Tips to build resilience

We all know people who seem able to cope with whatever life throws at them. We see stories of soldiers losing limbs and then going on to walk to the North Pole, or run a marathon. Then there are people like Stephen Sutton, diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 15, who went on to raise £5 million pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust before passing away aged just 19 in 2014. What is it about these people that enables them to do what they do? The answer is resilience.

Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back when things go wrong. We all have resilience to a greater or lesser degree, and the good news is that we can develop and grow our resilience, helping ourselves to feel stronger and more able to cope with life’s ups and downs. Here are some ways to help you build up your resilience.

Seeing a challenge, not a disaster

Resilient people see a difficulty as a challenge, not a disaster. When something bad happens they don’t think “This is awful, my life is in ruins.” Instead they think along the lines of “This is bad, what measures can I put in place to help me cope with it.” Then actively learn all they can about their particular problem, research how other people have coped. By setting goals and developing an action plan of their own, resilient people are able to plan their way through the situation.

Focus on the things you can control

You may not be able to manage your symptoms at the moment, or know when you are going to see the consultant because of long waiting lists. So it’s not helpful to worry about something you may not be able to control at the moment. The feeling of not being in control of our own bodies, let alone our lives, can be very distressing. Instead, try to focus on the things you can control. For example, you have control over what you eat and drink so make sure your diet is nutritional. You also have control over how you think, which brings us to the next point.

Be aware of how your thoughts are affecting how you feel

Our thoughts, emotions and bodies are completely entwined. If our thoughts are negative, this has a direct impact on how we feel and even how our bodies work. If we think that something is awful and we can’t cope, we will instantly start to feel down and scared. Our stress response system will be triggered and we may start feeling nauseous, have clammy hands or even develop a headache. All this from a thought!

Be positive

This isn’t about thinking happy thoughts of fluffy kittens, unicorns and rainbows. Nobody can think like that all the time. Instead, it’s about realising how negative a thought is and consciously changing it to something more positive. Instead of thinking “It’s awful”, we could think “This is bad but I have dealt with bad things before so I can get through this.”

We can also trick our brains into thinking we are happier by smiling, even if we don’t feel happy. Try writing down your thoughts every day and look at ways of changing them from negative to positive. Smile at everyone you meet, even if you really don’t feel like it. Smiling is contagious, and something you can catch that’s actually good for your health.

Set yourself goals

We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and we all have those days when getting out of bed seems to be impossible. If you have commitments though, getting out of bed becomes much easier. Having a functional neurological disorder may make it difficult or impossible to work, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to society. You can volunteer for a local organisation that interests you (there are many opportunities of all sorts and for some you don’t even need to leave your home). Research has shown that helping other people has a very positive effect on your own health and wellbeing.

If volunteering is not for you, think about learning something new. Perhaps a language, a craft or skill. Make sure that the goals you set are achievable and realistic. For instance, instead of saying I want to lose some weight, work out a plan for losing a set amount of weight by a certain date. Whatever you decide to do, do it to the very best of your ability. That is what resilient people do.

Be kind on yourself

Treat yourself the way you would treat something very precious. Eat well, do whatever exercise you enjoy, and get plenty of sleep. Talk kindly to yourself. Focus on the positive things about yourself, not the negative. You may be unwell, but that’s just one part of you. It isn’t who you are. Surround yourself with people who care about you and who make you happy.

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