Crisis is Opportunity for Youth to Build Resilience
When asked what characteristics in people create success, experts often include ‘resilience’ on their list. Resilience means coping with adversity in a positive way. When stress or trauma strikes, a resilient person still experiences anger, grief and pain, but they are able to keep functioning — both physically and psychologically. Problems in life are inevitable. Resilience won’t make your problems go away but it can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress.
- one of the most sought after qualities in the job market,
- a trait many appreciate in their friends,
- an indication of future success,
- a predictor of good health, including longevity and lower rates of depression, and
- associated with greater satisfaction with life.
People who lack resilience tend to dwell on their problems, feel victimized, become overwhelmed, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse. They tend to think that if their circumstances change, then they would be happier or more successful. In actuality, it’s not the nature of our adversity that is impacts our lives, but rather how we deal with it.
The good news is that if you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, research has proven that you can develop skills to become more resilient. Resilience is not something that some people are just lucky enough to have. It takes deliberate effort and researchers agree that it can be strengthened with practice.
Currently, the stress in our country is overwhelming. As we continue to deal with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are worrying about our physical health, job loss, finances, school closures, grief, and uncertainty about what the future holds. Our teens are also very worried. But rather than viewing the pandemic, or really any crisis, as a traumatic event or a source of suffering, consider the possibility that it’s the perfect opportunity for our adolescents to build resilience.
Tips to improve resilience
Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intention. Focusing on four core components — connection, wellness, healthy thinking and meaning — can empower you to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences. To help your teen develop resilience, tell them to use these strategies:
Build your connections. While resilience is all about managing adversity, it is not about “toughing it out” or going it alone. Research shows that resilient people have great support networks.
- Get connected. Being able to reach out to others for support is a key component of being resilient, so get connected with others. Build strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends. Join a community, such as a volunteer team, church or faith community, gym, civic group, club, or other group. When you have good relationships in place, those individuals can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad.
- Reach out. When a crisis hits, many times the pain of the traumatic event leads us to isolate ourselves, but research shows that is the exact opposite of what we should do. Instead, reach out to empathetic, trustworthy, and understanding people who can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. Prioritize genuinely connecting with people who care about you.
Foster wellness. Stress is not just an emotional response – it’s also physical. As a result, taking care of your body actually improves your mental health and builds resilience.
- Create positive lifestyle habits. Promote proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration, and regular exercise to better adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions like anxiety or depression.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Use methods for healthy stress management, such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, journaling, prayer, guided imagery, or deep breathing. These practices have been shown to help people restore hope and reduce anxiety.
- Avoid negative outlets. It may be tempting to scroll through social media or the news channels, but allowing these fearful messages unlimited time in your mind will only increase your stress and anxiety. Instead, limit the amount of time you allow bad news into your day. Additionally, it can also be tempting to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs or other substances, but these methods are ultimately unhealthy for both mind and body and create new problems.
Find purpose. Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Look for what you can learn from the crisis. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning. Finding purpose and meaning in our crisis develops resilience.
- Be proactive. Don’t ignore your problems. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan, and take action. Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event or loss, know that your situation can improve if you work at it.
- Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals and do something small regularly that moves you toward the things you want to accomplish. Break big goals into small, baby steps. Each day, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” Then pat yourself on the back for doing the small step instead of looking how far you still need to go to reach the big goal.
- Help others. Find a way to help other people. Whether you volunteer with a nonprofit or simply support a friend in their own time of need, you can garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, and connect with other people, all of which can empower you to grow in resilience. Research consistently shows that helping others when we are in pain reduces our own stress.
- Learn from loss. Studies show that people often report the most amount of personal growth during a struggle. Instead of feeling sorry for your situation, look for what you can learn. Resilient people find meaning in their challenges.
Embrace healthy thoughts. What you think about determines how you feel. If you keep imagining worst case scenarios, then your stress will increase. Resilient people monitor their thoughts and evaluate whether they are true. They work to eliminate negative self-talk that is unhelpful.
- Keep perspective. Try to adopt a balanced, realistic thought life. For example, during this pandemic, instead of thinking, “this situation is ruining my life,” remind yourself that this crisis will pass, “it will not last forever and I will survive it.”
- Accept change. Change is a constant part of life. When we resist change or fight things that are out of our control, we feel frustrated and overwhelmed. When we accept that change is inevitable and look for the positive things that the change might bring, we feel hopeful. For example, certain goals you had may no longer be attainable as a result of the pandemic, but there will likely be new opportunities that you never considered before available to you when the pandemic is over. By accepting circumstances you cannot control, you will then be able to focus on the things you can control. Anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
- Learn from past experience. Think of how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through rough times. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences. Knowing that you successfully overcame previous challenges can give you hope, ideas, and strength to face a new struggle.
- Replace negativity. When you notice you have a negative thought, offer three positive alternative thoughts. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way. While none of us want to face adversity in our lives, our attitude about it definitely impacts how much stress and anxiety we experience during the challenge. Our pain can reveal our potential. Help your teen adapt some of the strategies above to build resilience during the pandemic and you will be instilling in them a valuable skill for their lifetime.