How much of a part does resilience play when it comes to dealing with emotional or psychological trauma? As it turns out, quite a lot. Resilience is the inner strength that allows you to adapt when you’ve been exposed to trauma or adversity. This characteristic is strengthened by optimism, which is the extent to which people feel positive and encouraged about their future. Studies have shown that those who are resilient and optimistic feel a higher degree of psychological well-being and are able to recover more quickly from disturbing events. These individuals are able to process stressful situations without becoming overwhelmed and can move through them without turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse. In broad terms, trauma is the emotional, psychological response to an intensely distressing experience or event. This trauma definition encompasses a wide range of challenges. Trauma can come from things like illness or injury, the loss of a family member or friend, losing a job or going through divorce. On the far end of the spectrum, there are severely damaging experiences, such as torture or rape. Traumatic experiences are subjective. Everyone processes an incident differently since we compare them to prior experiences in our lives. For example, one person might hear firecrackers and be reminded of how they burned their hand on a sparkler during their childhood. Another person might hear those same firecrackers and have a full-blown episode of post-traumatic stress and flashbacks because they were on active duty in the military and were injured or lost fellow members of their combat team when their unit came under fire overseas.
Building ResistanceResilience can help you see past your problems and make you better prepared to handle stressors. Being resilient can also guard against depression and anxiety or help you cope if you already have a mental health condition. The good news is that anyone can develop the trait of resilience. Resilience and optimism can be increased through:
- Building supportive relationships. Studies have shown that this is a significant part of resilience. These relationships can come through family and friends or they can be formed through other sources, such as your spiritual community, hobby groups or volunteering. Being accepted increases your confidence and provides you with encouragement when you are struggling.
- Being of service to others. Aside from distracting you from your own problems and letting you feel good about helping people, volunteering boosts serotonin levels to make you feel happier.
- Keeping a positive outlook. Accept that stressful things are part of life. Try to look past the problems you are currently going through and focus on the future, when you know things will be better.
- Setting realistic goals and working toward them. Taking small steps over time allows you to reach your goal and get past seemingly unbeatable challenges.
- Acting on your problems, whenever possible. Some things can’t be changed, but how you choose to fight adversity can help keep you from being a victim. Research for answers, develop a plan to overcome your difficulties. Sometimes, the simple act of doing something positive can help you feel more optimistic.
- Drawing on past experiences to build your resilience. Think about the last time you faced something difficult. What helped you move past the trauma? Who helped you by being supportive? What made you feel hopeful?
- Nurturing yourself. Get your sleep. Eat healthy foods. Work on your hobbies. Learn relaxation techniques, like mindfulness or yoga – both have been proven to reduce stress.
- Being proactive. Allow yourself to mourn your loss or feel distressed, but recognize when it’s time to take action and move forward.