No matter your age, resilience is a skill that can improve with practice, to the benefit of your emotional and physical health.
Life is full of stories of people being tested in remarkable ways. One such story involves Dennis Charney, a physician who studies resilience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York City. Leaving a deli a year ago, Charney was shot by a disgruntled former employee, and found himself in intensive care. As he recovered, he faced his academic discipline in a new way.
“After 25 years studying resilience, I had to be resilient myself,” Charney told The New York Times. He then shared an insight that should be reassuring to anyone who feels challenged by the idea that they can recover from a trauma or other negative experience: “It’s good to be prepared for it, but it’s not too late once you’ve been traumatized to build the capability to move forward in a resilient way.”
Like anything else, being resilient takes practice, in the same way that being physically fit requires regular exercise. Here are three ways Charney shared to strengthen your resilience muscles:
1. Rewrite Your Story
The stories we tell about our challenging moments can define our emotional experience of those moments. Studies show people can benefit greatly from reframing their stories in different—even positive—terms. If you’re not ready or able to do that, try asking yourself questions about a negative experience. Simply the exercise of checking in with fresh eyes to review what happened can help re-set your thoughts and feelings.
2. Remember Times You Have Bounced Back
The temptation when crisis hits is to compare our experiences to those who have it worse than we do. But far more helpful, experts say, is to compare your experience to times when you have suffered before. Chances are, you can identify concrete ways in which you coped with your challenge and eventually—to any extent—were able to recover from it.
3. Practice Healthy Stress Management
Being resilient in the face of adversity requires a lot of energy. That means good stress management is key to finding the strength to bounce back from challenging events. Giving yourself space each day to care for your inner self, whether through meditation, reading, walking or other activities that relax you, signals your brain that it can rest too.