Resilience can be described as one’s ability to overcome adverse events. These events might include traumatic experiences, loss, serious health problems, and other types of stress that significantly impact health and well-being. Commonly demonstrated after trauma or distress, resiliency is generally considered to be an ordinary trait, able to be cultivated and developed by anyone.
Resilience and Mental Health
A person who is resilient may be able to “bounce back” without significant difficulty after a trying situation. Resiliency does not mean, however, a person is unaffected by an event. Rather, resilience can allow a person to manage sadness and emotional pain in a healthy way and may reduce the likelihood of one’s pain and sadness significantly impacting function and daily life.
The concept of resilience is increasingly being studied by psychology and mental health researchers in order to better understand how individuals adapt under significant stress. Resilience is understood to be an interplay between an individual and the individual’s environment, and a resilient person is generally able to use internal and external protective factors to deal with environmental stressors. Internal protective factors include emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, and the ability to tolerate distress, while the primary external protective factor is the presence of a positive support system.
Resilience, according to research, is not an uncommon trait. In the face of tragedy or trauma, many people are able to call on their resources in order to overcome feelings of grief, anxiety, and sadness. Neither is resilience a stable trait that a person has or lacks. Rather, it involves a combination of thoughts and behaviors typically able to be developed over time.
Resilience is a multi-dimensional concept; thus, there is more than one way to build resilience. A person can often develop and strengthen resilience by:
- Identifying a support network. It is often even more important to have help from others during times of difficulty. A support network might include friends, family members, fellow survivors, and support groups.
- Keeping things in perspective. Situations may seem worse or be more challenging to face particularly when one is already overwhelmed. It may be helpful to consider a broader context and to avoid catastrophizing. Recalling other times when circumstances were difficult may help people realize a current situation is not quite as bad as it seems. Remembering past challenges, and how they were addressed, may also strengthen one’s faith in one’s ability to cope.
- Accepting change as a part of life. Adverse situations may prevent some people from living the life they had imagined for themselves. Acknowledging a change in circumstances, rather than focusing on what could have been, may be a helpful step in the formulation of realistic plans for the future.
- Remembering self-care. Acknowledging personal needs and feelings is believed to be an important step in cultivating resilience. Exercising regularly, allowing time for relaxation, and getting plenty of rest can improve mental and physical well-being and help people become better able to handle difficult situations.
- Maintaining hope. The ability to remain optimistic can be an important component of resilience. Rather than allowing one negative event to completely change one’s outlook, it may be helpful to remember there are still good times to come. Sometimes the most tragic events can bring out compassion and courageousness. Focusing on those aspects of a situation may help shift some focus away from the negative aspects of the situation and allow hope to flourish.
In recent years, the United States military, specifically the Army, has placed increasing importance on resilience training. The Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign includes a number of resilience training programs for soldiers, their family members, and Army civilians. These training programs aim to teach and promote tools for dealing with adverse events in order to create more positive outcomes before, during, and after military service. The benefits of this training have been shown to include improved performance by soldiers and improved relationships among soldiers and between soldiers and their family members as well as increased physical and mental well-being.
Resilience training has also become increasingly popular in the workplace. Many organizations have found this type of training to be beneficial in a number of ways. Those who participate in resilience training may:
- Have higher workplace morale
- Become better able to cope with change
- Perform more effectively in the workplace
- Achieve higher levels of corporate success
- Hartley, M.T. (2011). Examining the relationships between resilience, mental health, and academic persistence in undergraduate college students. Journal of American College Health, 59(7), 596-604.
- Ready and resilient. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.army.mil/readyandresilient
- Resilience training courses & seminars. (n.d). Resilience Training Institute. Retrieved from http://www.resiliencetraininginstitute.com
- The road to resilience. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
Last Updated: 04-11-2016
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