Dr Harry Barry: The only certainty in life is that there will be challenging times - the good news is there's a way to cope with them
The only certainty in life is that there will be challenging times and obsctacles to overcome. Why do some people cope better than others? The answer is resilience, and the good news is that you can work on yours, writes bestselling author Dr Harry Barry
Life is often a challenge, a rollercoaster ride where we regularly encounter road blocks or obstacles on the journey. These challenges can occur rapidly and unexpectedly at any point in our lives.
Challenges can be multiple and multidimensional. Some of the greatest challenges are faced by our adolescents and young adults. They are often overwhelmed by a tsunami of emotions as they attempt to bridge the gap between childhood and emerging adulthood. The arrival of technology in all its forms combined with the world of social media has led to a major increase in mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm.
All of us will encounter roadblocks on the journey. They may occur when we enter college or become involved in serious relationships. They may relate to our work environment, getting married, trying to conceive, having children or confusion over sexual identity. Or they may occur during our mid-years when we may struggle with holding down busy jobs, looking after ageing parents, encountering relationship difficulties or dealing with the ravages of addiction in a family member.
As we enter the later stages of our lives, the obstacles keep on arising. We begin to lose key people in our lives, from spouses to siblings to close friends. Illness and disability may intrude as does loneliness and the increasing possibility of developing dementia or other life-changing conditions.
Our capacity to negotiate these challenges and absorb the impact of such roadblocks is determined by our emotional resilience. This relates to our individual capacity to cope with the adversities of life. For decades, it has been assumed that this ability was either inherited, a result of upbringing or a combination of both. We now understand that learning how to manage our emotional responses to the slings and arrows of life is possible for each one of us. Like learning to drive a car, it can be learnt and practiced until it becomes automatic. All of us will benefit from immersing ourselves in these skills as they will assist us in coping better with all the stressors life throws at us.
There are three main groups of skills which we need to acquire, and which address many of the problems we encounter.
1 Personal Resilience Skills
Unconditional self-acceptance relates to how we feel about ourselves and is perhaps the most important skill of all. We all play the rating game and have become obsessed with the concept of self-esteem and how to increase it. This is leading us, especially our adolescents, to believe that it is not only acceptable but almost mandatory to spend our lives rating ourselves and each other, especially through the current social media platforms. Learning how to combat this is a crucial skill and should be considered the most important step to becoming truly emotionally resilient.
Flooding is a mental technique to manage the physical symptoms of acute anxiety such as panic attacks and all phobias. It can also be used, in a modified manner, to deal with the physical symptoms of general anxiety. It is an approach which can empower and transform your life.
Dealing with uncertainty is another worthwhile skill. We live in a world of uncertainty but still insist that we should be able to 'control' life. This is of course an impossibility, so we must learn how to challenge this demand. Otherwise we become constantly anxious and hyper vigilant.
Learning how to live with discomfort is also a vital skill to acquire as early as possible in life. Otherwise we will live in the unhealthy world of frustration. It is a skill desperately lacking in modern life, especially in the adolescent population brought up from an early age on smartphones and social media, where everything must be instant, and discomfort avoided at all costs. Learning how to manage discomfort can be extremely beneficial for our mental health. Short term pain for long term gain!
Coping with success and failure is perhaps one of the most pressing challenges affecting modern life, especially in our adolescents and young adults.
Challenging perfectionism is becoming increasingly important in a society which is promoting the mistaken ideal of the perfect body, life, job, relationship and social media profile. It is increasingly connected to many mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Problem solving is now seen as one of the most effective ways to make us more emotionally resilient. How many of us become paralysed as mounds of problems stack up around us and we lack the techniques to deal with them? To be a successful problem solver requires patience, adaptability, creativity and a solution-based focus.
2 Social Resilience Skills
Developing empathy is one of the most important social skills of all. We would greatly benefit from developing and increasing our sense of where the other is at from an emotional point of view.
This meeting of minds is essential for us to navigate our social world. Empathy is the capacity to open the door into the mind and heart of another human being.
Reading and interpreting non-verbal cues is closely allied to the skill of empathy - 90pc of all communication is nonverbal.
Becoming comfortable in social situations must be one of the most important skills we, as human beings need to learn. We are sociable creatures; being uncomfortable in a social setting can lead to considerable anxiety.
Then there is dealing with performance anxiety, the task most of us dread, to speak or perform in public situations - "What will they think of me?"
The art of conversation is increasingly under threat as we rely on interfacing via technology. We need to talk!
3 Life Resilience Skills
Dealing with the unfairness of life is key. Learning how to challenge the belief that life should be fair with its emotional consequence of hurt is essential.
Achieving a healthy work/life balance is increasingly one of the most important skills we need to navigate our way through life. Do I live to work or work to live!
Resolving conflict within our personal and working relationships is vital. Interpersonal conflicts can inflict significant damage on our mental health. Resulting wounds can leave deep-seated scars.
Pragmatism lies at the very core of resilience, allowing us to deal with many of life's issues through mastering the short cuts!
Managing stress is the skill of developing a structure to analyse and manage key stressful situations which arise in our lives. Armed with these skills we can now fully embrace the journey of life as it unfolds. The world is at our feet!
• Emotional Resilience by Dr Harry Barry, published by Orion Spring in Trade Paperback, is out now, priced €14.99
Health & Living