How many times in your life have you had to deal with severely adverse circumstances? Hopefully not too many, but challenging situations are just as much a fact of life as anything else. A lot of us read stories in the newspapers or hear about misfortunes befalling those we know and wonder how we would possibly cope if the same were to happen to us. How do the strong ones in life keep moving forward in the face of bad situations? Are some people natural born survivors?
The answer is that coping skills – emotional resilience – can actually be learned. Some people naturally do have more emotional strength or calmer nerves, but these traits can be practised and improved upon even in those who don’t feel very strong. The lessons learnt from survivors of terrible experiences like abuse, war zones and medical problems show us how:
Develop Your Support Network
Often it’s the people and resources around us that we’re able to draw courage from when times are tough. Your family, the community that you are a part of or even a religion can be vital in bringing you through an extremely challenging time. Knowing we’re not alone can be the first step away from getting caught in despair. We’re wired as social animals, and our brains depend on the support of others to function the best. The brain chemistry proves it – connecting with others releases oxytocin, calming your nerves and reducing the body’s physical response to stress. There is another upside too – more connections means that you can benefit from their relationships, spreading out into a vast network of resources and knowledge. Whether you need to find the best attorney for car accidents or the top specialist for an illness, often it’s who you know – or who your connections know – that can make the difference.
Face Up To Your Fears
As tempting as the ostrich effect can be when we receive some terrible news, resist the temptation to try and fool yourself into thinking it will all go away. Neuroscience tells us that there’s only one route to dealing with our darkest fears – and that’s to face up to them. In fact, exposure to challenges like this is what builds up our emotional resilience in the first place. When we avoid what scares us, we actually become more scared. Exposure to the truth allows our brains to form a new memory which reduces the fear response in the brain’s amygdala region. This is the basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which gradually exposes participants to what they are afraid of in a safe, controlled environment. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that you’re scared and allowing yourself time to adjust to a shock. But it's also necessary to tell yourself that you can learn from this.
Find Your Meaning and Morals
Those who feel they have a mission and purpose in life are more emotionally resilient than those who do not. When hard times come calling, they think a great purpose is at stake, which gives them the impetus to go forwards when they otherwise wouldn’t feel capable. Also, those who are more resilient were found to have a strong sense of right and wrong in their lives. They always think about others, not just their own situation, and this actually strengthens their resolve to continue and gives them a valuable perspective outside of their own trauma. So moral values aren’t just an abstract, but they’re something tangible to help us through adverse situations.