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Surviving Tough Times by Building Resilience

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

In recent times, it appears that the world is constantly shifting from one crisis to the next. We have witnessed a worldwide pandemic, significant alterations in our daily routines, economic instability, and a tumultuous mix of political and social unrest, coupled with a series of natural calamities. Additionally, people are grappling with personal hardships like the loss of loved ones, deteriorating health, job loss, marital dissolution, instances of violence, and tragic accidents. For may of us, this represents an era marked by unparalleled challenges and turmoil.

Facing challenges and adversity

Whether the source of disruption in your life stems from a global crisis, a personal tragedy, or a combination of both, navigating challenging periods can exact a significant toll on your emotions, well-being, and perspective. It can leave you feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and consumed by stress and anxiety. You might find yourself grappling with profound grief over your losses, entangled in a tangle of conflicting emotions, or uncertain about how to proceed in your life. It's possible that you feel as if your life is entirely beyond your control, and you have no influence over what the future may hold.

Although it's impossible to evade sorrow, adversity, or distress in life, there are strategies to help navigate turbulent waters and regain a sense of agency. Resilience, in this context, refers to the capacity to cope with loss, change, and trauma — elements of life that have always existed, even before these extraordinary times. Fostering resilience can enhance your ability to adapt to life-altering circumstances, contend with tumultuous periods, and rebound from adversity and tragedy.

The significance of resilience during periods of crisis

Why do some people appear more adept at handling these challenging times compared to others? While each person's circumstances are unique, it holds true that those with resilience typically possess a greater capacity to endure the emotional turbulence that difficult periods can create. The higher your level of resilience, the more effectively you can manage the emotions of stress, anxiety, and sorrow that accompany trauma and adversity — and discover ways to recover from setbacks.

We all encounter tough phases, experience disillusionment, confront loss, and grapple with change, while also encountering moments of sadness, anxiety, and stress throughout our lives. Nonetheless, cultivating resilience can assist you in maintaining a positive perspective, confronting an uncertain future with reduced trepidation, and navigating even the most challenging of days.

Building resilience

If you find yourself more susceptible to emotional distress and are struggling to manage challenges or adversity, it's crucial not to view this as a personal flaw. Resilience is not a "tough guy" trait, and it's not something fixed; rather, it's an ongoing process that demands continuous effort to develop and sustain.

Unless you've previously encountered adversity in your life, you may not have had the opportunity to nurture resilience. Reflecting on past experiences can aid you in confronting the present challenges you face. Even if you've had difficulties coping with adversity in the past, you might, at the very least, recognise certain ineffective coping mechanisms, such as attempting to numb your emotions through substance use.

Although it can be challenging to envision any positive outcomes arising from traumatic experiences, building resilience can help you uncover silver linings in the trials you've endured. Surviving hardships can impart valuable lessons about yourself and the world, fortify your determination, deepen your empathy, and ultimately facilitate personal growth and development over time.

Fostering resilience can additionally enable you to:

  • Maintain concentration, adaptability, and productivity, regardless of the circumstances.

  • Reduce apprehension about unfamiliar situations and an uncertain future.

  • Effectively handle and endure intense emotions, including those that might be uncomfortable, such as anger or despair.

  • Enhance your relationships and refine your communication abilities, particularly during challenging times.

  • Reinforce your self-esteem.

  • Cultivate the confidence that you'll ultimately discover solutions to problems, even when they're not immediately evident.

You have the capacity to nurture and enhance these resilient attributes at any point in your life, regardless of your age, background, or situation. The following suggestions can assist you in confronting difficulties with increased self-assurance, effectively managing these turbulent moments, and navigating your way toward brighter and more optimistic days on the horizon.

1. Embrace Acceptance

As people, we all respond differently to stressful events, and often, we attempt to shield ourselves by rejecting the reality of the situation. Denying the existence of a crisis can sometimes provide a buffer, allowing us to process the shock of a traumatic event, for instance. However, sustained denial can ultimately prolong our suffering. Remaining in denial hinders our ability to adapt to new circumstances, obstructs problem-solving or proactive actions, and stifles the healing process.

Accept the current situation. Change is an inherent part of life, and many facets of the evolving world lie beyond our personal control. For instance, you can't dictate the course of a viral outbreak, the pace of societal shifts, or the behavior of the economy. Although it may be challenging to acknowledge, resisting events or circumstances beyond your control will only deplete your energy and lead to feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. On the contrary, accepting your circumstances can liberate you to allocate your energy to those aspects within your control.

Direct your focus toward controllable factors. Compile a list of elements you cannot influence and grant yourself permission to cease worrying about them. Instead, concentrate on actionable steps you can take. If you're unemployed, you may not be able to control whether the perfect job opportunity emerges in job listings or if an employer extends an interview offer. Nonetheless, you can control the time and effort you invest in job hunting or skill enhancement. Similarly, when a loved one confronts a life-threatening illness, you might need to relinquish control to medical experts, but you can still provide substantial emotional support.

Embrace change by drawing from your past. Reflecting on previous instances where you successfully coped with uncertainty and change can facilitate acceptance of your current circumstances. Perhaps you endured a painful breakup in the past and ultimately moved forward with your life, or you experienced job loss and subsequently secured a more rewarding position? Examining your past achievements can also bolster your confidence in overcoming the present crisis.

Acknowledge your emotions. The temptation to believe that concealing painful emotions and "putting on a brave face" is the best approach to navigate tough times can be strong. However, unpleasant emotions persist whether you choose to acknowledge them or not. Suppressing your emotions will intensify your stress, delay acceptance of your new reality, and impede progress.

By permitting yourself to experience your emotions, you will discover that even the most intense and distressing feelings will gradually subside, the trauma of challenging times will begin to recede, and a path forward will emerge. It is beneficial to confide in a trusted individual about your experiencesEnduring difficult times often entails experiencing some form of loss, whether it is the loss of a loved one, a job, or your former way of life. It is imperative to grant yourself the opportunity to grieve. Only by confronting and mourning your losses can you initiate the healing process and eventually transition into the next phase of your life.

2. Foster Connections with Others

During challenging times, reaching out to friends and family can alleviate stress, elevate your mood, and provide clarity amid the whirlwind of change and disruption. Instead of grappling with your problems in isolation, you can derive strength and cultivate resilience by having a support network.

The people you reach out to need not possess solutions to your predicaments; their willingness to listen without judgment suffices. In fact, the specifics of your conversations or the words chosen are often secondary. It is the human connection itself — whether through eye contact, a smile, or a comforting embrace — that can profoundly impact your emotional state.

Prioritise relationships. There is no substitute for the health benefits of face-to-face interaction with a compassionate and empathetic individual. Nevertheless, current circumstances may sometimes prevent in-person encounters with friends and loved ones, be it due to geographical distance, lockdown measures, or travel restrictions. In such cases, utilise alternative means like phone calls, video chats, or social media to stay connected.

Avoid isolation during tough times. When confronted with life's challenges, there may be a tendency to withdraw and isolate oneself. You might worry about burdening friends and loved ones or simply feel too drained to reach out. However, endeavour to maintain social activities even when your inclination is to withdraw. True friends won't view you as a burden; they are more likely to feel honoured that you have entrusted them with your feelings.

Steer clear of negative influences. While some friends exhibit empathetic listening and kindness, others may inadvertently exacerbate negative emotions, leaving you feeling even more stressed, anxious, or panicked. Make an effort to distance yourself from individuals who amplify your problems, criticise you, or foster a sense of judgment.

Broaden your social circle. While relationships are crucial for mental well-being, resilience-building, and navigating challenging times, many of us believe we lack a support system to turn to in times of need. However, there are numerous ways to forge new friendships and enhance your support network. If you are aware of others who may be feeling lonely or isolated, take the initiative to reach out and extend your support.

3. Prioritise Self-Care

Navigating challenging periods can exact a toll on both your mental and physical well-being. Prolonged exposure to heightened stress levels can lead to severe health issues, affecting your immune and digestive systems, elevating the risk of heart-related problems, and potentially resulting in burnout — an exhaustive state encompassing emotional, physical, and mental fatigue.

Given the intimate connection between the body and mind, investing in self-care becomes a vital component of resilience-building during times of significant stress. When your body feels strong and healthy, your mental state is likely to follow suit.

Engage in regular physical activity. Chronic stress often manifests physically, causing muscle tension, back or neck pain, frequent headaches, sleep difficulties, heartburn, or digestive discomfort. Regular exercise not only triggers the release of mood-enhancing endorphins in the brain but also helps alleviate bodily tension and counteracts the physical manifestations of stress.

Embrace "mind and body" relaxation practices. Approaches like yoga, tai chi, and meditation combine deep breathing and heightened body awareness to alleviate stress and restore equilibrium to your nervous system.

Enhance your sleep quality. Facing adversity becomes even more challenging when you're sleep-deprived. Making improvements to your daytime routines and dedicating time to relax before bedtime can contribute to better sleep quality.

Adopt a nutritious diet. While there may not be specific foods that directly boost resilience during tough times, the overall quality of your diet holds significance. Consuming an abundance of processed and fast foods can adversely affect your brain and mood, deplete your energy, and weaken your immune system. Conversely, a healthy diet — one that's low in sugar and rich in healthy fats — can provide the energy and mental clarity needed to confront the challenges at hand.

Manage your overall stress levels. Implementing strategies to manage overall stress can break its grip on your life, enhance your mood, and assist you in developing the resilience necessary to endure challenging circumstances.

4. Seek Meaning and Purpose

It's easy to become overwhelmed by alarming news headlines or consumed by the crisis at hand. However, regardless of your circumstances, it's crucial to remember that your identity is not defined by the crisis itself. You are not solely defined by the challenges you face. By engaging in activities that imbue your life with purpose and meaning, you can maintain perspective on your problems, prevent them from becoming all-consuming, and preserve your sense of self.

Each person's path to discovering purpose and meaning is unique. Avoid restricting yourself to conform to others' expectations; instead, pursue activities that hold personal significance and bring fulfilment to your life.

Extend a helping hand to others. When in the midst of a crisis, it's common to experience feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. By actively assisting others, you can regain a sense of control while also finding purpose in your existence. In fact, offering support can be as gratifying as receiving it. Consider engaging in volunteer work, assisting your neighbours, donating blood, contributing to a charitable organisation, or participating in causes that resonate with your values.

Cultivate your hobbies and interests. During tumultuous times, it's important not to neglect the pursuits that nourish your spirit. For many individuals, these pursuits define their individuality and infuse their lives with meaning. Whether it involves participating in a sport, tending to a pet, immersing oneself in artistic or musical endeavours, tackling home improvement projects, or communing with nature, continuing to derive enjoyment from your hobbies contributes to your ability to cope with the stresses of challenging circumstances.

5. Maintain Motivation

An integral aspect of handling adversity and enduring challenging times is nurturing qualities of persistence and resilience. While tough times are not everlasting, they often persist longer than we'd prefer. As you navigate your way through uncertainty, it's crucial to discover means of staying motivated and demonstrating perseverance.

Address your issues incrementally. If a problem appears too overwhelming to tackle all at once, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps. Even if it seems there's no immediate solution in sight, you can still take constructive actions, such as creating a list, conducting further research on the subject, or seeking guidance from a trusted friend or loved one.

Celebrate minor achievements. To sustain motivation and optimism during life's tempestuous phases, pause to savour your modest victories. For example, in the pursuit of employment, securing an interview may not be as significant as landing the job, but it represents progress and a step in the right direction. Recognising these small triumphs offers a respite from the stress and negativity you may be encountering and encourages you to persevere.

Cultivate a hopeful perspective. While maintaining a positive and hopeful outlook amidst a crisis can be challenging, it's important to acknowledge that we often magnify our problems and perceive them as more negative than they truly are. Take a step back and assess your situation from an outsider's perspective. Are there glimmers of hope to focus on? Instead of dwelling on feared outcomes, try envisioning the outcomes you desire.

Express gratitude. It may sound clichéd, but even during tumultuous times, there is usually something to be grateful for — the companionship of a beloved pet, a breathtaking sunset, or a supportive friend, for instance. Taking a moment to acknowledge gratitude for these small blessings can provide relief from stress and significantly elevate your mood.

Practice self-compassion. Each person adapts to change and upheaval differently. Refrain from criticising your coping mechanisms or berating yourself for any mistakes you might make. Self-compassion is an essential component of resilience-building, so be gentle with yourself.

Take home message

The key takeaway from all of this is that building resilience during tough times involves a combination of strategies. In essence, resilience is not a fixed trait but a set of skills and attitudes that can be developed and strengthened over time. It's about finding ways to adapt, bounce back from adversity, and maintain a sense of control and hope in the face of life's challenges.


Sally Edwards Counselling

I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent

I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours, self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems.

I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley

Face-to-face in person or online counselling

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