How To Bounce Back Better

Whether you're facing a minor hassle or true life crisis, tough times test you—and let you show the world what you're made of. Boost your resilience today so you have this crucial skill when you need it most.

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Why is it that some people can bounce back from a tough event, while others never quite seem to get their mojo back? While it's true that resilience comes more easily to some of us than others, the good news is that anybody can learn to be more emotionally hardy.

Resilience—the capacity to respond and recover when life wallops you upside the head—is a pretty essential ability to have, especially in these unpredictable times. Being able to handle minor daily setbacks helps prime you for bigger-picture curveballs such as a job loss or the death of a loved one. "We need stress to grow," explains resilience expert Mary Steinhardt, EdD, professor of health education at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's like working out: You're not going to get stronger unless you stress the muscle. And if you don't work out, you'll atrophy."

It seems what doesn't kill you does make you stronger. A recent study from the University at Buffalo found that people with chronic back pain were able to get around better if they had experienced serious adversity (such as illness, divorce, or living through a natural disaster), whereas folks who had sailed through life without any major problems became more impaired. Super resilient people, it turns out, do five things right—and these are skills anyone can learn. Ahead, the moves that make all the difference.

1. Choose to be a survivor
When we're confronted with bad news, it's hard not to jump to extreme conclusions. (I'll never work again! It's definitely a tumor!) But resilient people steer clear of this kind of catastrophic thinking, which makes you spiral downward, ramps up stress levels, and blocks purposeful action. Plus, Steinhardt says, "most of our worst fears don't come true, anyway."

Bounce-back women do what Nora Ephron famously recommended ("be the heroine of your life, not the victim") and avoid "negative scripts," say Robert Brooks, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Sam Goldstein, PhD, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, authors of The Power Of Resilience. Following a negative script means going with the same counterproductive course of action time after time ("my good work speaks for itself, so why should I have to ask my boss for a promotion?") when you have the power to change things for the better (by making a case for that promotion, say, or finding a new job). Brooks and Goldstein say that a major step toward resilience is to recognize that we are the authors of our lives, able to change the action.

Bottom line: You can't always control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude and enact change when bad times hit.

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Jancee Dunn
Last Updated: September 01, 2012

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