PART TWO: Are You Tough or Resilient? How They’re Different and Practical Skills to Increase Your Resilience

By: Sara Hunter, Wellness Advisor, OITE

In last week’s blog post, we noted some key differences between being “tough” and being “resilient”. Here are some basic tips to begin to move away from the ineffective and exhausting patterns of toughness to help move you closer to a more resilient self:

  1. Recognize setbacks as a part of the learning process: Resilient people don’t complacently invite setbacks (or like how they feel). Rather, they accept them when they happen, identify where they can have impact next time and adjust as needed.
  2. Practical Skill: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE – Identify what you can and can’t control. Shift your focus to your sphere of control. This is especially helpful if you’re prone to rumination, worry, and anxiety.  
  3. Practical Skill: SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE – Altering your cognitive appraisal or interpretation of a situation takes practice and intention but can be helpful in seeing setbacks as opportunities to learn, grow, and change. Build awareness around what cognitive distortions you may be prone to that keep you stuck in unhelpful thought and behavior patterns. Begin to write a story that is forward-focused and empowering.
  4. Listen to the wisdom of your body and emotions: Resilient people tend to have emotional intelligence that helps identify signals of distress from their body or emotions so they can respond to stress more effectively as opposed to react impulsively. 
  5. Practical Skill: RAINN – RECOGNIZE what emotions are coming up for you; ACCEPT what you’re feeling (judgment of our emotional response to difficult situations often creates more suffering); INVESTIGATE why this emotion is showing up so intensely for you; NON-IDENTIFY with the emotion or see it as one part of you – a piece of information in the larger picture – not the defining part of you; and finally, ask yourself, “NOW WHAT?” What do you want to with this information, in this situation, to respond intentionally instead of react impulsively?
  6. Practical Skill: “Name it to tame it” – When you simply name the emotions or difficulty of what’s showing up you are actually inviting the higher order functioning parts of your brain to step into the driver’s seat as opposed to letting your amygdala run the show.  When you name the problem, you aren’t making it bigger, as many falsely assume. Instead, you create a heightened sense of understanding (and therefore control) to more effectively decide how you want to deal or cope.
  7. Prioritize rest: Resilient people not only know how to rest but they value it because they fundamentally understand that we are not wired to be on all the time. There is a reason sleep has evolved as a constant part of our being. It’s necessary. We are not the anomaly to this truth so let’s stop trying to be. 
  8. Practical Skill: Schedule in periods of rest in your DAY, WEEK, MONTH, and YEAR; don’t wait until you “need” it because it will never feel like the right time. Create a list of down-time activities if you’re prone to worrying about “doing it right” or guilt-ridden free time. Also, get comfortable with doing nothing. Your worth is not solely based on your work and what you produce. Practice acting opposite to your impulse to reinforce this cultural sentiment.
  9. Practical Skill: Create a simple night-time routine that helps signal to your body and brain that you’re turning off. Be mindful of minimizing screen time and not eating or exercising too close to bedtime. Try separating your sleep area from where you do the rest of life. 
  10. Lean into discomfort: Resilient people aren’t worry-free. In fact, they feel stress and anxiety in the same way as everyone else. The difference is they develop tools to more effectively regulate their bodies and tolerate the discomfort stress creates in their lives, signaling to their brain that “they’ve got this” and it doesn’t need to go into overdrive (think flight, fight, freeze responses) to protect them.
  11. Practical Skill: ACT OPPOSITE to your impulse to avoid feelings of stress or discomfort. Build emotional muscles to expand your window of tolerance for stress. Some examples include: deep breathing, grounding skills, exercising, connecting with others, and journaling. As we practice skills to better manage the stress we experience, we become more equipped to move through it as opposed to avoid it (avoidance usually leads to it showing up stronger later). 
  12. Practical Skill: Seek support and feedback – You don’t live, work, or succeed in isolation, and therefore, your struggles shouldn’t play out in isolation. Carefully seek out support, whether it be from a therapist, mentor, or friend, who allows you to more effectively gauge where adjustments in your work can be made and gives you both internal and external resources to operationalize those changes.
  13. Take care of the basics: Resilient people can endure the ebbs and flows of life without feeling like they’re on a never-ending rollercoaster because there is a prioritization of routines that foster their well-being, even in the most difficult circumstances. 
  14. Practical Skill: Move your body in a way that feels fun and enjoyable at least once per day. And a bonus here – do it with someone else. 
  15. Practical Skill: Connect with safe and trustworthy people.
  16. Practical Skill: Sleep – We already covered this one.
  17. Practical Skill: Feed your body the way you would feed someone you love. 

Building our resilience and interrupting old patterns of toughness is an on-going learning process that requires self-awareness, practice, and self-compassion. If you’re unsure of where to start, simply pick one of the tips above and focus your energy there. If you want more information or resources on the tips briefly noted here or you’re in need of support as you’re finding a different way through stress then reach out to our OITE wellness team at OITE-wellness@nih.gov. We’re here for you.

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