Counselor talking to a group of students

From the small annoyances of spilled coffee and slow traffic to the soul-shaking tribulations of a serious medical diagnosis or severe financial loss, none of us are immune to hardships. Struggle and challenge just seem to be part of the human experience. Why, then, do some people tend to bounce back from life’s blows while others have difficulty moving forward? Part of the answer lies in their resilience, a concept that has been receiving increasing attention in the psychological community in recent years.

So, what exactly is resilience?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines it as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.” Simply put, resilience describes our ability to bounce back, to roll with the punches life deals us.

Perhaps the best news that has come out of the research into this subject is that we all have the capacity for resilience. In fact, our brains are wired for it. Scientists used to think that our mental structures were basically fixed and unchanging. Now, scientists know that our brain is actually a highly flexible organ with the ability to learn and unlearn patterns of thinking, responding, and behaving. This is known as neuroplasticity.

The second piece of good news is that there are things we can do to rewire our brains for increased resilience. One of the most powerful is learning how to better regulate our emotions. Although emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear are all part of normal human experience, they can cause problems when they go unchecked. When we are unable to regulate our emotions, we are less able to cope in effective ways.

In her book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience, Linda Graham presents a model for emotional regulation called “The 5 C’s of Coping.”

  1. Calm – This step consists of engaging in activities that soothe our nervous system, such as taking some deep breaths, spending a few minutes in meditation, etc.
  2. Clarity – This step asks us to step back, reflect on our current situation, and perhaps even adopt multiple perspectives in order to figure out our best options for responding to a difficult situation.
  3. Connect – This step is all about connecting with our resources, both those we have inside of us (such as faith or a belief that we can endure) and those outside (such as an empathetic friend or a health clinic).
  4. Competence – This step reminds us to draw on the skills we already have, as well as to practice them and learn new ones, as a reservoir of strength for difficult times.
  5. Courage – This step asks us to remember past obstacles we have overcome, drawing on these experiences to guide us through our current challenges.

If you would like to learn more about resilience and how you can cultivate it in your own life, you’re in luck. CSM Counseling Services will be holding a “Resilience 101” workshop at each campus in late September. Dates, times, and locations will be posted. We hope to see you there!