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10 ways to be more resilient in tough times

Our ability to withstand adversity is being tested as never before. Bounce back from difficult situations — in your family and in our society — and keep growing with these evidence-based skills encouraged by Ohio State’s chief wellness officer and other researchers.

Every aspect of our lives is being touched by the coronavirus (COVID-19), yet we need to continue to do our jobs, run our households, care for our loved ones and ourselves. We’ve all been through difficult events in our lives, but none has been quite like this one. If you’re like a lot of other people, you’re feeling the effects in your mind and body. (Want some perspective on how you’re doing? Gauge your own resilience with this survey developed by Dr. Amit Sood, executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being.)

The good news is, resilience is like a muscle you can train to get stronger — so today, next week and years down the road when things in your life take an unexpected turn, you can bounce back with greater ease. Try practicing these 10 building-block skills of resilient people.

Practice self-care

List all the ways you could improve on your mental, emotional and physical health, and then take action to make one small change at a time in your life. It takes 30 to 60 days for a new health habit to stick, so be patient with yourself. Scheduling a routine physical with your health care provider is a good way to start.

See yourself as in control

Focus on how you, as opposed to external forces, can control the outcome of events. If there is nothing you can do to solve a problem, consider helping someone else — you still have control over how you affect others, and that can boost your spirits.

Reframe negative thoughts

Cognitive behavioral therapy experts tell us that how we think affects how we feel and behave. You can retrain your responses to difficulties in your life, both those in your memories and the difficulties you will face in the future. A positive outlook can help you to cope better.

Build your social network

Rely on family, friends and co-workers when needed, and continue to grow your social network. A recent study shows that even “weak ties” — friendships that don’t go very deep — go far in bolstering our sense of well-being. Befriend more people by taking time to say hello, learning their names and spending a moment of friendly conversation. Reach out to people you’ve lost touch with and get to know your neighbors.

Increase your optimism

Optimism can help you feel more in control of your circumstances. It might seem difficult to suddenly become an optimist and see the bright side of things, especially if you are facing a rough patch in life. You do not have to sugarcoat things to be optimistic. Instead, focus on what you can do, and identify positive steps you can take to solve problems. Evidence shows that when you believe in your ability to handle difficult situations, you will be able to handle them better.

Learn coping skills

Find ways to release stress daily and learn techniques to reduce anxiety, such as deep breathing and meditation. Bringing yourself back to a calm place when you are stressed can keep tensions from overwhelming you in the long run. Less stress means a healthier immune system, too!

Practice gratitude

Try writing down three people or things you are grateful for every day. Make it a daily routine and watch your mood and resiliency improve.

Rely on your problem-solving skills

Try this four-step problem-solving process:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Identify at least two ways to solve the problem with the pros and cons of each.
  3. Choose the best solution.
  4. Act on it right away.

Know your strengths and areas for improvement

Knowing what you do well and what stresses you out can help you deal with difficult situations and also help you avoid things that might overwhelm you. To find your strengths, make a list of some triumphs in your life and how you achieved them. Ask a few friends to list your strengths; you may be surprised at what they see in you. Also, inventory the things that scare you or that you feel you need to improve. Then, make a plan for how you will deal with or improve them. Look at tough times as character-building experiences.

Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard.

Be patient with yourself. Take one small bite of the bundle of carrots at a time. Your health and well-being will benefit from it.

Why is resilience important?

Everyday Health partnered with researchers at The Ohio State University, including myself and Assistant Professor of Clinical Practice Jacqueline Hoying, in 2019 to survey 3,538 Americans nationwide for their State of Health: Resilience special report. The study revealed that while most people surveyed believed that they have high levels of mental and physical resilience, only about 57% really do. That means a lot of us are not as prepared to face stress, sickness and other difficulties as we think. Less resilient people experience more depression and physical health problems, which is why it’s so important to build it up.

About the author

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is vice president for health promotion, university chief wellness officer, dean and professor in the College of Nursing, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry in the College of Medicine and executive director of the Helene Fuld Health Trust National Institute for Evidence-based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare.