Global pandemics such as COVID-19, natural disasters, and many personal tragedies are out of our control - disrupting our lives and leaving us feeling anxious and helpless. However, we can endure and even grow through these crises by consciously strengthening our resilience. 

As humans, we all have seeds of resilience within us as part of our survival instinct. Activating these seeds takes an awareness of thoughts that either strengthen or diminish our resilience, and practicing the behaviors that are proven to build strong coping skills. Like other abilities, resilience becomes stronger the more it's practiced. 

The Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Military, and many other organizations have recognized the power of resiliency and have developed programs to teach it. From their work, the Mayo Clinic reports that resilience can help protect us from depression and anxiety, and also mitigates the effects of trauma and improves the ability to cope. Multiple research studies in resiliency have uncovered these particular attitudes and habits as huge predictors in rebounding from adversity: self-awareness, self-care, connection, optimism, and goal-setting. Strengthening these facets of your life can deepen your resiliency reservoir, and support you in managing workplace and life adversities with more confidence and less stress. 

As Carl Jung said, "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." The ways in which we think play a vital role in our resilience, and is a great place to start building.

Assessment and Self-Awareness

  • Take your mental temperature. Check in with yourself to get a sense of your current resilience. How able would you be to cope with an unexpected hardship or loss? Are you happy? Feeling healthy?  Or, do you need support with a situation that is currently impacting you? Knowing your baseline can help you identify which resources to tap into to start getting stronger. 

  • Keep things in perspective. Avoid catastrophic thinking-resist thinking that a problem is insurmountable. Often, you can't change events but you can change the way you interpret them. Tell is like it is, not how you fear it will be. Identify what is controllable and focus your attention and energy on that. Remind yourself of times when you've handled a hardship. Lean on the evidence that you've done it before, and the confidence that can do it again, getting help if you need it. 

  • Practice eavesdropping on your inner voice. Does it support you or add to your worry, and feelings of being overwhelmed? Are you telling yourself, "You can get through this. You've handled other challenges and are capable of getting through this one." Or does your inner voice criticize and undermine you? Awareness of negative thought patterns can empower you to re-channel your focus into a more positive and hopeful direction. It's helpful to remember that what you focus on gets stronger.

Improving Your Resilience

  • Focus on self-care. It may seem selfish, but self-care is absolutely essential in resilience. Eat a healthy diet, exercise your body, get plenty of sleep, and do things you enjoy in life. Find a practice that helps you feel calmer, like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, or prayer. When you feel good physically, you will feel more confident and able to handle the obstacles that can appear in your path. You'll also have the benefit of improving your quality of life with good health so you can enjoy it. 

  • Connect with others (from a safe distance). The Mayo Clinic finds connection to be a " key component of being resilient." Connection with others can help us see new perspectives and possibilities, and give us the experience of giving and receiving empathy. For people struggling with depression, isolation is common and can reinforce feelings of hopelessness and despair. If this is true for you, don't go it alone. Set up phone calls and video chats with trusted family and friends, and people in your spiritual and other communities.

  • Embrace optimism. Maintain courageous hope even if you don't have the answers yet. Identify at least one good thing in your life and allow yourself to feel gratitude for it Make a list of things you are thankful for and keep it close by, like on your desk or nightstand. Don't be afraid to refer back to it often. If you want to add to your list, why not perform a random act of kindness? Smiling also has surprisingly powerful effects. Multiple studies found that smiling (even if it's faked) can decrease the physiological aspects of stress, such as heart rate. 

  • Set goals for yourself. Consciously do something each day that is meaningful to you. Expand this into the future and set a goal for yourself that you'll look forward to achieving and that will add to your sense of life purpose. It's fine to start with small goals. As you accomplish them, you'll likely feel more optimistic and inspired to reach for the bigger, more meaningful life goals.

Additional tips for improving your coping skills include:

  • Be flexible. Inflexible thinking can lock you into unproductive patterns of behavior. Challenge your thoughts, especially when you catch yourself being inflexible about something you can't change.

  • See setbacks as temporary. Trust that you'll come out all right on the other end of a crisis. It may take longer than you think, but that doesn't mean you aren't capable of surviving-or even thriving!

  • Take action. Don't let problems get so big that you can't act. Even "baby steps," can help you get a grip on problems before they get out of control.

If you are a member of First Choice Health EAP, you can check out the Resilience Journey on our EAP website with articles, assessments, and an inspiring webinar. The EAP can also support your efforts with coaching and personal counseling. Call us at (800) 777-4114 to get started or for immediate telephonic support, 24/7. 


Posted In:  Behavioral Health EAP Health and Wellness

About Heather Ford

Heather Ford is the Director of First Choice Health Employee Assistance Program. She is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) with a Masters of Clinical Social Work, and a breadth of experience including inpatient and outpatient mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and juvenile probation. Heather previously served as an active duty military social worker for almost 10 years including a deployment in Iraq.