Clinical psychologist Meg Jay shares practical ways to overcome whatever life throws your way.
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay doesn’t like the idea of bouncing back from adversity. “People do not feel understood when someone says, ‘Wow, you really bounced back from that.’ They don’t feel seen in all of their complexity, in terms of how hard it can be,” she says. Instead, Jay likes to describe resilience as a heroic struggle. “It’s really a battle, not a bounce,” she says – an ongoing process that can last for years.
Jay has spent close to two decades studying adult development and listening to the stories of people in her clinical practice. Along the way, she’s learned important lessons about resilience, which she shared in her new book, Supernormal, and in a Facebook Live at TED’s NYC Headquarters in November. One key takeaway? “Resilience is not a trait. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s not something you just have,” she says. We’ve distilled her essential tips for how you can become more resilient.
1. First, recognize that your struggle is valid, no matter what you’re struggling with.
Don’t be ashamed of what makes you stressed. “A lot of people say, ‘Well, I wasn’t in a war...’ They have to learn what the most common adversities are and see those as being legitimate chronic stressors.”
2. Then realize the ways you’re already resilient.
“You may not have alcoholism or drug abuse in your home, but I’m guessing you’ve been through something. Think about, ‘What were the three toughest times in my life? How did I get through those things?’ You probably already know something about being resilient.”
3. Don’t wait for the situation to fix itself.
“Resilient people tend to be active copers. They say, ‘What am I going to do about this?’ versus, ‘When will I be released from this?’ It may not be solved overnight, but every problem can be approached somehow.”
4. Know your strengths and use them.
“In general, resilient people tend to use the strengths they have. For different people, those are different. Some people have a great personality. For other people, it’s smarts or some sort of talent or a real work ethic. They use that to grab onto, to get through whatever’s in front of them.”
5. Don’t try to do it alone...
“One of the biggest predictors of faring well after an adversity is having people who cared. One thing that resilient people do is they seek support. It doesn’t have to be a therapist; it could be a best friend or an aunt or a partner. Resilient people actually use other people – rather than not let themselves need them.”
6. ...but know that it’s okay not to tell everyone.
“Increase the number and quality of your relationships however you see fit. For some people, that will be, ‘There are two people in the world who know all of what there is to know about me.’ For other people, they’ll want to be known by a bigger community. Love is very powerful, and love is love. The brain doesn’t know one kind of love versus another. It just processes when it has a positive experience with another person. Get out there and feel like there are people who see you and understand you and who care – that’s it. It doesn’t matter where you’re getting that.”
7. Find your favorite way to take a mental break.
“Many people use fantasy or books, or dive into their hobbies, or hang out with their friends to take a mental break from a situation that they cannot solve overnight. You may not be able to fix that problem, but you can protect yourself from feeling overwhelmed by it. As an adult, you can do the same: read a book, pick up your Frisbee, hang out with your friends, turn off the news alerts on your phone. There’s a lot in the world right now that feels overwhelming. Resilient [people] fight back where they can, but they also learn to take a mental break.”
8. Be compassionate with yourself and realize all the ways adversity has made you strong.
“People who face some adversity in their lives become stronger. Of course, it depends on a lot of other factors – how big is the adversity, how much support do they have, how did they cope – but by learning to cope with stress and having that experience, we gain confidence and we gain preparation. I think sometimes we forget that. You see how you’re broken rather than how you’re strong. Focus on the resilience and see yourself as someone who is even better prepared for life than the average person because you’ve already lived so much of it.’
About the author
Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of education at the University of Virginia.
Contents of this article remain the property of the author and/or publisher.