November 21, 2011

Building Resilience After a Disability

Written By:
Jessica Lohnberg, Ph.D., Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow
Laura Peters, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist, WBRC

Photo: A windswept tree growing out of a crevice in some rocks.

When people are faced with a disability, such as sight loss, it is common to experience a variety of emotions.  People report feeling shock, depression, anger, and eventually move toward acceptance and coping.   So, why are some people able to bounce back from adversity fairly quickly, while others suffer for extended periods of time and may get stuck?

Resilience means being able to “roll with the punches” and adapt to life’s hardships.  People who are resilient experience the same emotions everyone else does, they are just able to keep functioning and get back to baseline more quickly.  People who are resilient are better able to adjust, adapt, and normalize their lives in spite of the their disability.  Some people even notice positive changes that come from dealing with a disability.  For example, some people report their relationships have become closer and stronger; others report that out of hardship, they have learned what is important in life and may re-prioritize what they are doing; some have developed a stronger sense of spirituality

Here are some tips to increase resiliency:

1.  Get connected with others:  Those with strong positive relationships with others weather adversity better than those who are isolated.

2.  Make every day meaningful:  Find something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day.  Set short and long term goals for yourself.

3.  Take care of yourself both physically and emotionally by doing things you enjoy; physical exercise daily; get plenty of sleep and rest; eat healthy foods; find ways to relax through music, deep breathing, meditation or prayer.

4.  Learn from experience:  Think of how you have dealt with difficulties in the past:  What has worked and what hasn’t helped.  Try to rely on the strategies that have worked well for you as you respond to life’s current challenges.

5.  Be proactive:  Those who are resilient don’t avoid their problems, they problem solve, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action.  People who cope actively fare much better than those who avoid.

6.  Maintain a sense of hope:  Remind yourself you cannot change the past, but you can use what you have learned in the past as you look toward the future.  By anticipating changes and planning for them you will be better able to meet the challenge when it comes.

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