Understanding Resilience

Arthur: Fleur Heazlewood

Resilient people are able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges. Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life’s difficulties. What it does do though is give people the strength to tackle problems head on, overcome adversity and move on with their lives.

There is a huge diversity and complexity of definitions, concepts and approaches used, but the following captures the essence of resilience succinctly:

           ‘the successful adaptation to life tasks in the face of social disadvantage or highly adverse conditions’ (Windle 1999, p163).

A consistent theme among the range of definitions of resilience is a sense of adaptation, recovery and bounce backdespite adversity or change.

Resilience is contextual in many ways and is variable across time, life stage and circumstance.

Resilience is a skill that can develop or diminish depending on how we deploy it.

Some individuals have personality traits that help them come by these abilities naturally, but all people have the capability to learn the skills that it takes to become more resilient. How we develop and hone this skill is what sets us apart as individuals. Individually we are resilient on different levels and have unique reserves of tolerance that we can deploy to become more resilient.

Cultivating resilience will improve our ability to:

  • Quickly adapt in times of change
  • Cope with constant disruption
  • Thrive when you are under the pump
  • Retain a balanced approach to life
  • Maintain your energy levels and zest for life

Some strategies for building resilience

There is no instant antidote to dealing with stressful situations; there is only experience and the gradual development of resilience skills. Resilience is a practiced art; we need to practice resilience to further develop our natural reservoirs of resiliency.

  1. Staying connected to others. Having caring, supportive people around you acts as a protective factor during times of crisis. It is important to have people you can confide in. While simply talking about a situation with a friend or loved one will not make troubles go away, it allows you to share your feelings, gain support, receive positive feedback, and come up with possible solutions to your problems.

On a practical level connections often lead to opportunities, but connecting to others also allows us to recognise that people see us much more widely than the person with a problem. Seeing ourselves reflected in others eyes helps to put the difficulty into a different place.

  1. Doing things that we enjoy. Research has shown that people who carried on doing some leisure activity during a time of difficulty recover more quickly, because the activity both provides enjoyment and provides a respite from their normal thoughts.
  2. Writing down our thoughts. Keeping a journal is a valuable way of getting on paper what is filling up our head, and then being able to look at it with objectivity. The journal also allows for recognising when things are changing, and to see that resilience is not a fixed state, it ebbs and flows.

When we are in the middle of a tough time, we often only recognise the ‘bad days’ but it is equally important to acknowledge the better days. Acknowledge what we are grateful for and happy about.

  1. Develop problem solving skills. Research suggests that people who are able come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with problems than those who cannot.

Whenever encountering a new challenge, make a quick list of some of the potential ways to solve the problem. Experiment with different strategies and focus on developing a logical way to work through common problems.

  1. Focus on what is in your control. One might not be in a position to decide what the outcome will be, or have any control over the situation.  Let go of what can’t be controlled and focus on what can be controlled – at the very least we can choose how we react to a situation.  In “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor shares a powerful message of hope and resilience in horrifying adversity.
  2. Acknowledging the small wins that often pass unnoticed. During tough times it is important to acknowledge our strengths and what we are doing well. This builds our confidence, our sense of capability, and provides us with motivation and momentum to tackle the tougher challenges.
  3. Noticing and being in the present. When we are not feeling resilient we can spend our time either looking backwards on what could have been, or looking forward and only seeing relentless difficulty. Being in the present means noticing what is OK right now.

That isn’t to deny the reality of the situation e.g. it is tough to lose one’s job, or to have one’s hoped for career future taken away, but it is also important to notice what is happening each day that tells you that life is still good. Having more time for one’s children, partner or parent; being able to help out on school trips; not having to wear a suit; noticing you have been able to read a book without falling asleep.

October 5, 2015

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