Cultivate resiliency to get through tough times

September 5, 2012

By Phyllis Picklesimer
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of ACES News and Public Affairs

URBANA, Ill. — Is it surprising that Americans report money, the economy, work and health of family members as their top stressors? Many families are dealing with job loss, foreclosures, diminishing retirement funds and savings, layoffs and financial uncertainty. All these situations cause families emotional and physical stress, said Cheri Burcham, a University of Illinois Extension family life educator.

Families that are resilient — meaning they have the ability to withstand a crisis and rebound from it — will move beyond financial and personal crises. Researcher Froma Walsh identified three main factors that are typical of resilient families, as follow:

• Belief systems: Resilient families share a strong belief system that provides support and hope. Their attitudes and values help them find meaning when they are faced with a crisis. A resilient family views the challenge of a crisis as manageable. They look for ways to make sense of the situation and think about what can be done to move forward. Resilient families also maintain hope and optimism. They accept the situation they are in and choose to believe they can overcome it. Keeping self-talk positive and not dwelling on the past increases optimism and hope, which provides energy to go on. Cultural, spiritual and religious traditions also offer resilient families the comfort and strength needed to provide meaning and purpose in adversity.

• Organizational patterns: Resilient families are flexible, connected, and able to access social and economic resources. Flexibility is important when adapting to the present situation and setting new goals. It may mean letting go of old ways of behaving and being open to new ideas. Being connected to an encouraging support system is also important for reaching their goals. Support can be emotional, physical or informational.

• Communication skills: Resilient families know positive communication is vital to maintaining stability in relationships during a crisis or hardship. It also opens the door for collaborative problem-solving. Good communication begins with clearly identifying feelings and then deciding what is needed. Being truthful and clear about the situation is a vital step in jointly identifying possible solutions.

Even resilient families have to deal with the overwhelming emotions that accompany a crisis, and individual family members may have to manage emotions before they can work together. Some people become so overwhelmed with emotions, it takes them a long time to accept the situation, Burcham said.

Some of the common feelings people experience when facing a challenging situation are depression, denial, anger and anxiety. A very helpful hint for dealing with these emotions is to set small daily goals to cope with these emotions. Some may find it necessary to block the negative messages that swamp their thoughts by replacing them with positive self-talk so they can move forward, she said.

Even if you’re going through a tough time now, individuals and families should continually develop their resiliency skills for future use. These key factors are not developed overnight; instead, it is a process. Your resiliency can be the calming force and model that others can follow.

For more about this topic or other family life-related topics, contact Burcham at University of Illinois Extension at (217) 543-3755 or at cburcham@illinois.edu.

From the Sept. 5-11, 2012, issue

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