A broken boiler floods your basement. You miss a crucial work deadline. Your sister announces she’s getting divorced.
When unexpected crises hit, it may seem as if your world has suddenly imploded. “But in the face of significant life stresses, you can continue to thrive and be successful,” explains Russell Newman, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and is the co-author of an American Psychological Association guide to surviving dire problems.
It turns out that resilience — the ability to deal with and adapt to stressful or traumatic events — is a combination of attitudes and behaviors that help people overcome adversity. “What’s more, resilience isn’t something you’re either born with or not; it’s a set of skills anyone can learn,” adds Newman. Even if your life is going smoothly now, remember these four important ways to build resilience, and you’ll be able to clobber any curveball life throws your way.
1. Stay connected.
If you’re faced with a difficult personal issue, you may be tempted to shut yourself off from the world. But isolation can make your problems seem even bigger. “A sense of belonging and connectedness is the biggest part of building resilience,” says Newman, because you don’t feel so alone when you can lean on friends and family. Reach out and let others know you’re struggling. A compassionate listener can help you realize that your challenge isn’t the end of the world. (If you find comfort in prayer, try that too.)
2. Make a game plan.
Unexpected blows can leave you feeling powerless. Reclaim that power by creating a plan to overcome the situation. For instance, if you’ve been laid off, write out a list of steps to getting back on your feet, such as polishing your resume and calling your professional contacts. Then get going. “You’ll feel a sense of mastery and achievement when you put your plan in place, giving you control in what seems like an out-of-control situation,” says Newman.
3. Hang on to hope.
Resilient people tend to be optimistic for a reason: Maintaining a positive attitude makes you more likely to ride out the hard times without sinking into despair. If you’re the glass-half-empty type, optimism can be learned. Next time you start feeling as though things will never get better, think of your most optimistic friend and ask yourself what she would think and do in your situation. “That will put a new, more positive thought into your head so you don’t focus on the negative,” says Newman.
4. Think about your triumphs.
If you felt better after confiding in a friend, meditating or going for a walk the last time you and your husband had an argument, chances are that strategy will work the next time you two disagree. “Remembering what you’ve done in difficult circumstances reminds you of what tools you successfully used before that can help you deal with your current situation,” Newman points out. In turn, each obstacle you overcome will increase your confidence so that you can handle any setback and come out stronger.