Posted by: RealisticRecovery | July 9, 2009

Bouncing Back: Building resiliency to deal with setbacks

Bouncing Back: Building resiliency to deal with setbacks

By Kirsten Harrell
Published on (

You are walking through your neighborhood enjoying a beautiful sunny day. Suddenly you hear the sound of a dog barking. It sounds like the barking is getting closer. You look behind you and notice that the ferocious dog from down the street is loose and running directly toward you! A wave of fear rushes through you. You are close to your house, so you start running for your front door. The dog is gaining on you, but you are able to reach the front door before the dog. Ahh… relief! You are safe!

However, once inside the safety of your home, you notice that your heart is still pounding, you’re still breathing fast, and you’re muscles are tight. In order to relax, you begin to tell yourself that you are safe and that the danger is over. You sit down and start some deep breathing. You allow your shoulders, legs, and other tense muscles to relax and loosen. You relax and your body returns to its normal state.

Now imagine your body going through something similar each time you perceive danger (whether real or imagined). When you encounter something that you perceive as dangerous, your body goes through a series of changes. This stress response (also known as the fight or flight response) involves a variety of physiological changes that prepare the body to run or fight. The moment you perceive a threat, your cerebral cortex sends a danger message to your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that is responsible for switching on the stress response. Your hypothalamus then signals the sympathetic nervous system to prepare the body to fight or flee from the danger.

In anticipation of the need to fight or run, your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure all increase. Your blood moves from your extremities and your digestive system to your large muscles (legs and arms) so that you can run fast or fight hard. During the stress response, your adrenal glands secrete corticoids, which inhibit any non-essential processes such as digestion, reproduction, growth, tissue repair, and the immune response.

All of these physiological changes can be life saving if you are faced with a serious physical threat (such as running from a vicious dog). The problem is that if you are experiencing this stress response everyday to events that are not life threatening (traffic jams, deadlines, and work difficulties), your body goes through the stress response when it is not necessary. Over time, chronic stress can cause stress-related diseases or exacerbate existing health problems. In addition, your ability to handle stress diminishes, making it harder to bounce back from each event.

There are major life stressors such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, health crises, divorce, death, and unemployment. Then there are the minor daily stressors such as traffic jams, arguments, deadlines, and computer problems. Because you are constantly facing stressful events and setbacks, it is important to learn appropriate coping skills so that you can increase your resiliency. Resilience refers to the process of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life events. Resilient people tend to bend rather than break during difficult times. Being resilient does not mean that you are unaffected by stress, it simply means that you are able to bounce back after difficult or stressful times. Resiliency is not a trait that you either have or do not have. It is a group of skills you can learn and practice in order to increase your resiliency.

Resiliency is a way of life and not one simple action that can be applied during stressful times. It is important to practice these ideas even during the good times. If you don’t, you may be caught totally unprepared for a difficult period. The following are 10 suggestions to help you build resilience.

Relaxation Response – One of the most important coping skills is the relaxation response, because it turns your stress response off. The relaxation response decreases your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. It is very important to learn how to elicit the relaxation response so you can recover from the negative effects of stress. To get the best benefit, you will need to practice the relaxation response daily.

To practice the relaxation response, find a comfortable position in a quiet space. Make sure you will have 10-20 minutes of uninterrupted quiet time. Close your eyes and allow your body to begin to relax. Pick a word (such as peace) to focus on during this exercise. As you allow your body to relax, focus your mind on your word or mantra. Repeat it over and over in your mind. When other thoughts arise (and they will), imagine placing them on a cloud and allow them to drift away. Then, simply and gently bring your awareness back to your focus word.

Positive attitude – While it is easier to maintain a positive attitude when life is going well, you can also choose a positive attitude during difficult times. It is important to broaden your perspective and look at the big picture. Remember the good things in your life. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Having a positive attitude can help you move through the difficult times and maintain hope for the future.

Stay focused – It is important to stay focused on your goals and solutions rather than on the problems that are present. Take some time to develop a vision of where want to go and then make some appropriate goals. Everyday take steps toward your goals. If you are overwhelmed and have trouble getting started, break your tasks into smaller steps. No matter how small the steps are, at least you will be moving forward and not staying stuck in the inertia that happens when you are overwhelmed.

Be flexible – Resilient people know when to bend and sway. You may feel that the current events or problems are barriers on your path. However, sometimes these detours on the road of life take you down a new road that is more profitable, successful, and/or healthy. In other words, sometimes these obstacles are blessings in disguise. Stay open and flexible.

Express your emotions – Emotions are a natural part of life. It is perfectly normal for feelings to ebb and flow. Resiliency requires you to allow your emotions to flow freely and for you to express these emotions. You may choose to talk about your feelings with close friends and/or with a professional. Writing about your emotions in a journal can also be helpful. Expressing and processing your emotions in a safe way will allow you to move through the painful emotions rather than getting stuck in the quagmire of unresolved emotions.

Self-care – A self-care routine is a vital part of well-being and resiliency. It is important to take time for yourself everyday. Taking care of yourself on a routine basis will help you stay in top shape physically and mentally. This, in turn, will help you handle life’s challenges better. Make a list of positive activities that make you feel good. Be sure to do something from your list everyday, especially during difficult periods. Here are some things you may include on your list: hot bath, reading, meditation, exercise, music, funny movies, prayer, playing with pets, time with children/loved ones, etc.

Social support – Studies show that people with a high level of social support are more resilient. It is important to build a good support system that you can rely on in times of need. It is important to ask for help and support when you need it. Take time to evaluate what things you can do and what things you need assistance with and then ask your support network for help. Be sure to cultivate your support system when things are going well so that you have one in place when you really need it. It is very difficult to build a support system in the midst of a crisis.

Another important aspect of resiliency is offering help to others. Research shows that giving support can be as helpful as receiving support. Even when you are in the middle of a crisis, take time to reach out to others in need. Think about how hurricane survivors pitch in and help each other as they rebuild their homes and their lives.

Self-discovery – Everything that happens to you provides you with an opportunity to learn about yourself. No matter how difficult and painful the experience, there are always seeds for growth and opportunity. Sometimes these seeds are hard to find, but if you look you will find them. Be open to the personal growth that can happen during and after life crises.

Humor – Having a sense of humor will help you move through setbacks more easily. Laughter has been shown to boost immunity, lower blood pressure, and increase positive emotions. Despite the very serious nature of many setbacks, finding some humor can help you feel better and cope more effectively with the circumstances.

Spirituality – Spirituality is a big part of resiliency. Having a deep spiritual belief system will help you move through difficult times. For many spiritual people, a belief in divine will, destiny, or karma helps them let go of the things they cannot control. Many spiritual beliefs help people develop an understanding that everything happens for a reason. Spirituality creates a sense of aliveness or vitality that is powerful and invigorating.

Remember that resiliency is a way of life and requires you to incorporate these coping strategies into your daily life. As you increase your resilience, you will find that you handle stressors more readily and bounce back more quickly from crises and pitfalls. You will be a resilient person who can move through life with grace and dignity no matter what happens.

Author’s Bio is a premier wellness site and supportive social network where like-minded individuals can connect and support each others’ intentions. Founded by Deepak Chopra’s daughter Mallika Chopra, aims to be the most trusted and comprehensive wellness destination featuring a supportive community of members, blogs from top wellness experts and curated online content relating to Personal, Social, Global and Spiritual wellness.

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