5 Steps to Building Resiliency During Tough Times

Available for Interviews:  Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Women and Trauma, and has worked with hundreds of people struggling with mental health issues.


Talking Points on What Dr. Cira Can Say in an Interview
On Resiliency:

Quite simply, resilience is the ability to overcome adversity and carry on.  Now that doesn’t mean we do it beautifully or perfectly or in some text-book way that doesn’t actually exist or without big feelings, struggles or challenges. It just means that when we get knocked down, we get up again.

I think there is a second aspect to resilience though where it’s more than just getting up again—most of us do that, which is awesome and not something we give ourselves credit for—but actual resilience takes it a step further.  After something terrible happens, most of us go on to survive.  We get back to life as usual.  But some people are able to LEARN and GROW and FEEL and REFLECT on the hard thing they just experienced and actually become wiser, stronger and more grounded as a result.  These people move from surviving to thriving.  And that’s a big part of resilience as well.

5 steps to building resiliency in our lives:

  1. Instead of just reacting to those feelings and responding accordingly (I’m feeling scared so I’m just going to hide in bed; I’m feeling angry so I’m going to lose it on someone, etc), you need to dig in and get curious.  In order to do that, you have to stop and observe the feelings instead of being consumed by them.  Use your senses to get present in the moment.  This is called mindfulness.  Look around—what do you see?  Close your eyes—what do you hear?  What can you physically feel?  What do you smell? 
  2. Once you’re present, ask yourself some questions: 1) What am I feeling?  Push yourself to be specific.  If the general feeling is “overwhelm”, tease that apart.  What else is there?  Sadness?  Anger?  Disappointment?  Frustration?  Grief?  Get nuanced and detailed.
  3. Once you’ve identified and labeled the feeling/s, get curious: Why am I feeling this way?  Does this remind me of something I’ve experienced in my past?  How am I responding to it?  Is this how I want to be responding?  What could I be doing differently that would be more ideal?
  4. Use what you’ve learned to think and respond differently.  About to stay in bed indefinitely?  Perhaps you simply take a nap and then commit to re-evaluating.  About to go off on someone?  Perhaps you decide to exercise, talk with a friend or journal before saying anything.  About to pour yourself a glass of wine as you’re sobbing?  Perhaps you make yourself some hot tea instead and then re-evaluate when you’re less upset.
  5. Once the crisis has ended, get curious again: What happened there?  Why did I respond the way that I did?  What did I learn about myself?  Was that a pattern that has played out throughout my life?  How can I learn from this experience?  What’s the take-away?

More on Resiliency

Some people are more resilient than others.  Some of that can be attributed to temperament—we all come into the world with a temperament that is hereditary and biologically determined that powerfully shapes how we interact with others, respond to external events and perceive the world.  AND we can also learn to become more resilient.  Part of what creates resilience is recovering from adversity and then being curious about that experience.  Again, in order to be truly resilient it’s not enough to just make it to the other side.  Some amount of feeling and then reflection and/or introspection about those feelings is what creates and builds on resilience.  

There are characteristics that resilient people have. Brene Brown, a leading researcher and speaker, who specializes in vulnerability and resilience says that data is clear that the one trait that the most resilient people have in common is their ability to tolerate distress.  And what does it look like to tolerate distress?  It’s being aware of and sitting with our emotions without needing to REACT immediately and rather pause and RESPOND deliberately.  When we let our emotions take the wheel, we’re allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to get into the driver’s seat, which means we’re often making impulsive, habitual choices that are based in our biological desire to flee, fight or freeze.  So as you can imagine, they often are not great choices, but still…it’s the very best we can often do if we’re sleepwalking through that normal, physiological reaction.  The better option IS distress tolerance, which builds resilience.  Not the easy road, but worth the journey.

It’s not easy, but it is totally possible to build more resiliency.  It’s normal to have uncomfortable feelings and reactions when something bad happens.  When we feel threatened or overwhelmed, our sympathetic nervous system takes over and the only three unconscious choices we have are to fight, flee or freeze.  These produce powerful feelings . . . and that’s your “in.”


Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D., received both her Masters and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois.  She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.

She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference” by Today’s Chicago Woman.  Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

Jo Allison
Managing Editor
Director of Public Relations
Success In Media, Inc.

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