Connect with others
difficult times, it is common to want to withdraw from
the world. This can be for varied reasons, such as
feelings of shame, the fear of being judged, or not
wishing to be a drain on others.
Although there is
nothing wrong with wanting solitude during difficult
times, it is also important that you stay in touch with
people, at least to an extent.
Research shows that the risk of developing
post-traumatic stress disorder is higher for people who
lack post-trauma social support (bear in mind that, even
if you have friends and family, if you avoid seeing or
talking to them entirely, then it will be impossible for
them to help you).
who choose to connect with others and nurture their
relationships, as opposed to isolating themselves, tend
to become better at coping with a hardship and growing
through their experience.
The emotional and instrumental
social support you get from your intimate relationships,
and from your communities, can also give you the
motivation to handle stress in a healthy way.
when difficulties are overwhelming, try reaching out to
others who can provide support.
There are a few
different ways you could do this. One is simply by
talking about what you're going through. It can be
frustrating to talk to someone who just pretends that
they're listening or who is judgmental, so try to find
someone who is accepting and good at listening.
could also try letting them know in advance that all you
need is to be listened to.
Another approach is to ask
specifically for instrumental help, such as information,
advice or help with daily tasks. More resilient people
are usually aware that they can't solve every problem on
You might find it especially difficult to ask
for help if you're used to handling problems on your
own, or if you see relying on others as a sign of
Try to remember that it takes courage to ask
for help, and being in need simply means that you're
are a few more ideas for how to connect with others and
If you exercise or go for a walk, try
inviting someone else along.
Make a commitment to call
or email loved ones regularly.
Make use of the power of
play - laugh with friends or get silly.
If there are
social groups that share a common interest or hobby of
yours, join them to exchange ideas or to get to know new
Support others informally or through volunteer
organizations; helping others makes us feel happy and
importantly, don't wait for a disaster to occur to
connect; make sure you have supportive relationships
that nurture your sense of self-worth and need for
intimacy, which in turn can contribute to resilience.
you're physically distant from your loved ones, look for
ways to socially connect on a regular basis.
presence and support of a small number of people you can
rely on can make a huge difference when adversity
Accept and focus on what
you can control
seven years ago, I was diagnosed with peripheral
neuropathy, which is a type of nerve damage.
this chronic condition manifests itself as a constant
sharp pain and burning sensation on my feet. My life was
miserable for six months before the diagnosis, and the
pain was unbearable.
I could barely walk for five
minutes at a time. Upon the diagnosis, I was prescribed
medication that eased my pain.
Although it's manageable
now, the pain is always there, and I'll probably be on
medication for the rest of my life.
For the first few
months, I had difficulty accepting this. Back then, I
was 35 and had been
physically very active before developing this illness.
At least a hundred times I asked myself how it was
possible. Rejecting and blaming myself, others or the
world seemed to provide some relief but it didn't get me
one day I decided to stop wrestling with my pain and to
start acknowledging it. This didn't mean that I liked
the situation - I hated it - but it provided me with the
space to start being proactive and to find effective
The more I accepted my situation and
my pain, the less pain I felt.
study that involved experimentally inducing pain in
62 men and women showed
the effectiveness of acceptance - those taught
acceptance experienced less sensory pain compared with a
control group who used simple distraction.
that acceptance is not about giving up or
about gently noticing what's going on, and allowing
unpleasant experiences to exist, without attempting to
change or deny them.
With acceptance, you can choose to
do what really matters to you and follow your values
A Liberated Mind (2019), the American
Steven Hayes, the founder of
ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), explains
acceptance wonderfully, writing that it allows us to
'feel and remember fully in the present' thereby
recognizing all our experiences, including the painful
ones, as gifts.
'They are not all sweet smelling - some of them are
tearful and fearful - but they are all precious.'
acceptance led to action.
Instead of banging my head
against the wall, I chose to be proactive and redesigned
running was impossible, but I could swim, walk
for half hour, or work out with weights as long as I was
As a lecturer, I loved standing and moving
around, but I learned to be seated in the classroom for
at least some of the time.
I planned my travels and
holidays in a way that would not vastly increase my
pain, such as taking shorter walks in the city or
avoiding long queues.
adversity strikes, ask yourself 'What am I able to do in
this situation?' and redirect your energy towards issues
that you can influence.
In the case of the current
pandemic, of course you can't fight its existence, but
by gently accepting it with all its limitations and
unpleasantness, you'll have the opportunity to turn your
attention to the things over which you do have control.
As one of my
favorite thinkers, the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in
Man's Search for Meaning
'When we are no longer able to change a
situation… we are challenged to change ourselves.'
Practice staying with the
discomfort of certain emotions
you're like many people, you might try to avoid your
uncomfortable emotions by pushing them away.
think that this gives you control...
The trouble is, even
if you have temporary success in regulating the
discomfort this way, when you use avoidance as a default
coping strategy, it will become counterproductive and
keep you from becoming resilient to life's stressors.
study involving dozens of volunteers showed how, the
more that people tried to avoid or control their
emotions on a given day, the less they tended to enjoy
their activities that day, and the more negative
emotions they felt.
When you think about it, this is
intuitive - of course it will be a challenge to enjoy
life if you constantly avoid emotions or try to stop
them, because you won't be able to focus on the present
moment, nor will you have the resources you need to
truly engage in your daily tasks and activities.
it's okay to use avoidance in certain circumstances to
regulate your emotions, but don't let it become
try to establish a different kind of
relationship with your emotions...
For example, the next
time you feel tough emotions, rather than pushing them
away, ask yourself what exactly you're feeling.
using generic phrases such as 'I'm feeling bad' and try
to be as specific as possible, such as,
Labeling your emotions
will help decrease their intensity.
Be curious and learn
more about them.
What's the emotion telling you?
If you're feeling disappointed because your
son has lied to you, your emotion might be pointing to
the value of honesty in your life.
Some emotions do feel
difficult, but every emotion has a function.
great sources of information about you, your values, and
whether there are things that you want to change in your
Distance yourself from
career coach and psychotherapist, I've seen many clients
over the years who have become stuck in the destructive
stories they tell themselves about a situation or event
in their lives.
We constantly tell ourselves stories
about what kind of a person we are, about our
relationships or our lives in general.
Although this is
a useful process to make sense of our thoughts, some of
them aren't helpful.
For example, after a divorce, some
of my clients believe that they are a failure, that they
will never have a loving relationship again, or that
they will always make poor choices.
thoughts are just thoughts, they don't necessarily
reflect the complete truth.
When people believe these
kinds of self-related thoughts, they often either avoid
or withdraw, both unhelpful coping strategies in the
these kinds of situations, I help my clients separate
from their thoughts; that is, to put a distance between
themselves and their thoughts.
In ACT, this is referred
to as defusion.
defuse, we look
our thoughts, not from them.
This doesn't mean
that a particular thought will disappear, but it does
mean that you're choosing not to be driven by its
You simply step back and observe your
thoughts as they come and go.
Going back to the divorce
example, when my clients think that they're a failure or
that they'll always make poor choices, I ask them to see
if they can look at these thoughts just as words, not as
technique I find particularly helpful is thanking
Your mind might be telling you all sorts
of stories, but you can literally thank your mind by
'Thank you for your opinion, but I'm good,' or 'Thanks, I hear you. I think I'll pass,' or
fine, thank you. Anything else?'
This exercise will show
you that you have a choice, to either believe your
thoughts and go where they want you to go (for example,
withdrawing from social life), or to recognize them, but
not get caught up with their content, and instead go
where you want.
you face a hardship, step out of your story by observing
it and seeing your thoughts merely as thoughts, not
Remember, you don't have to believe in every
story you tell yourself.
Reframe difficulties as a
strategy for building resilience is to find growth
opportunities in adversity.
Many people have told
me they've found this especially useful for coping with
unpleasant emotions and negative thoughts during the
For instance, I have a colleague with two kids
who said he is grateful for the extra time with his
children, now that he's working from home.
A client told
me that, despite being isolated from family for a long
time and feeling frustrated and scared, she is looking
at the pandemic as an opportunity to do some inner
reflection and to learn to be more comfortable with
who generally view stressors as a challenge and an
opportunity to grow, as opposed to perceiving them as a
threat, are indeed likely to cope better with them and
less likely to experience negative wellbeing outcomes.
You would be surprised how many opportunities one can
find in a stressful situation, or even a traumatic life
event - looking at things this way is known formally as
'cognitive reappraisal' or 'cognitive reframing'.
help cultivate this mindset and support your resilience,
try asking yourself questions such as,
'What can I learn
from this situation?'
'What opportunity is there for me
'What could be beneficial about this negative
'Is there anything I can be grateful for?'
mistake this approach for positive thinking, though.
You're not denying the negative or trying to make
yourself think positively.
you're turning your
situation into a source of inspiration and finding
meaningful opportunities in it.