worried (once upon a time my mind would have worked like this too). If this is you, stop. I can tell you that, I have faced one of my biggest worries and fears and can assure you that worrying about it didn’t prepare me for it, yes it was tough, but I am getting through it, far better than I thought I would, you just do. You will be surprised at just how strong you can be when you need to. Just trust that you have far more inner resource than you will ever be able to imagine.
I digress, so, back to staying present. We are only alive in this moment and so learning to train our monkey brains away from the being in the past or racing ahead to the future can help us feel more balanced. When we face adversity, it can be essential to how we cope to think one day at a time. Even just one hour to the next. And this brings me on to the final topic of this post – time.
It is absolutely true that time heals. It just does. That’s no good when you’re in the immediate aftermath of something truly devastating but just keeping front of mind that however shit things feel now, time really does heal. When we experience grief or loss, something that I will talk about much more in future posts, we can cycle through lots of emotions over, sometimes, a long period of time. And, this process isn’t linear we can cycle back and forth between emotions such as anger, denial, sadness and even acceptance. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. But day by day, week by week, month by month we process and we gain strength so being patient with yourself is key. Just recognising this fact alone helps build resilience. When we know that what we are feeling is normal, and that with time it will pass, we take away a lot of the distress of trying to control our emotions.
My Dad once told me ‘everything will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, then it’s not the end’ For me, this always brings me back to a realistic optimism. That with time, things will be ok. Things can be really crappy, but on the whole, most things get better in time. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you hoped but you never know what’s just around the corner.
So, I will now end this epically long post. I think I may have gone way off topic at points but I hope that you’ve grasped the main points I was trying to get across: shit happens, to everyone, know that you are not alone. Connect with others, talk to others, seek help if you need it. Try and find the positives, the things to be thankful for. Accept things as they are, change the things you can change and don’t worry about the things you can’t. Make peace and let go. Stay present and allow yourself the time it takes to heal – one step at a time. Just keep going and trust that things do get better with time.