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At the end of the day, you know what resilience techniques work for you

Resilience is a tricky thing. It would be hard to imagine a person who just is never affected by anything (although I am sure they exist). But, maybe resilience doesn’t have to be defined so strictly.

In fact, I don’t think I would ever say resilience is just one thing. It is many different things in many different moments. We are human and have hundreds of experiences every day let alone throughout a month or a year. These aren’t just individual experiences either. Some events, and stressors in particular, are so intense and happen nationally and globally affecting millions if not billions of people.

Knowing all of this, I would say it is fair to think resilience is something we all experience just by simply living another day.

We don’t have to stop there. Actually, the most common resilience path and response to stress is actually to feel worse, at least for a bit. So, if someone is feeling worse for a bit (and as they should when they are facing a stressful situation), perhaps we can reframe that as on the path to resilience. After some time, that feeling of “worse” tends to lift and we return to normal and potentially even feel better than before.

So, why am I saying all of this?

Because, although we are resilient, if you are anything like me, I am sure there are also times where you feel worn out or wishing the resilience process wasn’t so hard and jarring. Or sometimes the process doesn’t play out how we hope and we end up feeling worse. In these cases, maybe there is something we can do to be more resilient and take back the power within ourselves to overcome obstacles.

And there totally are ways to be more resilient. But which ways are the best? And do all of the different ways of becoming more resilient affect our own outcomes the way we think? There are hundreds of research articles out there looking at this question. Luckily, some researchers (Liu and colleagues, 2020) went through and looked at each one of these articles to assess the answers to these questions.

In their article, they found that there were 268 studies that collected over 1500 samples! From this huge number of studies, we should be able to make some conclusions? Right? Right. But, it does also bring to our attention a few more questions that we should be thinking about.

What to expect from this post:

  • A definition for resilience

  • A couple of examples of what these examples could mean for your actual day-to-day life.

Let’s start with a definition.

Definition of resilience – Anything that reflects an individual’s ability to recover or respond to challenges in an adaptive manner (something that made them not feel the effects of the stress that didn’t also damage them in the process). Some may say it is a trait within the individual and others characterize resilience as more about how the person is interacting with the environment. This leaves a pretty broad definition to work with and it allowed the researchers to look into studies that tried to increase resilience in well-studied ways (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy), but also in alternative ways (e.g., music therapy).

And that was the first main point of these studies the authors found: can we increase resilience? Yes. Does it matter for various outcomes? Yes. If you want more specifics, please check out our write-up of this report. What I want to do here is mostly give some real-life examples of how we can apply these findings.

A couple of examples of what these examples could mean for your actual day-to-day life.

Example 1: A positive example

I’ll start with a way we can think about the interventions that researchers used in this study that can actually help. One finding they found was that alternative approaches increased resilience. This means that things like listening to music or going to pet therapy actually made people feel more resilient. And this makes sense, right? Anything that can take the burden off of someone, will allow them to feel more resilient. We get stressed. There are so many reasons for people to be stressed. If someone is already stressed, and then something else happens that might change their life (e.g., their boss decides to ask you to finish a huge project before the deadline), then another thing happens (e.g., you come home and your partner asks you to make dinner), then another thing happens (e.g., your parents call and start talking about how disappointed they are in you), then another thing (e.g., you start to remember how poorly your colleagues treated you earlier today), then another thing (e.g., your stove doesn’t work), and, really, life is hard and more things could happen. You can see how this stress adds up and your resilience can wear thin. Now, here comes something that can help. Music. Turning to music when you are stressed could refuel you or decrease some of that negativity you were feeling and maybe also increase your positivity. This will clear your head enough, so then when more things occur (which they will), you can feel at ease and not so bogged down from those previous stressful occurrences.

Of course, the effects don’t have to just be in these small, everyday sorts of stressful events. They could also work for really large, insane events like a major unexpected earthquake that demolishes everything. Now, if it too stressful to imagine this, please don’t. But, hear me out. If something happens that is so uncontrollable, sometimes all we can do is focus on ourselves and emotions. Music is a great way to do that. It can allow us to zone out for a bit, escape the stress, clear our minds, feel through our emotions and even work through them a bit, and generally get in touch with ourselves. This will make us more resilient moving forward.

Buuuuuuut, let’s take these same examples and apply music again.

Example 2: A not-so-positive example

So, you are at home after a long day at work, you have things to do, more things keep happening that get in the way or make it worse. You want to turn to music to help because you heard that it can help build resilience. You start playing music and you just feel worse and worse about your day. You end up not doing anything and don’t want to talk to your partner. You become emotionally drained from listening to some heavy music. This is definitely possible. You may know yourself and think, yes that is exactly what would happen. Or, maybe let’s say you start playing music in the background as you start doing the other things you need to do that night. The music is loud and you are finding you aren’t able to concentrate. Then you are just sort of on edge and stressed out even more. If you aren’t in a place to allow the music to de-stress you or motivate you or uplift you, then it is just noise. In this case, you wouldn’t get a positive effect from music EVEN THOUGH RESEARCH WOULD TELL YOU THAT YOU SHOULD.

And that is completely okay! At the end of the day, YOU know best. You know how you respond and react to things. You know when certain things will help and when certain things won’t help. If you don’t, that is also okay. You can try things that research recommends. They will give you possible options and you will figure out what works for you.

This same concept and approach applies to any of the findings from this paper. Techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy – sometimes they work, and sometimes they make things worse. Social support – it can be great, but it can also not be great. Mindfulness – for some people it helps, and for others it does nothing.

Research is here to support you, but at the end of the day, your experience will always be more powerful.

Until next time, I hope you remain your resilient selves!


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