How do we cope with stressful situations? Whether to face adversity head on or run away from it? These are questions which we all ask ourselves, often on a daily basis. Central to these questions is the concept of resilience. Resilience is also sometimes referred to as mental fortitude. While some may wish to state that they are simply not a resilient person, the fact is that resilience is something that can be actively cultivated. Resilience is key to maintaining a positive approach to one’s health. Without being resilient it will likely be very difficult to make positive changes towards leading a healthier and more fulfilled life. It is for that reason that it is one of the key themes of this blog. In the following some of the most essential and insightful reflections on resilience will be explored in an attempt to pin point the ways in which we can apply them to our everyday lives.
In contrast to some of the commonly held views, one of the keys to cultivating resilience is preparation. This may seem counterintuitive to those who think of resilience as something which you simply have or lack. However, the Stoic philosopher Seneca stated that “everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself, sufferings, even being withstood if they have been trained for in advance.” Therefore, even if a situation is not currently present in which one requires resiliency it is still a good time to start training this quality. By undertaking the necessary preparation and assuming the right mindset, you will find it much easier to recover after a challenging experience. This may all still seem quite vague. What would this preparation look like, you may ask? Well, it is about actively seeking wisdom and learning. Exercise and nutrition – two fundamental concepts which on the surface seem straightforward but are in reality far more complicated – are two integral ways to build resilience. The right choices in these areas can help to prevent disease and injury, and generally promote resilience.
The Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote meaningfully about resiliency. One of the central concepts repeatedly referred to in this blog is the idea of finding one’s “why?” – the reason why you want to achieve this or that or make an important change in your life. Frankl also recognised the importance of this concept, stating: “Wer ein Warum zu leben hat, erträgt fast jedes Wie” (“Anyone who has a reason for living, can withstand almost every “how?” question”). This was Frankl’s motto. As a Holocaust survivor, he applied these insights to his own experiences, pondering how it is possible to find meaning in the face of inexplicable and awful strokes of fate and how to mentally endure such times of crisis. Thus, we may be able to take much away from his writings and it is worthwhile further exploring these yourself if you wish to gain deeper insights.
Further building upon the insights of Frankl, Alfried Längle has talked of hope as a basis for resilience. Like Frankl, he emphasises the importance of meaning. Empirical studies have shown that people who are hopeful and are able to find meaning are more resilient and thus able to better recover from difficult experiences. Nevertheless, Längle emphasises that real hope differs from false hope in the sense that it never loses sight of reality. In Längle’s opinion false hopes are usually used as a defence mechanism in an attempt to protect oneself. While this kind of reaction is perhaps understandable, it is not conducive to our objective of becoming more resilient. It is the real hope which we need to hang onto in order to achieve this. For Längle, hope keeps us active and gives us a sense of worth. As such, it brings us to places where we are forced to confront the reality of our lives. It is for this reason that it has good potential for helping us to achieve resiliency.
We all constantly face stress in life, now likely more so than normal. And in such a situation resilience is especially required. While this may seem daunting, the fact is that if we all take small steps to becoming more resilient it may not prove to be quite as difficult a task as we first anticipated. Preparation, hope and having a strong idea of one’s “why?” are some of the key elements needed to take those steps. To come back to Viktor Frankl: “A “why?” – that is a purpose in life; and “how?” – that was represented by the living conditions which made life in the camp so difficult, so much so that the only thing which made it bearable was a strong sense of the “why?”” As much as this is a very painful example, Frankl’s approach also involved holding on to some optimism. Applying these insights to one’s own life may help one to survive even the most trying of times.