What Is Resilience? Your Guide to Facing Life’s Challenges, Adversities, and Crises
What is resilience, why is it so important, and how do you know if you’re resilient enough?
Resilience is typically defined as the capacity to recover from difficult life events.
“It’s your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns,” says Amit Sood, MD, the executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being and creator of Mayo Clinic Resilient Mind in Rochester, Minnesota.
Resilience is not a trampoline, where you’re down one moment and up the next. It’s more like climbing a mountain without a trail map. It takes time, strength, and help from people around you, and you’ll likely experience setbacks along the way. But eventually you reach the top and look back at how far you’ve come.
What Is Resilience Theory?
People experience all kinds of adversity in life. There are personal experiences, such as illness, loss of a loved one, abuse, bullying, job loss, and financial instability. There is the shared reality of tragic events in the news, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and natural disasters. People have to learn to cope with and work through very challenging life experiences.
Resilience theory refers to the ideas surrounding how people are affected by and adapt to things like adversity, change, loss, and risk.
Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Some people equate resilience with mental toughness, but demonstrating resilience includes working through emotional pain and suffering.
Resilience isn’t a fixed trait. Flexibility, adaptability, and perseverance can help people tap into their resilience by changing certain thoughts and behaviors. Research shows that students who believe that both intellectual abilities and social attributes can be developed show a lower stress response to adversity and improved performance.
Dr. Sood, who is a member of the Everyday Health Wellness Advisory Board, believes that resilience can be defined in terms of five principles:
Top Factors of Resilience
Developing resilience is both complex and personal. It involves a combination of inner strengths and outer resources, and there isn’t a universal formula for becoming more resilient. All people are different: While one person might develop symptoms of depression or anxiety following a traumatic event, another person might not report any symptoms at all.
A combination of factors contributes to building resilience, and there isn’t a simple to-do list to work through adversity. In one longitudinal study, protective factors for adolescents at risk for depression, such as family cohesion, positive self-appraisals, and good interpersonal relations, were associated with resilient outcomes in young adulthood.
While individuals process trauma and adversity in different ways, there are certain protective factors that help build resilience by improving coping skills and adaptability. These factors include:
Social Support Research published in 2015 in the journal Ecology and Society showed that social systems that provide support in times of crisis or trauma support resilience in the individual. Social support can include immediate or extended family, community, friends, and organizations.
Realistic Planning: The ability to make and carry out realistic plans helps individuals play to their strengths and focus on achievable goals.
Self-Esteem: A positive sense of self and confidence in one’s strengths can stave off feelings of helplessness when confronted with adversity.
Coping Skills: Coping and problem-solving skills help empower a person who has to work through adversity and overcome hardship.
Communication Skills: Being able to communicate clearly and effectively helps people seek support, mobilize resources, and take action.
Emotional Regulation: The capacity to manage potentially overwhelming emotions (or seek assistance to work through them) helps people maintain focus when overcoming a challenge.
Research on resilience theory shows that it is imperative to manage an individual’s immediate environment and promote protective factors while addressing demands and stressors that the individual faces. In other words, resilience isn’t something people tap into only during overwhelming moments of adversity. It builds as people encounter all kinds of stressors on a daily basis, and protective factors can be nurtured.