How to Gain More Resilience and Why it’s Important

It has been a tough year. For many who already suffer from depression and/or anxiety, it has been even tougher.

Many of the people I see in therapy report feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Some say that they tend to dwell in the negative, even feeling hopeless at times, while others report choosing unhealthy behaviors such as drinking one too many glasses of wine to soothe themselves. In fact, 60% of participants in a recent study reported increased drinking compared to pre Covid times.

If this sounds familiar, there is good news. We humans are resilient!

George Bonanno, professor of Clinical Psychology from Columbus University says that when we are hit with loss or trauma, it is resilience that gets us back on track.

  • Resilience is the capacity to manage stress and cope with crisis and adversity.
  • Resilience is rebounding more quickly after a blow.
  • Resilience is a healthy adjustment to a setback.
  • Resilience is harnessing one’s own inner strength.
  • Resilience is personal growth, and it is powerful stuff!

It seems that the ever-popular idiom, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is not so far from the truth.

If you feel that resilience is not your strong suit, no worries, you are not doomed. Bouncing back is a process, not a character trait. In other words, resilience is learned.

Here are five ways you can gain more resilience in your life:

Be more flexible –Our minds work like a muscle. The more we stretch them, the more flexible and open we become. And people who are more flexible and open are more curious, pay more attention to their feelings, and are more comfortable with the unfamiliar. These are important traits to have right now as we face the unfamiliar aspects of Covid and our changing times.

View set-backs as temporary – Set backs are a normal part of life. When we understand that “this too shall pass,” we are more able to accept our current circumstances as a moment in time and push through. Pushing through is proactive. It not only helps decrease feelings of depression, but it also helps you find solutions to your problems and move forward in your life.

Practice being grateful – Studies show that when you write down three good things that happened in your life (such as something that made you smile, or strengthened a connection), your brain scans the last 24 hours looking for positive moments. This scanning activity, in turn, trains your brain to look for these positive moments. And when you notice these moments, you feel happier, more thankful, and more appreciative of your life.

Seek support from others –When we feel connected to others, we are better able to weather difficult times. Connection to others not only lowers our levels of anxiety and depression but feeling connected increases our self-esteem and immune system. In addition, researchers have found that people who feel connected are more empathetic, trusting, and cooperative. Consequently, when we trust others, they trust us. This leads to what psychologists call a positive feedback loop which enhances the social, emotional and physical well-being of both parties.

Take care of yourself – Self-care is especially important during difficult times. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and going outside for some sunshine and exercise not only make you feel better, but these activities are in your scope of control. And feeling as if we have some control in our lives when there are things happening in the world that we cannot control offers us some comfort.

We hope you found this helpful. Please let us know what you do to help build resilience in the comments below.

How to Help Your Child Go the Extra Mile

This is the first of a series of blogs on Raising Happier Humans.

Many of us have forgotten to trust our children to learn, grow, and mature.

We reward them for a good grade, and take their video game privileges away for a bad grade. We nag them to get their homework done, monitor their work, obsess over their progress, and apply excessive pressure to perform in hopes that they are accepted into the best universities.

Moreover, we oblige our young people as they cross into adulthood to choose practical vocations in pursuit of security and status over following one’s dreams; a compromise that haunts our children for years to come. In essence, we value grades, compliance, and achievement over the love of learning, relationship, and happiness.

I know I found myself pushing my children at times. Looking back, I realize it was in actuality an attempt to calm my own anxiety and feelings of helplessness regarding their future. I love my children, and wanted what was best for them. We all do. But placing external controls on them and pushing them to succeed is not the answer.

The truth is that placing external controls on a child only teaches them to comply. It also gives them the message that they are not capable of doing or thinking for themselves.

And when we push them, or when they believe they are not capable, they either become anxious, stressed, and easily overwhelmed, or depressed, unmotivated, and quit at the first sign of difficulty.

I see this all the time in therapy, especially amongst teens. They come to my office anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed. They worry about getting their homework done, failing grades, college applications and/or living up to the unrealistic expectations of parents, teachers, and society. They complain of being tired, sad, unmotivated, behind in their work and frustrated that they have no control over their own lives. They share deep feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. These young people also report not feeling seen or heard by their parents and/or teachers. Some are inundated with extracurricular activities, while others are overwhelmed with chores at home and taking care of younger siblings while their parents are working. Almost all communicate an overall sense of hopelessness in the future.

What I have learned over the years as a mother of three, and a therapist working in the schools is what parents describe as laziness or entitlement are actually our child’s lack of autonomy necessary to self-direct one’s own life, and the resilience essential to carry-on when life gets difficult.

For autonomy-the freedom to self-direct one’s own life-is the key to motivation, physical and mental health, academic success, and happiness.

It is possible to achieve this in your home.

I have found these five principles to be quite supportive in helping our children and teens overcome the stress and anxiety of life, feel more motivated, and go the extra mile at home, in school, and in life:

1. ) Trust them to self-direct their own lives.

This does not mean that you leave them to their own devices. As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure that our children are safe.

This does mean that we trust that they are capable of self-direction such as making important decisions or choosing their friends, what to wear, and/or what to eat.

And when trust is a prevailing value in our homes, feelings that, “I am worthy,” or “I can do anything I set my mind to” become our child’s prevailing beliefs.

2.) Love them unconditionally.  

When a child understands without a doubt that there is nothing they can do that will change a parent’s love for them, they then feel worthy.

And, when a child feels worthy, they are more likely to work hard and try new things.

This means no strings attached.

3.) Allow them to be part of the decision process.

When a child is given the freedom to collaborate in decision-making, they feel heard, seen, and important.

And when a child feels important, they are more apt to believe in themselves, take themselves seriously, and achieve their goals.

4.) Let them choose the activities that they want to participate in, and the peers they want to hang out with.

When we trust our children to choose their own activities and friends, they learn to make important decisions, and/or adjust accordingly when things go awry.

Again, this does not mean that you leave them to fail alone. This does mean that we give them the freedom to fail if necessary.

We can support them without rescuing them.

Because it is within the disappointment and defeat that they gain the resiliency to carry on.

5.) Allow them to express themselves freely through clothing, music, food, etc. without passing judgment.

By allowing your child to freely express themselves, they are more able to let loose the “free-spirited parts” of themselves.

This allows them to imagine their future without risk, as well as their place in the world.

And when they can imagine this place, they are more likely to know what they want and work towards getting there, ultimately achieving their goals.

This list is just a few of the ways we can help our children learn, grow, and mature.

What is on your list?

12 Homeschooling Principles to Help Parents during the Coronavirus Quarantine

To all the parents who find themselves involuntarily homeschooling their kids, hang in there. Yes, it can be daunting, but I found that when I lived by these 12 principles while homeschooling my own three children, the panic attacks stopped, and I was able to let go and enjoy the process. Take what you want from the list and leave the rest. I do not profess to know everything, but I do know that today my kids are grown, well-adjusted, happy and successful contributing members of society.

Principle 1: Spend Time Together. Play games, read books, watch a movie, go for a walk, bake, color, paint, cuddle, make music, watch a virtual concert or take a virtual tour of a museum. Explore something you or they have always been interested in learning but never had the time or energy to pursue. Have some fun! Children learn through play. They learn about math by baking cookies or building shelves for their room. They learn about botany, the seasons, and the environment when planting flowers in the garden. They learn multitasking and the ability to quickly switch strategies playing video games. It may not look like the learning you are used to—textbooks, worksheets, and grades—but I assure you they are learning each and every day with or without school.

Principle 2: Let Kids be a Part of the Planning. Empower your kids to be a part of the decision process. Create a culture in your home where your children feel free to share their ideas without worrying about being criticized or judged. Ask them what they would like to learn about. Have them make a list, and then provide them with the time, materials, and resources that they need. This helps them to not only feel important, they will know that their opinions matter. Providing an opportunity for your children to make decisions is essential in developing critical thinking skills, self-agency, autonomy and a feeling of belonging.

Principle 3: Be a Good Role Model. Like it or not, our children are watching. Long gone is the old adage, “do as I say, not as I do.” It simply doesn’t work. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. When a parent is able to regulate their emotions, be mindful of their own feelings as well as the feelings of others, while also adopting positive life habits such as exercise, getting lots of sleep, and eating healthy, a child will too. That is your role. To show them how to “be” especially during times like these.

Principle 4: Do Not be Afraid to Show your Vulnerability. Bring your whole heart and your whole self to the world, your family and your projects each and every day. Show up fully, let go of your defenses, dare to be seen, get into the arena and allow your children to do the same. These are essential elements to helping your children learn to participate and fully engage, get into flow, enjoy life, and feel like what they do as a citizen of this world matters.

Principle 5: Encourage Your Children to do What they Love. If your child wants to learn to play drums instead of the piano, so be it. You may not agree with your child’s choice of instruments or worry she is disturbing the neighbors, but when work becomes pleasure, it is not work at all. Doing what your child loves brings great joy and a sense of deep purpose and meaning. Being forced to do something that they don’t love, and they will quit the minute it gets too difficult or when they turn eighteen. Allowing your child to follow their dreams not only compels them to take on challenges and learn new things, it inspires them to keep on going when things get tough. It is your job as parents to encourage them. If you can’t, then the least you can do is stay out of their way.

Principle 6: Allow Your Children to Fail. As Albert Einstein once said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Let your children play, explore, take risks, make a mess, and mess up. Yes, life can be scary, especially right now. But a life driven by fear is no life. Let go of the fear and say “yes” to your children, so that they can learn to say “yes” to themselves.

Principle 7: Let Go of Expectations. Do not expect your child to live up to all of your expectations. This is a heavy burden to place on them. They either become ridden with a feeling of failure or guilt because they did not live up to your expectation, or they create a false-self attempting to live up to your expectation. Either way, it is a no-win situation. Instead, it is imperative that your child feel in control of their own destiny so that they can learn self agency (the opposite of what happens when you micromanage). Self agency is one of the most important elements of overall happiness and well-being.

Principle 8: Live by Principles not Rules. Abraham Lincoln so beautifully expressed, “I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.” Many of our lives, especially our children’s lives are full of rules; many of them arbitrary. This can result in compliance for sure, but at a high cost. Our kids end up living their lives trying to please others instead of pleasing themselves. A better alternative is 1) to adopt a more gentle approach, one that is responsive to your child’s needs while still keeping them safe and 2) teach them basic fundamental beliefs and values that are good and desirable which in turn will result in good and desirable actions.

Principle 9: Be Patient. The human being takes longer to develop than any other mammal on earth. Your child needs time to grow and learn. Growth occurs when they have the opportunity to play, explore, dream, imagine, and follow their interests. This requires not only an enormous amount of time, but patience. Accept this natural process and hang in there. There is no point in trying to rush or control their development and learning. I promise, if they haven’t done a math problem in weeks, they are not going to be failures in the future. Please do not lose sleep over this like I once did. Not only will your stress and nagging interfere with your child’s natural learning process, you will interfere with your relationship with your child, and cause unnecessary anxiety; pressure that will only add to the already stressful times.

Principle 10: Love Them Unconditionally. To love your children unconditionally and to affirm that love gives them the ability to love themselves. Let your children know that they are precious to you no matter what. Support them, accept them for who they are and encourage them to always stay true to themselves. They need to know without a doubt, that you will not judge them especially in times when they fall or fail. This requires respect, treating them like individuals, and not expecting them to please you.

Principle 11: Stay Optimistic. Your child’s beliefs about their abilities is directly correlated to your beliefs about their abilities. If you think they can, then they will. If you think they can’t, they wont. To add, people who are hopeful and have confidence in the future and in each other (optimists) tend to be more successful than those who lack confidence in the future and see the worst in people (pessimists). During these strange and uncertain times, adopting a glass is half full attitude is far more helpful than freaking out and losing hope. We are all in this together. There may be a silver lining in all of this yet.

Principle 12: Get comfortable with being Uncomfortable. We can’t control external forces or change our circumstances, but we can change our attitudes and reactions to these events in our lives. As Holocaust survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Although Frankl’s experience was more than most of us will ever have to endure in a lifetime, Frankl understood that attitude and love were first and foremost to survival. When one lives life from this perspective, one is able to be more open to the uncertainty that is certain in life.

I hope that you find this helpful. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.