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“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” –Maya Angelou

Photo by Shunsuke Ono on Unsplash

As we welcome the new year, I can’t help but reflect on the many challenges we have collectively faced in 2020. On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, marking this month, March of 2021, as the 1-year anniversary of the announcement. The CDC reports that over 400,000 people have died from COVID-19. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics has estimated that the U.S. unemployment rate is at 6.7% — double the amount of recent years. Knowing that there are many challenges we are currently living through and will continue to face in the future, how can we overcome these challenges in an optimistic and healthy way? How can we become resilient? How can we cultivate and maintain that skill?

First, defining “resilience” and the ways in which it shows up in the Asian American community is key. According to Reyes and Constantino, authors of Asian American Women's Resilience: An Integrative Review, “Resilience is a phenomenon that allows individuals to develop positive adaptation despite adversities and challenges.” As Asian Americans, we are not strangers to the challenges that come with living in America, but these hardships are especially worse for Asian women. The article explains that Asian/Pacific Islander women report a higher rate of trauma from being refugees or civilians in a war zone compared to White, Black, and Hispanic women. As immigrants, Asian/Pacific Islander women experience specific mental health problems as a result of the stress that comes with assimilating to American culture, fighting racial and gender discrimination, and facing historically higher rates of sexual abuse. Despite these many challenges, Asian/Pacific Islander women somehow manage to thrive and build their lives, families, and communities within America. The resilience demonstrated by Asian/Pacific Islander women showcases that humans’ ability to live during challenging times, and still survive and thrive afterwards.

Thankfully, resilience is not a personality trait that only few people possess. It can be cultivated through behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anybody can learn. Dr. McGonigal, Stanford researcher and author of “The Upside of Stress,” explains, “Being resilient means that you give yourself permission to acknowledge that you are going to be changed by stress, adversity, and struggle – but not necessarily only changed for the worst.” Dr. McGonigal’s new book links resilience and human mindsets to discuss how we think about and experience stress; it focuses on how creating meaning, purpose, and connection can change our relationship with stress and trauma.

Here are 3 tips that can help cultivate resilience when experiencing stress:

  1. Examine how you talk to yourself. When stressed, do you shift toward being pessimistic or optimistic? How do you speak to yourself? Practice framing things in a more positive way (see example below). I used to feel very anxious and stressed whenever I made a mistake at work, because I was afraid I would lose my job or that my boss would think poorly of me. Once I started paying attention to how I talked to myself, I realized how negative I was. I would think things like, “You’re so stupid,” or, “You failed.” Realizing that, I started to slowly change the way I spoke to myself. Now, rather than thinking, “Why is this happening to me?” or, “Why did I do that?” I try to change my thoughts to, “What can I do next?” or, “How can I improve?” This helps me feel less stressed and more open to making mistakes so that I can learn and grow from them. Redirecting from negative to positive language and thoughts can create a less damaging experience.

  1. Find ways to be of service to others. If you feel stuck in a negative mindset, or feel lost or alone, try to find something that helps someone else. Help cook a meal, write a personalized letter to a friend, or volunteer. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, I would ask my older family members if they needed groceries because they were at higher risk for COVID-19, so I didn’t want them to stress about going to the grocery store. This helped me feel productive and kept me from focusing on how the pandemic was negatively impacting me. Helping someone who is also going through a tough or stressful time will help you realize that there are other people who are suffering as well. Though their challenges may be different, we can still empathize with each other. By doing this, you could also build stronger, more positive relationships.

  2. Find 3 things to be grateful for every day. This may feel hard to do, especially if you are feeling stressed, but try to notice how your body feels when you think about things you're grateful for. Do you feel your mood shift? Expressing gratitude is not meant to minimize your hardships, but to allow you to pause and redirect your thoughts towards the good things in your life. With a little practice, I can now list 10 or more things I’m grateful for each day. Doing this makes me look forward to every day and makes it easier to find joy in my daily life.

Asian/Pacific Islander Americans have a rich history of resilience. Asian/Pacific Islander women have demonstrated that even through the most traumatic times, we, as humans, can still survive and thrive. As we continue to live in challenging times, it is important that we use this time to cultivate resilience both within ourselves and others.


Reyes, Andrew Thomas, and Rose E. Constantino. “Asian American Women’s Resilience: An Integrative Review.” Asian/Pacific Island Nursing Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, 2016, pp. 105–15. Crossref, doi:10.9741/23736658.1048.

Dr. Kelly McGonigal - The Upside of Stress



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