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Three essential things to do when your resilience is low

A white daisy on a green background representing resilience.

It’s totally normal for life to be full of challenges and stresses, and usually, we’re able to deal with these situations, resolve the problem and move on with our lives.

But what do you do when you discover that you’re struggling to find your equilibrium after one of life’s hiccups? How exactly do you deal with low resilience?

When your resilience is low and you’re not easily bouncing back from a difficult experience, start with being kind to yourself. Next, deal with any immediate stresses or demands on you, and then practice the skills that build resilience, like optimism, persistence, flexibility and social connection.

It’s also important to understand:

  • what a lack of resilience looks like so you know what you’re dealing with
  • the types of events can lead to a loss of resilience so you can manage them better, and
  • most importantly, the specific actions you can take to fix low resilience

Let’s dive into this in more detail.

What do when your resilience is low

If you’ve noticed that you’re lacking a bit in the resilience department, it may be tempting to jump straight into trying to build up your coping skills.

But there’s actually a couple of things you’ll want to do first, to increase your chances of success, so here are all three of these essential steps to take when you find yourself with low resilience.

Three ways to improve resilience when it's low.
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1. Be kind to yourself

If you’re not coping with whatever’s assailing you right now, then trying to make more changes is the last thing you should be trying to do.

To have any chance of dealing with the situation, you first need to step back and acknowledge how things are right now, and be gentle with yourself.

Accept that you might not be in the best place, or be behaving at your best, and that’s totally OK. It might seem hard to just accept yourself at times like these, but it’s essential and actually very effective.

Patience is also really important here. Give yourself time to find a solution or your way back to equilibrium. Whatever you’re dealing with is not going to disappear in a heartbeat, so give yourself as much time as you need (as hard as that is for those of us who struggle with being patient).

And if there’s something simple that you can do to feel better right now, then that’s probably what you should be focusing on first.

Whenever I get overwhelmed with too much stress and drama going on in my life, I find myself switching from my usual fare of heavy-going-but-fascinating non-fiction books to lighter, sweeter romance novels.

They’re less taxing on my already overstretched mind, and as a bonus, they give me a nice dopamine hit in all the mushy and steamy scenes!

2. Deal with the immediate pressures

Once you’ve cut yourself a bit of slack, it’s important to look at everything that’s making demands on you right now.

Apart from the “big” issues that are making it hard to cope, ask yourself what else is draining your time and energy.

Look at your immediate environment. Are there things – people, objects, problems – that you can quickly remove or resolve to give you some breathing space?

Generally, focusing on what’s most pressing – or most draining – first, will give you back your focus and energy as quickly as possible.

But you might also find that there are some smaller niggling issues that are quick and easy to resolve, like the rubbish that needs to be thrown away or the pile of laundry that’s been bugging you for weeks.

Just muster what little resolve you have to relieve the immediate stresses, so you have some room to deal more effectively with everything else that’s left.

3. Increase your resilience

Now that you’ve been kind to yourself and taken off some pressure, you’re in a position to take steps to improve your resilience, so you can handle your current situation better, and be ready for whatever life throws at you next.

The first essential thing to realise is that the experts tell us that anyone can strengthen their resilience.

So yay! Things can definitely get better.

Secondly, you’re not alone. We have centuries of life experience from humans from all walks of life to draw from to help us deal with our daily challenges more effectively.

So you don’t have to figure it out all by yourself.

And thirdly, there’s no silver bullet here. You’re going to need to build your own program of strategies to improve your resilience, so recognise that what works for someone else may not work for you.

Be willing to keep trying things, then take what works and leave the rest.

Here’s some specific actions you can take to increase your resilience…

How to fix low resilience

Building resilience begins by identifying your existing strengths and then regularly practising resilience strategies and skills, like emotional regulation, flexible thinking, persistence and social connection. Then you can respond more effectively to stress and regain your balance more easily.

By developing positive resilience habits, you’ll cope better with everything that comes your way, and you’ll also improve your physical and mental health and even your success in life.

Know your strengths

The best place to start with improving resilience is to take inventory of your strengths.

What skills, experience, resources or talents do you already have in your toolbox that you can use to help you cope with life’s challenges right now?

Make a list of things like:

  • I’m really great at connecting with people, or
  • I love researching answers online, or
  • I have a very supportive family, or
  • I’ve dealt with similar situations like this before

And just by cataloguing your strengths, you’ll already start feeling more capable.

Your past experiences have helped make you who you are today, and you probably have more to work with than you realise.

Expand your repertoire of coping strategies

We tend to fall back on the same set of coping strategies that we’ve always used, but sometimes what’s worked before won’t suit the new challenge you’re facing now.

So work to expand the range of techniques you have available to you, so that no matter what you’re confronted with, you’ll have an effective way to respond.

You can start by using a variety of strategies at once, instead of leaning heavily on a single response. For example, if your “go-to” response under stress is to eat a tub of ice cream, try adding in other tools as well, like going for walks, taking a bath or reading a book.

And go out of your way to try out new and different resilience activities (see below ), especially when things are a little less hectic, so you can practise and hone them in relative safety, and have them ready to handle the bigger stuff.

Develop these seven key resilience skills

Researchers have come up with a variety of ways to classify the essential skills that support resilience, but there are some common themes across awareness, self-management, perspective and connection.

1. Self-awareness

Practice noticing how you feel at random moments of the day. Name your emotions (as best you can), observe your reactions and watch your thoughts stream by.

By becoming more self-aware, you’re in a better position to understand your responses to stress and regulate your emotions.

2. Emotional regulation

Gaining control of your responses to situations is one of the most powerful things you do to increase resilience.

“How you respond to the issue . . . is the issue.”

Improving your ability to regulate your emotions – by noticing them, acknowledging them and soothing them before acting – means that you’re more in control of your responses to a stress, and can be more deliberate in the actions you choose.

3. Flexibility

Sometimes we’re not able to bounce back from stress because we’re too fixed in the way we see the situation, in the options we see available to us, and in our beliefs about the likely outcomes.

By practising flexible thinking, we are more likely to find better perspectives, and engage more of the resources available to us to help us cope and find solutions.

Do this by stepping back, looking at the problem in different ways, asking others for input and just keeping an open mind to things you haven’t seen yet or solutions you haven’t considered.

4. Persistence

When things get tough, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and want to just give up.

Developing our persistence in less tough times – for example, when doing boring or repetitive tasks – helps us stick with the bigger challenges until we find relief.

One of my favourite sayings I share with my kids is “I can do hard things” – I learned this from my interactions with the Montessori educational approach many years ago.

Just this simple phrase is sometimes enough to help them stick at something that they’re finding difficult, and get them through to the satisfying and self-affirming thrill of accomplishment.

5. Optimism

When we talk about optimism it’s easy to think about pasting saccharin-sweet falsehoods over ugly truths, but it’s more nuanced than that.

Optimism is more about looking for the best in situations, having faith that something better is possible and believing that there are things we can do to address our current situation.

We don’t need to pretend that everything’s fine, but we do need to choose what we focus on, and our perspective on the issues.

Changing your thoughts about a situation can be difficult work, as so many of our ways of thinking have become ingrained habits. So practice the skill of optimism daily on the smaller things – appreciating a kind gesture, recognising your achievements or being inspired by others – so it comes more easily when things get tougher.

6. Social connection

The scientific support for the idea that social relationships affect our mental health and well-being is growing every day, and happily, this awareness is now also making its way into the wide community.

Having strong support from the people around us – whether that’s family members or close friends – can make the world of difference when it comes to bouncing back from difficult experiences.

So make time in your day to strengthen your existing relationships – whether by doing small acts of appreciation or just reaching out to say hi – and look for ways to increase your connections through local groups or community organisations.

7. Meaning and spirituality

In our busy world, it can be hard to make time for reflection, faith and spirituality.

But the research shows that people with strong belief systems or a sense of purpose in life have higher levels of resilience.

Become more resilient by finding ways to increase your spiritual practices – whether that’s going to church more often, meditation, journaling or simply spending more time in nature.

Whatever it takes to help you feel more connected to a sense of higher purpose and meaning in life, do it and you’ll be better able to handle what life throws at you.

Pain can break us or make us wiser. Suffering can destroy us or make us stronger. Fear can cripple us, or it can make us more courageous. It is resilience that makes the difference.”

Try these ten resilience activities

Here’s some ideas for activities that you can use on a regular basis to improve your resilience.

Don’t feel like you have to do them all every time you run into a challenge, but definitely try each of them out, and then focus on the ones that work the best for you.

  1. Self-care – Keep it simple and nurturing. A walk, a bath, a good book, or a nap might be all it takes to recharge your batteries. And do it daily. When I asked my group of spiritually-aware business women what they do when they have low resilience, their resounding response was “more self-care”.
  2. Practice seeing the positives – Sometimes all we can see are the negatives, so strengthen your positive-seeking abilities. A daily gratitude practice can be an excellent way to improve your ability to see the good in things.
  3. See both sides – The more you can see both sides of a situation, the better balanced your emotions will be and the more flexible your thinking. Try and put yourself in the shoes of the other person, or just someone other than you, to help you see both views.
  4. Reframe the situation – How else could you look at the issue? How would a friend describe it to you? What would it look like if it was the complete opposite? Shifting your perspective can open up a world of possibility, so practice it on everyday things until it feels easy and natural.
  5. Learn from every problem – See every single one of your challenges as an opportunity to learn. Ask yourself “what’s the silver lining here” or “what can I learn from this?” By gleaning the value out of your worst moments, life can’t help but get better.
  6. Get fit – Easier said than done, but taking even the smallest steps (ha ha) towards being fit will not only give you more energy and staying power, but you’ll also feel more in control of at least something in your life. Go for a walk every day, go swimming, ride a bike or go to a dance class.
  7. Get better at communication – There’s always something we could be doing a little better when we communicate with others, so work on improving your skills. That will make it easier to share your struggles with others and ask for help. One of my favourites approaches is non-violent communication.
  8. Ask for help – This is something that many of us find hard to do (myself included), but learning when to reach out, and how to do it effectively can save you unnecessary stress, effort and exhaustion. You don’t have to do it all yourself! Sometimes all you have to say is, “I need help” and take it from there.
  9. Make plans and take action – Nothing gives you a sense of agency like taking action, so get into the habit of tackling the small things by making plans and then following through. This skill will serve you greatly when dealing with stresses. Start small, create a list, and take the first step.
  10. Take time to rest – If you’re always on the go (like I am) then remembering to rest is not always easy. But just take quick moments throughout your day to stop, breathe and stare out of a window or notice your surroundings. Your body needs rest and so do you!

And of course, if you find yourself in an extreme or life-threatening state, then be sure to immediately reach out to your health professional for support and advice.

This inspiring TED talk from Lucy Hone, a resilience researcher, who lost her 12-year-old-daughter in a car accident, shares more great strategies for applying resilience in dark times.

How do you know if you have low resilience?

Resilience is a measure of how you respond to a difficult event, and how long it takes for you to resolve things and return to your usual state of mind and energy levels. But how do you know if you have low resilience?

Generally, there are some common characteristics shown by people with poor resilience, which may include:

  • Dwelling on or obsessing over problems
  • Feeling like a victim or feeling powerless
  • Becoming easily overwhelmed and shutting down or falling apart
  • Being excessively irritable, over-reactive or moody
  • Becoming less tolerant or considerate of others
  • Finding yourself becoming sad often or crying easily
  • Becoming very clingy to those around you
  • Alternatively, pushing everyone away and isolating yourself socially
  • Seeing everything as pointless or meaningless
  • Resenting things, people or life for making demands on you
  • Loss of memory or just not remembering the details from one moment to the next
  • Relying too heavily on unhealthy coping mechanisms (like tubs of ice cream or late-night movie marathons)

Remember that not everyone will exhibit all of the above behaviours when their resilience is low, and that you may respond differently in each area of your life.

So your resilience might be low when dealing with financial issues, for example, but you’re very resourceful and responsive with your kids.

One of the first things that happens when I’ve run my coping abilities too low is that I start crying at everything. My pen runs out, I cry. I can’t find a spoon, I cry. My book ends, I cry. And that’s my cue to take a serious time out so I can rest and recharge.

As you develop your self-awareness (see above), you’ll get to know the typical behaviours you exhibit when your resilience gets too low.

There are also various scales that have been developed in order to provide an objective measure of resilience, such as the Resilience Scale for Adults or the Connor–Davidson Resilience Scale.

These surveys ask respondents to rate themselves on statements like:

  • “I believe in my own abilities”
  • “I know how to reach my goals”
  • “I am good at getting in touch with new people”
  • “There are strong bonds in my family”
  • “I always have someone who can help me when needed”

The answers to these questions, and many more, are then used to calculate a measure of someone’s current resilience level.

You can take a free resilience test at IDRlabs.com or PsychTests.com to see how you score (but don’t take them too seriously).

What can lead to loss of resilience?

Low resilience is generally created by major life events, such as divorce, a death, a job change or an illness, by the concurrence of a large number of smaller stresses, or by chronic issues such as a long-term illness. Some people may be born with low resilience while others lose theirs over time.

Basically, anything that makes huge demands on your time, your attention and your energy, while evoking strong emotions, can drain you of your ability to cope with life, and prevent you from regaining your ability to function.

And if you’re not using resilience activities like the ones listed above, then you may find yourself slipping into a state of poor resilience, where everything just becomes too much to handle.

It’s time to deal with low resilience

The good news is, once you’ve identified your lack of resilience, there are active, deliberate things you can do to feel better, as we’ve covered above.

Be patient with yourself, be willing to keep trying, keep experimenting, and practice daily the things that work for you.

And before you know it, you’ll have turned your low resilience around, and be coping better with life’s stresses and dramas, finding effective solutions, and generally being happier and healthier.

Let me know in the comments below how you’ve dealt with low resilience in the past, and what techniques work best for you to rebuild your coping skills.


These resources are also included in the article above and will help you explore the topic in more depth:

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