Revamping Resilience

I woke up Sunday morning in the cold embrace of my depression, like a dumbbell balancing on my chest, weighing me down. Tears waterfalled down my face, I blubbered with sobs but felt absolutely nothing. No motivation to dry off my tears, no motivation to move, no motivation to make myself feel better. I lay in bed all day, wrapped in warm blankets, falling in and out of depression-ridden dreams. Although I could logically tell depression was making me feel this way, I couldn’t help but believe that it was all my fault. Days passed and I started to get a little better but I still couldn’t rid the feeling that it was my fault that I always ended up feeling horrible, and it was my fault I wasn’t getting better — I just wasn’t resilient enough. I was wrong, however. I was being resilient. People should invest their time in increasing their resilience in order to sustain a healthy mental state.

Resilience is the ability of a person to adapt to new situations while preserving their mental and physical health. Resilience is a learned skill. A lot of people have misconceptions about resilience. Many believe that resilience is only used to describe someone who thrives through problems, with no emotions and no breakdowns. People have the misconception that people are born with an ability to be resilient and some people can just deal with things easier than others. People believe that there is a “right” way to be resilient. This is not true.

The most important aspect of resilience is that everybody can build it, no matter what situation they are in. Some ways to build resilience are to practice important skills. While they might not work right away, with patience, time and practice, the skills will be ingrained and our bodies will do them as automatic responses. Resilience helps us cope with stressors in a positive way. It can help lower sadness and enhance motivation. It can give us agency in situations where we feel out of control and remind us of our self-worth. Chronic stress can cause insomnia, depression, appetite dysfunction, and a weakened immune system out of many things. Although not all techniques might work for everyone, resilience can allow us to manage stress in a positive way and release our negative emotions. 

Resilience can look different in different situations and different to different people. My act of resilience on Sunday was allowing myself to feel my emotions, allowing myself to take a self-care day. Sometimes, resilience can look like laying under a blanket fort all day listening to sad music. Other days, it can look like finishing your week’s homework over the weekend so you can have a restful week. 

The first way to build resilience is to take care of all aspects of our lives. Imagine that our responsibilities are like spindles on a bike and we must bike up a steep mountain in order to be resilient. If we don’t take care of our physical health, one of our spindles will be shorter. If we spend too much energy on social interaction, that spindle will be longer than others and take away from the other spindles. This makes it hard for us to climb up that mountain. It is easiest to bike up when the spindles are all of the same lengths. Therefore, it is important for us to take care of ourselves holistically, including our mental, emotional, physical, interpersonal and academic health. This is a time-consuming, hard activity but committing yourself fully to bettering your health goals and putting in as much effort as you can is taking a step closer to being resilient.

Another way to build resilience is to “radically accept” the situation. “Radical acceptance” does not imply that we approve of the situation, rather, we realize that it is occurring and deal with the consequences. Humans tend to ignore hard situations and emotions. I have often tucked away my negative feelings so I don’t have to deal with them. Now, I radically accept that they exist by acknowledging them and either finding a way to make myself feel better in the moment or setting aside a time later where I will deal with the emotion. Radical acceptance allows for elevated happiness and reduced stress because we are not trying to actively ignore or find excuses for a situation that is occurring.

The other aspect of acceptance is to also realize that not everything lasts forever, especially not emotions. By allowing ourselves to realize that things are not absolute and situations will not stay the same, we can take a step back from our emotions and reevaluate how they truly affect us. Being present in the moment and accepting that things change with their due course can build resilience by making us remember that our feelings are not absolute, they can feel real in the moment, however, they only last for a short period of time and then change. Resilience reminds us that change is inevitable no matter if we are feeling good right now or bad.

While there are many ways you could build resilience, an important technique is creating a positive view of ourselves. A positive self view contributes to resilience by allowing us to understand that we can tackle problems thrown at us. High self-confidence makes us realize that we are able to handle, control and analyze adversities we face using a wise approach. This is hard, I’m still working on it. Things that help create positive self-view are self-acceptance, self-love and self-respect. Perhaps taking ten minutes a day to check in with our feelings is a way to take care of ourselves. Another way could be to understand our personal boundaries, set them and stick to them. We could also list our values and make decisions based on our values which could help us gain self-respect.

Resilience is all about practice. It won’t come easy, but anybody can build up their resilience to adapt and deal with their hardships. Building resilience can help us understand and deal with most situations — good, bad, stressful, painful, and understand and value ourselves. No matter if it’s lying curled up in the fetal position or cranking out a good essay in an hour — it is resilience because we are still fighting to create the healthiest situation for ourselves. 

While last week was not my healthiest week, I realize now, simply by forcing myself to go to one of my four classes, I was adapting to my situation and fighting back against my depression. I was being resilient.

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