By Daniela Anéis

“You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.”
Bob Marley

Resilience is a concept often used to describe one’s ability to solve problems, cope with challenging situations, and one’s resistance to events that cause stress and suffering. We all have a certain degree of resilience to situations, and we all have our kill switch—meaning that we all have our own limit to be resilient and then we cannot cope anymore. And that’s when mental illness arises or even a physical illness derived from stress.

Are there universal limits to resilience? Not really. It actually depends on your personal history and personality as well as character. What is safe to say is that one of the most challenging situations to our resilience is a personal tragedy such as the loss of a child. But even then, some people are able to transform such a grief into a life-changing experience. How do they do it?

Like the quote above mentions, you don’t know how strong you are, until being strong is your only option. We all have within ourselves a potential ready to be unlocked, and some us have learned to cope with difficult situations throughout their lives and became resilient.

How does one develop resilience?
Our biology is just as important as our upbringing. But I’m going to take a risk and say that beyond your personality and character, it has a bit to do with how much your parents have taught you how to deal with frustration. I often tell parents that come to see me because of their children’s tantrums that they have to frustrate their children. Meaning you don’t always get what you want and have to deal with it, and that one needs to learn that to get what they want takes dedication and devotion. What does this mean exactly?

Sometimes I will tell parents to say no to things their children want just for them to learn they can’t get everything. And othertimes it means, that if a child really wants something then he/she needs to work for it and show they deserve it. That’s when we institute prizes and challenges. And it works. Most tantrums go away and the child becomes motivated to work on what they want.

You may criticize my point of view and you won’t be the first. One of my older colleagues once mentioned to me when I was starting off, “You really believe you can achieve anything with hard work, don’t you? But what are you going to do when hard work is not enough?” She was referring to our work with patients at a psychiatric clinic, but she could have been talking about virtually anything in my life.

That made me wonder. I didn’t have an answer for that then but I do now. Over the years, I’ve learned to accept my percentage of responsibility in things and respect others’ responsibility for their own lives. I only work on my end, what depends of me and I feel proud to give it my best. But I no longer feel frustrated when all my “hard work” doesn’t pay off. I’ve learned to be a more resilient psychotherapist. And accept my own limits.

Another one of my teachers said that: “If you’re working harder than your patients on their lives, then you’re working very badly.” And I accept this as my mantra. These examples serve only to illustrate that throughout your life you have a chance to keep on developing your resilience, it all depends on your attitude.

Again, one of my mantras, inspired by the great philosopher Socrates, “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” And I like to add, the more I obtain knowledge, the more ignorant I feel. Just a little something to keep me humble and in a constant state of curiosity.

The best way to develop your resilience – Through Positive Emotions
What is the best way to develop your resilience? Positive Psychology has an answer for you: through the experiencing of positive emotions. But how can you experience positive emotions if you feel as if you only attract bad things for instance? Please remember not everything is all black and white, you don’t always attract bad things and never attract good things. Never and always are overgeneralizations you need to start avoiding in your life starting now.

The next theory I’m going to talk to you about (that has been thoroughly investigated and researched) is based on the laws of attraction—the more positive emotions you experience and positive people you attract, the more likely you are to experience even more positivity in your life and repel negativity away. And that’s not all it does.

Researcher Barbara Fredrickson came up with the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions (1998) which basically states three things:

  1. Positive emotions broaden our way of thinking and allow us to see new alternatives and solutions to situations in our lives
  2. The more positive emotions you seek and experience to live in your life, the more attention you’ll pay to positivity in your life and the more you’ll attract it, creating what Dr. Fredrickson calls a spiral of positivity in your life
  3. Positive emotions you experience build up your resilience reserve. And when bad things happen, you’ll experience them as less painful and have more tools to deal with it.

About that last bit, Dr. Fredrickson and her team actually measured how long it took for someone to recover from negative events—separating people who experienced more positive emotions from the rest—and discovered that those who experienced more positive emotions in their lives lowered their heart rates faster and coped better with negative events. Those people were also the ones that tended to relativize negative events. Some of the things these people may say are “This bad thing happened, but it was just this once... I can solve problems.”

So if you are asking yourself how you could be more resilient and manage stressful events in your life, the answer is become an optimist and seek positive emotions in your life. How do you do that? Go out with friends, have fun, do something you really enjoy, and don’t stop just because you’re feeling down or too stressed at work. Remember, you’ll need that positive energy to solve problems and be more resilient in the future. And if you’re not a natural optimist, please bear in mind it’s a work in progress.


Daniela Anéis
About Daniela Anéis
Leiria | Portugal

Daniela Anéis has been a clinical psychologist since 2009, with a Masters degree in Systemic at Lisbon University, Portugal. Her first experience as a clinical psychologist was in a private and Catholic mental hospital, the eldest religious congregation in the country devoted to mental health – and a real school. In 2012, she created a community based project at her hometown called Senior’s University which, through volunteer work, teaches classes to people over their 50’s and most of them retired. There are no homework, no tests and no diplomas, only people learning and enjoying life. Besides the classes, the parties, and the field trips, the main objective is to promote active ageing and enhance people’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

As a therapist in private practice, she often works with families and teenagers. She will read anything and everything that has to do with Existential Psychology and Positive Psychology.

Daniela Anéis is an optimistic and her “glass is always half-full.” Her work with active Seniors has taught her to value life even more and most importantly, life-experience. She teaches an Emotional Intelligence and Positive Psychology class but learns far more than she could ever pass on. She always has an inspiring story to tell about her “students”.

She’s hoping to reach 90 and live life to the fullest. Always working to be the better version of herself. And believing her mission in life is to relieve others from suffering.

Read more about Daniela at her blog. (In Portugese)

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