8 March 2022

5 min.

Building resilience: the keys to understanding your emotions and weathering the storm

What exactly is resilience? And how do we build and deepen it so we can weather the storm?

We all go through difficult times in our lives. It can happen at work or in our personal lives.

If sometimes these moments are like a gale without serious consequences, other times, they can be much more like a hurricane that leaves us devastated and disoriented. That’s when we need to be resilient.

How to understand your emotions to build resilience?

To each their own context

In order to begin a process of resilience, we must first seek to understand emotions and demonstrate empathy and tolerance. Each person’s life context is unique, and this certainly affects how they react to trauma. The quality of a person’s relationships, job satisfaction, financial health, and lifestyle are some of the elements that may contribute to their ability to navigate through troubled waters more or less easily.

A shock in two stages

When a tragic event occurs, we react to it in two stages.

First, there is the moment the event occurs. We hear terrible news, a serious accident occurs, etc. This is the precise moment when everything changes, and we usually have little or no control over how it happens.

Then comes the moment when we replay the event over and over in our heads. The event becomes a story that we tell ourselves, and in which our role evolves according to the perspective we give to the story. At this point, we have some control over the narrative.

Defense mechanisms

In the first moments following an ordeal, it is quite normal to resort to stratagems to try to protect ourselves. We experience anger, fear, denial, we look for someone to blame, we isolate ourselves. These instinctive reactions may seem beneficial at first, but they can prevent us from getting out of the mess if they are not addressed. This is why it is important to recognize and name them before we can begin the resilience process.

Here are some examples of statements we can say out loud or write in a journal to help us see things more clearly:

  • I feel a lot of anxiety, I feel a lot of stress
  • I notice that I isolate myself from others
  • I am really angry, I am enraged
  • I trivialize the situation, it wasn’t really serious, I’ve given up
  • I try to rationalize what happened, I want to find a logical explanation
  • I look for someone to blame
  • I keep myself busy so I don’t think about the situation
  • I notice that I am using more alcohol, drugs
  • I make up all kinds of scenarios to try to understand what happened

As soon as we are able to name these mechanisms with a clear head, we slowly regain control over our thoughts and begin our return to a constructive state of mind.

What is resilience?

Whether it is a difficult event at work, a serious accident, the sudden death of a loved one, or a disaster that forces us to relocate, a traumatic event has a major and lasting impact on our lives. Resilience is our ability to continue to develop and evolve normally after experiencing such an event.

Many factors can influence our basic capacity for resilience, but it is entirely possible to cultivate and enrich it to be able to face the storm.

Resilience as a way back up

When we have our heads above water and understand our emotions, it’s time to list the different resources we have access to in order to help us get back on track! These are what we call tutors of resilience.

Tutors of resilience

Tutors of resilience fall into two categories: what we have and what we think.

In the case of what we have, it can be our interpersonal relationships (friends, siblings, colleagues, etc.) as well as our communities (sports or book club, self-help group, etc.), not to mention the activities that make us feel good (hiking in the forest or in the mountains, yoga and meditation, cooking, etc.). It is also important to make a list of our financial resources (personal savings, assistance program, loan from a loved one), especially when it comes to loss of income.

As for what we think, this refers to our state of mind. Compassion, humour, and the ability to introspect are just a few of the things we can build on to develop our resilience. It’s important to go at our own pace and listen to ourselves.

The three conclusions of a resilience process

The process of resilience can lead to three different conclusions: recovery, adaptation or transformation.

We speak of recovery when we return to much the same pace of life as before the trauma. We continue to move forward in the direction we had set for ourselves.

We talk about adaptation when we face a new reality with which we adapt and evolve. Life will never be the same again, but we are well equipped to thrive.

Finally, transformation occurs when our new circumstances have allowed us to change course and reinvent ourselves. We have taken advantage of a dramatic event to bring out a new and improved version of ourselves.

Resilience = tolerance + kindness

We all have the ability to recover from a dark moment, whether it be professional or personal. But to do so, we must first become our own best friend. Listening to ourselves, understanding our emotions, taking our time, feeling compassion for ourselves: these are the sparks that allow us to warm up to the gentle warmth of resilience.

Developing resilience is a lifelong learning experience and it is never too late to start building it.

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