Skip to content

    Health & Balance

    Select An Article
    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Emotional Well-Being: The Benefits of Adversity

    How life's hardships can make you more resilient -- within limits.
    By
    WebMD Magazine - Feature

    It's true: What doesn't kill you will make you stronger. To a point.

    Beth Elliott nursed her mother through the last stages of cancer. Less than two years later, her husband learned he had only a few months to live. Six months after he died, Elliott herself was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

    Recommended Related to Mind, Body, Spirit

    Sit Still for 5 Minutes a Day

    By Jenn Sturiale It may seem counterintuitive, but sitting still can be an utterly transformative experience. Our society encourages us to always do more, and faster -- and then tomorrow, to do even more, and be faster still. The problem is that most of us lack the skill to be alone and quiet for even short periods of time, always distracting ourselves by sending another text or checking email or flipping the channel. When our brains are always on overdrive, how do we ever get a sense of what's...

    Read the Sit Still for 5 Minutes a Day article > >

    What would you do if you were her? Succumb to grief and feel unable to go on with your life? Or find a way to cope and move on? Elliott, 40, a college student in Hampton, Va., says she eventually realized she had "a choice between life and happiness or letting this get me down and staying miserable."

    Adversity and Resilience

    It turns out the adage is true: Some adversity in life makes us stronger -- or, at least, better able to handle everyday hassles. But only up to a point. A recent study monitored the mental health and general well-being of nearly 2,000 people for several years, checking on them via online surveys. They were asked to list any troubling events, such as divorce, loss of a parent, or a natural disaster, that had happened to them before the survey began. They also reported adverse events that happened during the survey period.

    The surprising result? Those who had previously endured hardships were happier afterward. They were tougher, in a good way. "People who are never challenged by life don't have the opportunity to learn how to overcome adversity, which enables them to develop coping strategies, identify who the important members of their social network are, and feel competent after they make it through," says Roxane Cohen Silver, PhD, the University of California, Irvine, psychologist who led the study.

    When There's Too Much Adversity

    Indeed, while everyone responds differently to tragedy, those in the study who had never undergone hard times tended to have less of a sense of general well-being. After tragedy, most of us eventually do return to our previous state of well-being. But there's a limit. Too many negative events can overwhelm a person's ability to cope. In the study, two or three misfortunes seemed to enhance resilience, but having as many as 15 stressors hindered daily coping.

    Before his death, Elliott's husband spoke to her many times about her future. These conversations built her emotional strength. "All that has happened to me has given me a gift to see how strong and capable I am," she says.

    Reviewed on December 01, 2011
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    woman in yoga class
    6 health benefits of yoga.
    beautiful girl lying down of grass
    10 relaxation techniques to try.
     
    mature woman with glass of water
    Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
    coffee beans in shape of mug
    Get the facts.
     
    Take your medication
    Slideshow
    Hand appearing to hold the sun
    Article
     
    Hungover man
    Slideshow
    Welcome mat and wellington boots
    Slideshow
     
    Woman worn out on couch
    Article
    Happy and sad faces
    Quiz
     
    Fingertip with string tied in a bow
    Article
    laughing family
    Quiz