Emotional “body blows” often come without warning. You’ve made a big mistake. You got fired. You got bad news from a medical test. Whatever the news is, you’re stunned and feeling disoriented or overwhelmed.
Even when you’re reeling, you often need to make key decisions or act. But finding the clarity and will to move forward in the face of adversity isn’t easy.
“Resilience is really fundamentally about the outcomes that we achieve in situations like that. It’s a process of keeping ourselves from spinning out toward dysfunction as opposed to spinning toward things that are going to help us move forward,” says Linda Hoopes, president of the consulting firm Resilience Alliance and coauthor of Managing Change with Personal Resilience.
There are some things you can do in the moment to help you “spin” in the right direction, she says. The goal is to give yourself a way to find the calm and clarity you need to make the best decisions in the situation. So, when you’re faced with a challenge and need to marshal instant resilience, try these tactics:
Get to a calmer state
When you’re absorbing shocking news, “your body is going into hyper-drive,” Hoopes says. Stress hormones are released, and your breath may become shallow. You may feel like your thoughts are racing. So, the first step to take is to try to calm those reactions so you can think more clearly. Breathing is one of the most important ways. Inhale and exhale deeply and deliberately.
Then, focus on something around you to get you into the present moment. Ask yourself: What is one thing I see around me? What color is in front of me? What sounds can I hear? Creating a focal point can help quiet your mind so you can think about your next steps, she says.
Identify your feeling
If you can name it, you can deal with it. Anne Grady, founder of the resilience and performance consultancy Anne Grady Group, advises clients to identify how and what they’re feeling. “When you start assigning physical sensations to it, you take its power away. Now you’re just observing,” she says. When you shift your focus to observer, you may have an easier time dealing with the discomfort of the situation. That degree of separation may help you gather your thoughts, too.
Find your chill
When Grady finds herself facing a significant challenge, she has go-to sources of soothing. For her, a few laughs often give her the relief she needs to bounce back. “Humor is a huge resilience-building strategy,” she says. She’ll tune in to Netflix for a comedy show or watch a bit of Comedy Central. Gratitude practices are another way to feel better in the moment, she says. Listening to soothing music or watching calming videos can also help you find an immediate moment of relaxation.
Get a reality check
It’s a common reaction to catastrophize when bad news hits, says Paula Davis-Laack, founder of the Stress and Resilience Institute, a resilience training firm. Avoid slipping into worst-case-scenario thinking, she advises. Find a trusted friend or mentor to gain perspective or write down your worst-case visions and think about the reasons they’re unlikely. In other words, reframe the situation.
Identify control points
Your writing or thinking exercise should also include the areas in which you have control or influence, Davis-Laack says. A simple resilience shortcut she teaches people is to assess the action steps you can immediately take to move forward. “It focuses you really quickly on where to put your time and energy,” she says.
Once you start to realize what you can control, you can begin to make a plan, she adds. “When you start to feel like you have the next step, your thinking, emotions, behaviors, reactions, and decisions become better, and you feel less stuck,” she says.
When tough times hit, it may seem easier to withdraw and isolate yourself. That’s usually not the best course of action, Davis-Laack says. “Because we don’t want to look vulnerable, we stop ourselves from actually reaching out to people who could potentially help us,” she says.
Finding a way to do something kind for others is a good way to get yourself centered again, Grady adds. “Acts of kindness are the single biggest thing you can do to increase your well-being in the moment. So when everything is going to hell in a handbasket, do something really nice for somebody else,” she says.
Once you’ve got yourself ready to deal with the situation at hand, you can work on cultivating more long-term resilience habits.