Resilience can help you roll with the punches

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As a quarter past three on Monday morning, I was floating on my back in the cool waters of Pilot Bay at Mt Maunganui. As one is wont to do on the first day of a new year, I thought about the previous year and what changes I could make for the upcoming one.

The usual resolutions drifted through my mind - perhaps I should abandon red wine, eat healthier, or take up flossing. I thought about what a messy, chaotic year 2017 had been; a veritable rollercoaster of ups and downs. And yet, it wasn't necessarily the successes I dwelt upon but rather my resiliency in the face of tough times.

According to Tugade and his colleagues (2004), resilience is ''the flexibility in response to changing situational demands, and the ability to bounce back from negative emotional experiences''. But let me clarify something. The term ''bouncing back'' is misleading. It gives no indication of the struggles and adaptations one has to make in order to emerge from a horrible situation.

And let me be clear. I do not believe in bouncing back instantly. No-one should expect that of someone. But perseverance, dignity and quiet strength are valuable qualities to cultivate.

We've all heard of Nietzsche's oft-quoted saying ''what does not kill me makes me stronger'', immortalised in Kelly Clarkson's hit song Stronger. This maxim suggests it is the event or challenge that strengthens a person. But I would beg to differ.

Last year, when my depression resurfaced and the world seemed like a bleak and arid place, it was not my sadness and despondency that made me ''stronger''. Rather, it was my ability to rise above the feelings of worthlessness. It was my willingness to reach out to friends and accept their kindness and compassion.

As the Austrian neurologist Victor Frankl once said: ''The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances.''

Resilience is an incredibly important trait to possess. I see it in my mother, in her ability to keep caring for the rest of her children after the death of her first-born son. I see resilience in the eyes of my father as he slowly, deliberately forces his lips to form words after a stroke. Resilience has protected me from experiences which could be overwhelming.

We know just from scrolling through our Facebook timeline that people respond differently to setbacks, change and adversity. Why do some people suffer real hardships and keep on going? Why do others buckle under pressure?

Respected psychologist Susan Kobasa has found there are three elements integral to resilience.

Firstly, resilient people view difficult experiences as challenges rather than paralysing events. It's cliched but it's true - our mistakes are lessons to learn from.

Secondly, resilient people are committed - to their friends, relationships, the causes they feel passionate about, and their life goals.

Finally, resilient people relish the feeling of personal control. They invest their time and effort into causes and events where they possess control. The ability to bring about positive change is coupled with feelings of confidence and empowerment.

So, bolster the psychological ''shields'' you may possess - black humour, the ability to reach out to others, and the cultivation of an inner, quiet space. Be realistic about challenging and painful events. And look to the positives.

When my brother died two weeks into my student exchange, I felt stranded and overwhelmed. I developed glandular fever and became lost in my depression and anxiety. But somehow, I made it through. In fact, I made the best friends of my life during this time. I grew in confidence, I navigated Europe by myself.

So here's an idea for a 2018 New Year's resolution. Roll with the punches. Take it easy on yourself. Celebrate your successes, but also look for the good in any perceived ''failures''.

Look out for friends suffering their own troubles, and be kind. Kia kaha.

-Jean Balchin is an English student at the University of Otago.

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