Building Resilience: How to Overcome Adversity and Recreate Your Life!

By Lorie Rosenberg

Have you ever tasted an amazing glass of wine? Whether you’re a red or a white wine connoisseur or just enjoy a glass now and then, you still can taste the difference between a good wine and a mediocre one.

What you probably didn’t realize is that in order to produce a really good vintage of wine, the grapes need to undergo a degree of stress while they’re maturing. When the vine works harder to find water and nutrients, it tends to produce smaller grapes and an overall smaller yield. Yet that’s why these grapes are so special. The smaller the grape size the more concentrated the color and flavor, and the result is a higher quality wine. Conversely, when the vines get too much water and don’t need to work as hard, they produce more plump and abundant grapes, but the flavor is diluted and the taste is not as full and rich as those that have survived more stressful conditions.

This same type of behavior can be seen in how people manage various types of stresses in their lives. Those who haven’t experienced significant traumas, health problems, or financial issues are usually not as skilled at managing these situations when they do arise. Life’s been very kind to them, yet for many reasons, their lives are not as rich and full as those who’ve had to overcome significant setbacks and failures and go on to achieve success.

People who’ve survived significant traumas in their lives are in many instances better able to cope and adapt to change because they’ve learned how to overcome these challenges and use them as a springboard to success. They’ve built up their resilience and are able to more effectively handle setbacks, failures, or major problems. They don’t get stuck in the mud, but are able to bounce back more quickly when issues do occur.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes when the traumas are significant enough, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or a major health issue, they can be debilitating. The same is true for grape vines. While the vines need some type of stress to create a flavorful vintage, a severe drought or pest infestation can wreak havoc on their viability and completely destroy the crop. That’s why people who manage their vineyards have to carefully plan on how they will handle their crop in a severe drought, just as you need to plan for how you will manage major challenges that come your way.

No Two People Are Alike

Developing resilience is a growing process that happens throughout your lifetime. The more you experience life, the better resilient you become at coping with the struggles and challenges that life presents you. Yet no two people are alike and therefore don’t react the same way when confronted by a difficult situation. That is why it’s critical for you realize how you’re affected by your daily challenges and how you will typically react in any given situation. This will help you to develop skills for how you’ll manage your behavior in similar situations down the road.

Here are some ways to help you manage challenges more effectively:

Understand You’re Not Alone – Recognize that you’re not the only one who has experienced a particular situation and use this knowledge to help you think more clearly and objectively when a situation does occur.

Readjust Your Attitude – You can’t usually control what happens, but you can change your attitude towards it. Nothing is really hopeless or insurmountable. Sometimes you just need to look past the present to a brighter future ahead.

Letting Go – It’s very difficult handling major problems in your life. You tend to blame yourself or others when most of the time these incidents are way beyond your control. It’s important just to let go and have faith that things will resolve themselves sooner or later.

Build Strong Relationships – Maintaining strong supportive relationships can provide encouragement and reassurance to help you deal more effectively with obstacles and challenges.

Realize That Change Is Inevitable – Life is anything but stagnant. It is changing and evolving and therefore you need to be able to evolve with it as well. Those people who are unable to change may be left behind or stuck in behaviors that are unproductive or destructive.

Manage Your Emotions – Understand how to "feel" your emotions yet not be paralyzed by them. This will enable you to manage more effectively your grief and pain, think more objectively about your situation, and move in a direction of recovery and renewal.

Gain Confidence – Believe in yourself and your capabilities to handle whatever comes your way. You alone are the key to managing your stress and becoming resilient in the face of traumas and significant setbacks. It may take time, but your faith in your restorative capabilities will enable you to begin to move forward and regain control of your life.

Develop Problem-Solving Skills – Sometimes situations are difficult to navigate through. Use your experience and knowledge of past situations to help you manage your current situation and determine next steps and action plans.

Take Care of Yourself – It’s important to take care of your health and well-being so that when challenges do arise, you’re better able to handle them. People who are continually bombarded with daily stresses and never get a chance to regroup and settle themselves are more apt to completely self-destruct when disaster strikes.

Keep a Journal – It can be very helpful to journal about the feelings and issues you’re dealing with. It’s a great way to let go of the “stuff” in your life that's getting in the way of your happiness. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but dedicating a few minutes each day to writing in your journal is a great way to keep perspective on how you’re doing and next steps you need to take to move forward.

Resilience is Faith in the Future

What’s amazing about life is that in most situations, no matter how desperate your situation, your life does resolve itself. Even when you lose a loved one, become divorced, or suffer a devastating accident or illness, life usually has a way of working itself out over time. It may require you to change yourself or your behaviors and expectations to accommodate your situation. And when you begin to adapt to the changes, you’ll start to see your life resolve itself. It’s when you become stuck, lose all hope, and blame others for your fate that you will continue to suffer from your debilitating situation. Resilience is the faith that you’ll get past the present situation and make yourself whole again.

Your Path to Resilience

In the 1969 book, On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the author talks about the five stages of loss and grief. These are the stages that people go through when they experience major traumas in their lives. All people are unique so they may not go through all of these stages or they may not experience them in the exact order as I’ve listed below. But what is important is that these stages are your path to experiencing resilience.

1. Denial and Isolation

When you’re confronted by a trauma, the first reaction is denial. You simply can’t believe this has happened to you. You try to rationalize your emotions, hide from the reality of the situation, and ask yourself how this could happen to you!

2. Anger

After you acknowledge the situation you’re now in, you become angry at how you’re feeling. You blame yourself and others who may have triggered this grief. You feel guilty for your anger, yet you’re completely overwhelmed with the emotions you’re feeling.

3. Bargaining

In many situations you feel helpless over the situation and try to regain some control. You ask yourself the “What if?” questions. What if I did this or that, I could have averted this situation. What can I do now to resolve the situation?

4. Depression

You may become depressed with the severity of the situation and you’re ability to wrap your head around it. Some people stay in this emotional state for some time, even years. That’s because they’re unable to resolve their feelings and move past the situation. This is critical to developing resilience in any situation.

5. Acceptance

This is when you accept the situation for what it is and begin to manage it more effectively. You may not be beyond the pain, but you're able to handle it without completely falling apart. When you get to this point, you’re on your way to gaining the resilience you need to assuage the pain, anger, and depression and create an environment that can provide hope and renewal!

You Can Get Through Anything!

Resilience enables you to navigate your way through difficult, sometimes devastating situations and get back on track…again and again. This ability comes through experience and maturing, and it’s a personal journey that everyone experiences. That’s why as parents we try to shield our children from major problems, but let them sort out the smaller ones so they can begin to develop their own resilience to manage to challenges of growing up.

Resilience takes time and effort. As you tackle your problems and challenges, and work diligently to regain balance again, you will gain confidence in your abilities to effectively deal with change. You'll begin to know that you can pretty much get through anything, because you’ve been there before!

Just as the grapes go through years of growth and maturity to develop the finest wine, it takes years of experience to develop resilience in your life…and it’s what will help you continue to be successful no matter what type of circumstance you find yourself in!