It’s no secret that there is a growing mental health crisis.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year, have an anxiety disorder.
Furthermore, most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years.
To put it another way, we’re becoming less psychologically resilient.
We’re finding it harder to deal with negative emotions, and it’s compromising our ability to learn and functions as healthy adults.
The truth is this:
We need to learn to build mental resilience. Resilience is important because it enables us to develop mechanisms to handle difficult or stressful periods.
In this article, I’m going to go over 8 steps to build mental resilience and find success in challenging situations.
1. Perceive and believe
The first step to becoming resilient is to acknowledge when you’re facing a difficult situation.
It sounds simple enough, but we’ve all faced denial at one point or another.
The truth is people that immediately recognize the reality of their situation moves through the “stages of grief” from denial to acceptance faster.
Just like a serious illness, the earlier the doctors find it the better.
When you deny serious situations, it tends to only make it worse.
This is what happens when we deny negative emotions.
According to research, avoiding your emotions causes more pain in the long-term than facing them, and accepting them.
If you try to avoid the way you’re feeling and expect yourself to be “happy” and that is everything is fine, not only are you living a lie, but those negative emotions fester in the background.
This is why it’s first important to “accept” how you’re feeling, or the difficult situation you find yourself in, rather than denying it or trying to fight against it.
Okay, so you’ve acknowledged your problem, what is the next step of a resilient person who can build mental resilience?
2. Deal with our emotions
Sometimes when we’re facing a difficult situation we tend to panic.
The problem is:
Rash decision making rarely helps us in our everyday life.
This can be difficult when you’re faced with out-of-control anxiety, but you still have control over your attitude to be calm.
Rather than seeing anxiety as a huge problem and a source of stress, according to Psychology Today, it’s better to accept it and be curious about it.
The most resilient people spend almost no time getting stressed about what’s going wrong. It’s wasted energy.
3. Know when to quit
I realize that quitting seems strange when it comes to an article on how to build mental resilience.
After all, isn’t quitting the opposite of resilience?
Yes, it is in some cases, but you also need to be smart to understand when to bail early when you can’t achieve something.
If you keep persisting with unattainable goals, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
For example, some people are smart enough to realize that, “I am never going to be an NFL player and should double my efforts on writing”.
What happens when we quit unattainable goals?
In the book Think Like a Freak: Secrets of the Rogue Economist, Psychology professor Dr. Carsten Wrosch found that “people who quit their unattainable goals saw physical and psychological benefits. They have, for example, less depressive symptoms, less negative affect over time.”
Okay, that sounds great, but what about when your goals are actually achievable?
That is when you need to…
4. Be over-confident
Being over-confident is usually interpreted as a bad thing, but in fact, over-confidence is sometimes important to survive tough situations.
We’ve all heard stories of a very successful person who survived incredibly trying circumstances.
Because usually despite the obstacles put in their path they believe in themselves to achieve what they want to achieve.
Successful people fail a lot, but they try a lot, too. When things don’t work, they learn from their mistakes and move on until something does work.
In short, they simply don’t give up.
A resilient person believes in their ability to control their own destiny through their own effort.
So a resilient person understands there’s trouble, but they’re calm and believe in themselves to handle it.
5. Expect the best but prepare for the worst
Preparing for the worst really means preparing to be resilient when things hit the fan. It can be one of the most valuable things you can ever do, especially when faced with life-changing events.
Now I understand that you can’t exactly prepare for a significant life event like a divorce or losing your job, but it’s important to prepare for the worst in terms of your mindset. Don’t be surprised when things go badly.
Accept that change is inevitable, and realize that you can choose how you react, and whether you decide to be optimistic.
If you expect yourself to fail, then you probably will. But if you expect yourself to succeed and survive, then you probably will.
You may not be able to affect what happens to you all of the time, but you can choose how you respond to events in your life.
As Viktor Frankl said:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
So while we can’t always see bad things coming, we can prepare our mindset. We can foster and build mental resilience to help us get back up when bad things knock us down.
6. Stay busy
We’ve all heard the advice before that when we’re facing a tough situation, we should take it easy and not work so hard.
And look, retreating and distracting yourself with something else can quell emotions, but won’t help you get out of the mess.
Resilient people know that staying busy gets them closer to achieving their goals, and it’s also the best way to stay calm.
In fact, the happiest people are those that are very busy but don’t feel rushed. And the unhappiest people are people who have excess time.
Boredom, it seems, is burdensome.
But when you’re focused on keeping busy (in a calm manner), you feel like you’re adding value and getting closer to your goals.
You’re also distracting yourself from overthinking and worrying.
Alright so, you’re working hard, but it’s difficult to continue working when things aren’t going well. What should you do then?
7. Play a game
Don’t discount being playful in tough circumstances. Even boring situations can be turned into a game when you create challenges and little rewards.
In one study, researchers found that capturing small wins every day enhances a worker’s motivation.
Simply recording progress in some way helps to boost self-confidence.
It is a crucial step in creating motivation and preventing homelessness. It also provides relief from the stress you’re putting yourself through.
When we make “play” a consistent part of our lives, we generate new and interesting things to think about throughout the day. We also boost your creativity.
And this can help dramatically in the task of worrying less and lowering our anxiety.
Despite huge challenges in your way, by playing a game, you’re also ensuring you’re always making progress.
8. Get help and give help
It’s obvious that getting help is good. But sometimes it can difficult to ask for it.
What’s even more interesting is that giving help when times are hard increases the feeling of meaning in our lives.
Surprisingly, sometimes being selfless is the best way to be selfish.
A lot of anxiety tends to arise because we focus so much on ourselves. And this anxiety becomes obsessed with avoiding personal pain in the future.
Which by the way, is the exact opposite of preparing for the worst.
But when you turn your focus outward and find a sense of purpose, it can be pretty powerful in building your resilience.
As Friedrich Nietzsche put it, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’
In Conclusion – Build Mental Resilience
When life is tough and we need to boost our resilience, follow these steps:
1. Acknowledge your problem.
2. Calm yourself
3. Quit when it’s impossible
4. Believe in yourself when it’s possible
5. Prepare for the worst, but expect the best.
6. Stay busy.
7. Make it a game.
8. Help others to help yourself.
By Lachlan Brown
Lachlan Brown is the founder of Hack Spirit, a blog on mindfulness and practical psychology. He loves writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. He has a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with Lachlan, you can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
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