We all have challenges in life that we must learn to overcome if we wish to grow, learn and develop. For some people these challenges are much harder to overcome. Think of a person who, in today’s COVID-19 climate, is forced to live with their toxic and abusive family with no immediate way out. To not even be able to go outside and get some fresh air or to walk to the park to relieve stress because of the quarantine restrictions imposed by their governments (e.g., India and Pakistan). To not be able to study for a better future because they are constantly being hounded by their parents or siblings and they have no personal space in which to retreat. Think of the people who are unnecessarily bound by their culture or religion to become husband and wives even if they don’t want to.
Think of the people who cannot seek the support of professionals because of their religious or cultural affiliations or because they simply don’t have the finances or resources to access one. Think of the people who are financially, geographically or fearfully trapped within abusive relationships. The ability to manage these challenges requires enormous internal and external resources. After all, the human mind can only withstand so much before it eventually breaks and collapses into depression, anxiety, trauma, etc. The ability to withstand these challenges requires learning and developing strategies and techniques which can enhance one’s mental strength and resiliency until a way out can eventually be found or achieved.
So, what are some strategies and techniques which can help people become mentally stronger and more resilient in life?
1. Remember that protecting and preserving your physical and mental health is always of upmost importance: When people learn that they are unable to seek support from outsiders, whether it be family, friends, police, mental health professionals, etc, they can quickly give up trying. They lose the drive to seek support and they can quickly develop beliefs that this is their ‘fate’ or that things will never change. Their physical and mental health becomes secondary to simply surviving and they give up hopes of ever thriving. Reach out to as many people as possible whenever possible. Research as much as possible. Find the professionals that can understand and fight for your situation. Find the organisations that can offer you support or who may be able to fight for your situation.
2. Maintain your optimism that things can get better: For some people, who really are trapped by their circumstances, either temporarily or seemingly permanently, this strategy can be quite difficult. The aim of practicing optimism is not to make a mockery of your situation but to provide you with the mental strength and resiliency necessary to manage your mental health until and if a situation arises when you can escape and overcome your adversity and hardship.
3. Maintain or develop religious or spiritual faith: Faith can assist with optimism. Faith is the belief, assurance or conviction that something or someone higher than ourselves has our best interests at heart. That we are loved or that the universe doesn’t have and intentional and malevolent agenda to make us unnecessarily suffer. Research has shown that religion and spirituality can have positive mental health benefits and can assist with resiliency.
4. Learn to identify your moods, thoughts and behaviour patterns: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy suggests that there is an interdependent relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. For example, having the thought “I am useless” induces a feeling – sadness, disgust in oneself – which in turn motivates a behaviour – self-harm. Alternatively, you may have a feeling – happy – which induces a thought – “I feel good about myself” – which in turn provokes a behaviour – exercise. Likewise, you may perform a behaviour – refuse a social invitation – which induces a feeling – loneliness – which then induces a thought – “why am I such a loser”?
5. Learn to challenge and replace your negative thoughts: If you can challenge and replace your negative thoughts, you will have more control over your feelings and behaviours. For example, when challenging your thoughts ask yourself questions such as “Is there another way I can view this thought”, “Is there any evidence that my thought is correct”, or “What can I expect to happen if I don’t challenge this thought”? Alternatively replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts might look like “I am useless” = “I can do a lot of things”, “I am a loser” = “A lot of people like me”.
6. Strengthen or develop your sense of humour. Humour has been proven to be a strong protective life factor and a key ingredient in resilient and tough-minded people. Humour is a positive and healthy defence mechanism. Even in theories of self-actualisation or ego development, a sense of humour is seen as a sign of cognitive strength. Humour in this context is the ability to laugh at both yourself and life. Even Dark humour is an effective coping strategy used by many health care professionals and first responders who are exposed to trauma, adversity and hardship on a routine basis. From an outside perspective, dark humour can be misinterpreted but it doesn’t mean that it is not an effective coping strategy for those who use it. Other ways to introduce humour into our lives is by watching comedy movies, comedic stand-up routines or associating with funny people.
7. Practice gratitude and forgiveness: Gratitude is appreciating all that people and life have to offer. Even the bad or negative things. Without the bad times, the good times would not be as enjoyable. Forgiveness is about finding peace with your situation. Whether you forgive God, nature, the person who harmed you, or even yourself, forgiveness can potentially create peace. If you were harmed by a narcissist, psychopath, or sociopath you can either forgive the person or, if that is too difficult to do, forgive God or nature for creating them. They didn’t create themselves. They had no control over whether they were born or not. They ultimately did not choose their genetic makeup. That’s not to say that what they did was not harmful, traumatising, immoral, illegal etc, but it does provide a solution to end your suffering.