“Resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane—they bend rather than break. Or, even if they feel like they’re broken for a time, there’s still a part of them deep inside that knows they won’t be broken forever.” —Brad Waters in Psychology Today, 2013

For many years I have written books and articles to help patients and families deal with difficult events such as a stroke or brain injury.  All of us now face our own “difficult times,” and like the patients we take care of, a significant dose of uncertainty. Healthcare workers and their patients are on the front lines and could use a bit of help with the strategies that we have taught to those who came before them.

One of my favorite quotes is from an anonymous source, “Life is difficult just look at the faces of the people who have tried it.”

I believe that one of the most important life skills is “resilience.” It is the process of bouncing back from adversity and most importantly, growing from the experience. We can learn from an adverse experience and bounce back to our original baseline or beyond. Apologies to Buzz Lightyear for “To infinity … and Beyond!”

One of my catch phrases has always been to tell a new patient facing an illness or disability that, “You have a big choice facing you. You can remain upset and miserable for the rest of your life. Or, you can accept that you didn’t ask for this new problem, but it is here. I am here to help you get through it and will be here for the rest of the journey.” It is a true test of resilience.

Ask yourself how are you reacting to our current challenges? Are you anxious, depressed or even angry? Or, you may be optimistic and positive in the face of daily stressors. Different people have different levels of resilience and we may cope well in one situation and poorly in another. We need both physical and psychological resilience. Some of it is hard wired, but we can all learn to be more resilient. 

Who is resilient?

Stay with me as I get a bit technical. Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their control), have control over the outcome of events in their lives. Resilient people have an internal locus of control. They believe that they have control over their fate and the perception that their choices and behavior make a difference. People with an external locus of control believe that what happens to them is by chance and nothing they do matters. You want to be the resilient person with an internal locus of control.

The good news? Resilience can be learned or improved upon. It is important since resilient individuals not only have a better mood, but also a better quality of life. Now, who wouldn’t want that?

Resilient individuals have certain characteristics:

  • Good adaptive skills
  • Flexible nature
  • Optimism
  • Strong social support
  • Less depression
  • More willingness to participate in activities

But wait. This wasn’t a test where three out six is a good or a bad score.  However, if you want to improve your skills, here are some things to try.

Things to improve resilience

  • Exercise decreases fatigue and increases energy levels
  • Humor—try to laugh more
  • Preserve an element of hope
  • Live in the moment
  • Set realistic goals and note your progress; perfectionism makes it hard to be resilient
  • Attempt new challenges
  • Find meaning and purpose in your life
  • Join social groups including online activities
  • Have a hobby

This is the hard one for many people. Disconnect from technology and the television for a period each day. It can be difficult to be optimistic if you are constantly bombarded with what you perceive as “bad” news.  

You might be surprised to learn that this can be more difficult for younger individuals.  Us “old folks” tend to be more resilient because we have had to deal with life changes like, illness, deaths of loved ones and friends and the usual “setbacks” that come with a long life.

Can you do this? Of course.   

Will it be easy? Probably not.   

Is it worth it? Absolutely!

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