Thriving Together Series: How to Bounce Back from Challenges with Resilience

Thriving Together Series: How to Bounce Back from Challenges with Resilience

By: Marcela Bolognesi, Mason student, School of Kinesiology major

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” – Maya Angelou

What is resilience? Generation Z and millennials may simply state it as “bouncing back.” It is the courage that us humans partake in – to overcome grief from a tragedy or loss in our lives. When we learn how to be resilient, we can experience well-being in any circumstances. Here’s how to bounce back from challenges with resilience.

We as a world have faced many losses, tragedies, and devastation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which took control of our lives back in 2020. While the deadly coronavirus harmed our physical well-being, not being able to see loved ones and having our daily routines disrupted harmed our mental well-being. I felt the impact of all of that, as well as the grief from my grandmother’s passing due to Covid-19 and underlying diseases. Facing these challenges to my well-being ultimately ended up strengthening my well-being, however, because I became resilient during the pandemic.

I watched a Ted Talk where Dr. Lucy Hone shared her knowledge on how to become resilient, as well as the three secrets of resilient people. She studied research on resilience at the University of Pennsylvania. Later, a tragedy in her life made the topic of resilience personal to her. In 2014, Lucy’s 12-year-old daughter Abby and two friends of their family were killed when a driver ran a stop sign and crashed into their car. That tragedy led Lucy to experiment herself with what she learned about resilience research.

Lucy learned that adversity does not discriminate. We all have and will face hard times. She states it is crucial to understand that we all will experience grief or suffering, so we need to acknowledge that tough times are simply a part of life as we know it.

She also shared that resilient individuals have achieved the skill of selective attention. We as humans naturally see the negative first before the positive. If we imagine ourselves as ancient cave people stepping out of our caves and seeing a tiger to our right and a rainbow to our left, we can see that it is natural to first see the threat or the negative: the tiger. However, we can learn to focus on the positive. This does not mean that resilient people completely diminish the negative, but simply tune into the positive instead.

Finally, resilient people ask themselves, “Is what I am doing helping me or harming me?” According to Lucy’s experience, this question is the most powerful and useful tool for resilience. For example, she asked herself, “Will going to the trial to see the driver help me or harm me?” The answer was obvious, so she decided to opt out of seeing the driver. She also found herself looking at all the photos of her daughter in misery, and then asked: “Is looking at her pictures helping me or harming me?” This tool will allow us to be kind to ourselves in difficult times and help us learn how to prevent harming our well-being.

Resilience Well-Being Practices

We can apply this resilience knowledge to our own practices.

For starters, we must accept that we will face hardship, no matter what. As I say, “it is what it is.” Then comes the search for positivity. There is always light shining in dark times, and there is always something to be grateful for despite difficult circumstances.

One simple yet powerful practice is to think about three things we are each grateful for, every day. Personally, ever since I experienced gloomy days after losing my grandmother, I always thank God for three blessings. I am grateful that Anita was my grandmother, I am grateful that I was able to know Anita and her beautiful heart, and I am grateful that I was able to say goodbye before she left.

Our last practice is to coach ourselves. We can use the powerful tool of question to protect ourselves and to improve our mental state. For example, if we’re grieving the loss of a loved one, we can place items away from our vision that could remind us of them until we have learned to become resilient. All of us can take control over challenging situations by doing what is best for our well-being.

Additional Resources

Students, faculty, and staff can all earn Mason’s Resilience Badge, which is a fully online, asynchronous learning opportunity that will allow you to further develop your resilience through content knowledge and practices, all of which are backed by well-being science.

These Thriving Together Series articles on resilience explore other aspects of how to be a resilient person.

Mason’s Resilience Resources articles each connect to one of the 10 strategies explored in the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at cwb@gmu.edu for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!