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4 best practices for building resilience during a challenging year

These strategies are useful for learning to recover during periods of adversity.

4 best practices for building resilience during a challenging year
[Photo: Stone Lyons/iStock]
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In times of heightened stress and pain, it takes more than trusting your ability to get over things. It takes resilience.

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The good news is that resilience is “a set of practical skills that can be developed with practice and patience,” Josh Altman, associate director of Adelphi University’s Student Counseling Center, tells Fast Company.

Recovering and learning lessons from failure or adversity is often a messy process. Many people neglect to sit with their feelings, which could help ensure they don’t make the same mistake again or feel the same level of stress in the future. Giving yourself time to gain this wisdom will allow you to reinvent yourself more effectively.

As we pass the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, here are a few basics to working on your resilience, so you can be prepared for whatever the future brings:

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1. Tailor your coping mechanisms

When dealing with stress or pain, it’s all about finding what works for you. Don’t feel odd if these coping tactics are a little ridiculous or simple. Activities such as journaling, exercising, or talking through your problems with someone you trust can help combat stress and anxiety. These methods shouldn’t be ways to avoid or distract yourself from the harsh feelings of failure or loss. But giving yourself space to rest and recover means you have time to absorb the bad experiences and build up the strength to bounce back.

A shift in mindset can also help you bridge challenging moments. Take a larger view of the situation and ask yourself “why” questions that help you refocus on your foundational purpose, grounding you in the process, and helping you gain perspective.

2. Seek out activities outside of your comfort zone

To build resilience, try giving yourself a new challenge each day. For instance, if you are teaching yourself how to code, try setting aside 20 minutes a day to practice with a classmate. Making piecemeal process on a big task can help improve your confidence and resilience. Other ways to challenge yourself might include learning a new skill, taking an improv comedy class, or putting yourself in any setting where you force yourself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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Sure, it might feel stressful at first, but learning how not to shy away from difficult emotions can help you build your endurance against life’s most menacing curveballs. People who are resilient are not individuals who effortlessly glide through life; they’re people who have experienced moments of hurt or challenge but maintain their ability to achieve.

3. Find people who understand and support you

Learning resilience is easier when you surround yourself with a supportive community that understands the adversity you’re facing and who can cheer you on when needed. Family members can be great supporters, but there are other ways to find support too. Look into joining a volunteer group or a civic organization, or pursuing a new interest.

Being surrounded by friends and family builds motivation, and the ability to endure through challenging circumstances. In a Stanford study examining passion and achievement, researchers found communities that prioritize interdependence (or a sense of connectedness to a larger group) displayed a greater sense of inner motivation.

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4. Take up a “bounce forward” mindset

Rather than thinking about “bouncing back” from a challenging situation, try “bouncing forward,” says Richard Citrin, author of The Resilience Advantage. “Bouncing forward” emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and adapting to a new reality, versus attempting to go back to how things were before the loss or challenge. “I see resilience as a much more comprehensive way of addressing stress by being prepared ahead of anticipated or potential stress,” he told Fast Company. “This approach to resilience means that we are armoring and vaccinating ourselves against challenges so that they are actually easier and more manageable.”

This ability requires more than just not dwelling on the past; it’s about finding the wherewithal to move forward. Adopting a forward-thinking mindset can help you avoid reactive behavior and learn to see past current stressors. Some adverse events may change things so that they do not go back to normal,” says Dr. Vanessa Kennedy, director of psychology at Driftwood Recovery, an addiction treatment center. “Adapting involves developing a new normal in which we can evolve and even thrive.”

“Bouncing forward” is a relevant mindset as we continue to weather the pandemic. For many people, going back to how things operated before won’t be possible—in the workplace, at home, or when it comes to how we treat our most vulnerable populations. Maintaining our resilience can mean committing to do things differently (and better) in the future.

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Correction: This article has been updated to attribute the idea of “bouncing forward” to Richard Citrin. 

About the author

Diana is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously, she was an editor at Vice and an editorial assistant at Entrepreneur

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