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Resiliency is a word you hear a lot these days, but what does it actually mean? According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is: “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress…It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Building your resiliency skills can help you face life’s ups and downs more evenly, enabling you to be able to handle change and adversity when they come along.
So what can you do to make yourself more resilient? These five tips can get you started:
- Build your self-esteem and use coping thoughts.
Remember your strengths and accomplishments when you are feeling down. You can pick big things, like getting into UW or a sports victory, or small, like holding the door open for someone. Think about a time that you went out of your way to help someone.
Use coping thoughts to remind yourself that an upsetting situation is temporary. If you are struggling to get along with a roommate, remind yourself that you’ll be moving out in four months. If you don’t enjoy the subject matter of a course, remind yourself that the class is only 12 weeks long and then you’ll have a new set of courses you might enjoy more. For more information about coping thoughts, watch our Managing Emotions seminar.
- Give yourself a break.
Take time to engage in activities that promote self-care. Set up a weekly call with a friend, family member, or mentor back home and keep them up to date on your accomplishments big and small. They can help remind you of good times you’ve had and strategies that have worked for you in the past.
Find an activity you enjoy that engages your brain creatively that isn’t studying like doing a puzzle, drawing, planting a garden, learning to knit, playing a musical instrument, or singing. For more ideas about positive self-care activities, see our Big list of self-care and distraction activities (PDF).
- Practice positive self-talk.
Take a good look at your thoughts and what you tell yourself day-to-day without even realizing it. Sometimes we suffer from patterns of thinking called cognitive distortions. For example, you might often turn to overgeneralization, where you see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
Imagine you ask someone on a date and they decline. If you were overgeneralizing you might think “I’m never going to get a date. No one will ever want me.” When in reality, this current rejection only applies to one possible date in a whole lifetime of dating possibilities. To practice positive self-talk in this instance, you might instead tell yourself, “This time it didn't work out, but that doesn't mean I won’t go out with someone else. I have lots of great qualities and I just need to find the right person.” For more information about cognitive distortions, watch our Challenging Thinking seminar.
- Set goals and engage in problem-solving.
Help yourself during difficult times by completing a six-step plan: First, identify the problem you are facing and state the problem as clearly and objectively as you can. Then, take a moment to understand the problem – have you faced it before and what did you do then? What would be different if the problem were solved? Next, brainstorm possible solutions, trying to generate at least five solutions without any judgement about what would work best. Then, compare your options, listing pros and cons of each and eliminating the least desirable or actionable options.
Then you’ll be ready to choose a solution. Rank your possible plans in order of preference and make a plan to carry out what you’ve chosen. The last step is to take action on the plans you’ve made. Set effective and achievable goals for how to do what you intend to do and do them! For more information about values, problem-solving and goal setting, watch our Strengthening Motivation seminar.
- Develop a growth mindset.
The idea of fixed versus growth mindsets was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that traits and qualities are fixed (ie. I am either smart or I am not smart), hide their struggles, try to avoid discomfort and mistakes, and are overly focused on results. People with a growth mindset tend to believe that knowledge and abilities grow with effort, that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning. They look at mistakes and figure out how to correct them for the future, and seek out feedback as an opportunity to improve.
To move to a growth mindset, try listening to your inner voice: is it negative? Does it believe that things will never get better? Next, recognize that you have a choice to change those patterns of thinking, allow yourself to understand that you can change and grow through experiences. Then, talk back to your fixed mindset voice with a growth mindset voice (for example, “With effort, I can do something I find difficult and it will get easier”). And lastly, use your growth mindset to take action towards your goals. For more information about fixed and growth mindsets, take a look at our Cultivating Resiliency seminar.
As with everything, practice is key to building your resilience skills. Take time for self-care in your week, try to remind yourself to use positive self-talk, coping thoughts, and growth mindset statements, and don’t feel down if it doesn’t all happen at once. Making positive change takes time, so start small and work these strategies in at a pace that feels achievable.