The good news is that resilience can be learned. For example, people can build up social support networks or learn to reframe negative thoughts.
Learning to be resilient doesn’t mean figuring out how to “grin and bear it” or to simply “get over it.” It’s not about learning to avoid obstacles or resisting change.
Building resilience is a process by which people utilize flexibility to reframe thought patterns and learn to tap into a strengths-based approach to working through obstacles.
How to Build and Cultivate Resilience
It’s helpful to think of resilience as a process. The following are steps that can help build resilience over time:
Develop self-awareness. Understanding how you typically respond to stress and adversity is the first step toward learning more adaptive strategies. Self-awareness also includes understanding your strengths and knowing your weaknesses.
Build self-regulation skills. Remaining focused in the face of stress and adversity is important but not easy. Stress-reduction techniques, such as guided imagery, breathing exercise, and mindfulness training, can help individuals regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
Learn coping skills. There are many coping skills that can help in dealing with stressful and challenging situations. They include journaling, reframing thoughts, exercising, spending time outdoors, socializing, improving sleep hygiene, and tapping into creative outlets.
Increase optimism. People who are more optimistic tend to feel more in control of their outcomes. To build optimism, focus on what you can do when faced with a challenge, and identify positive, problem-solving steps that you can take.
Strengthen connections. Support systems can play a vital role in resilience. Bolster your existing social connections and find opportunities to build new ones.
Know your strengths. People feel more capable and confident when they can identify and draw on their talents and strengths.
How Resilient Are You?
Resilience is not a permanent state. A person may feel equipped to manage one stressor and overwhelmed by another. Remember the factors that build resilience, and try to apply them when dealing with adversity.
In general, resilient people have many of the following characteristics:
Locus of Control: Focus on how you, as opposed to external forces, can control the outcome of events.
Social Support: Rely on family, friends, and colleagues when needed.
Problem-Solving Skills: Identify ways within your control to work and resolve a problem.
Optimism: When the going gets tough, believe in your ability to handle it.
Coping Skills: Find techniques to reduce stress and anxiety.
Self-Care: Make your mental, emotional, and physical health top priorities.
Self-Awareness: Know your strengths and weaknesses and how to put internal resources to work.
Resilience and Health Conditions
Studies have shown that characteristics of resilience, particularly social connections and a strong sense of self-worth, help people confronting chronic illness.
A review of research on resilience and chronic disease published in April 2015 in the journal Cogent Psychology suggested that a patient’s resilience can influence both the progression and outcome of illnesses.
Mental Health and Resilience
Resilience is a protective factor against psychological distress in adverse situations involving loss or trauma. It can help in the management of stress levels and depressive symptoms. Psychological resilience refers to the mental fortitude to handle challenges and adversity.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Resilience
Research found that behavioral and emotional strategies to cultivate resilience can benefit patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other chronic diseases. One study concluded that optimism and perceived social support help improve the quality of life for RA patients.
Immunological Disorders and Resilience
Research supports the idea that physical resilience can reduce the adverse effect that stressors have on the immune system. Studies have shown that low resilience is associated with worsening of disease, whereas high resilience is associated with better quality of life.
Brain Injuries and Resilience
One study, published in July 2015 in the Journal of Neurotrauma, showed that patients with traumatic brain injuries who tested moderate-high on a resilience scale reported significantly fewer post-injury symptoms and better quality of life than those with low resilience.
Type 2 Diabetes and Resilience
According to the Mayo Clinic, high levels of resilience in diabetes patients are associated with lower A1C levels, indicating better glycemic control.
Cancer and Resilience
Research published in April 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry linked resilience, notably personal strengths and social factors, to improved psychological and treatment-related outcomes for cancer patients.
Digestive Conditions and Resilience
People suffering from anxiety and depression frequently report gastrointestinal distress as a primary symptom. Building resilience can reduce the stress and anxiety associated with some GI symptoms. Research published in January 2018 in the journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility showed a connection between low resilience and worsened irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.
Skin Conditions and Resilience
Dermatologic disorders are often accompanied by anxiety and stress. Stress, in turn, can trigger flare-ups of skin-related conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. Studies suggest that patients with conditions like psoriasis show signs of less resilience, and early intervention to build resilience can improve symptoms and management of these conditions.
Endometriosis and Resilience
Studies have linked endometriosis and chronic, potentially debilitating pain to depressive mood, anxiety, and reduced resilience. Resilience can be an important factor in reducing the effects on physical, mental, and social well-being.
Resilience in Children
Kids confront any number of challenges as they grow — from starting school and making new friends to adverse, traumatic experiences, such as bullying and abuse.
“Building resilience — the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
The 7 Cs model specifically addresses resilience building in kids and teens. It lists competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control as essential skills for young people to handle situations effectively.
Parents can help children develop resilience through positive behaviors and thoughts. The APA lists 10 tips for building resilience in young people:
Foster social connections
Help children by having them help others
Maintain a daily routine
Take breaks from sources of stress
Set realistic goals
Nurture a positive self-image
Keep things in perspective
Accept change as part of life
There is no universal formula for building resilience in young people. If a child seems overwhelmed or troubled at school and at home, parents might consider talking to someone who can help, such as a counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional.
Does Gender Affect Resilience?
Studies on resilience and gender suggest that men and women may respond differently to adversity and trauma. But the results have been conflicting.
In terms of survival and longevity, women historically thrive in greater numbers than men during times of crisis such as famines and epidemics. Even when overall life expectancy rose, researchers found women outlived men between six months and four years, according to an article published in January 2018 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
On the other hand, studies have found that women are approximately twice as likely as men to develop PTSD after a traumatic event. The reason for the gender difference is unclear, but it may have something to do with coping style for dealing with trauma.
Resilience in Women
Resilience benefits both men and women when facing challenges and adversity. However, women also draw on resilience to overcome obstacles more often placed in their way, such as job discrimination, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
One study found that when confronted with gender bias in the workplace, women relied on adopting male characteristics, mentoring, and intrinsic motivational factors to work through obstacles.
Resilience in Men
Resilience can protect both men and women from mental health conditions, such as depression
Research has found that men who lack resilience are exponentially more vulnerable to
becoming severely depressed after the loss of a spouse.
The study, published in September 2018 in the journal The Gerontologist, also showed that men
with high resilience showed no additional depressive symptoms following a loss, and their
overall well-being almost mirrored that of their married counterparts.
Another study, published in 2014 in the journal Progress in Community Health Parterships,
focused on perceived sources of stress and resilience, specifically among African American
men, and found that most men found support for resiliency through family and religion.
Resilience in Caregiving
The burden of caring for someone, such as an older adult or a chronically ill loved one, can be a
tremendous source of stress and affect a caregiver’s well-being.
Research has shown that social support is a key moderating factor for resilience among
caregivers. That support can be provided by family members and friends, as well as physicians
and social workers.
One study, published in January 2018 in the journal BMC Psychiatry, stressed that healthcare
professionals should help identify supportive family members and friends to help alleviate