Astra Psychology LocationSuite 4 | Level 5, 35 Buckingham St, Surry Hills, NSW   Astra Psychology Email   Astra Psychology Phone 0478 807 961     Astra Psychology Linked In


Jan 25, 2022 | Managing Emotions

What is resilience? 

Resilience – That ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.   Psychology Today

Resilience is the ability to recover or bounce-back from a negative life event, stress or hardship. Resilience does not mean that you don’t suffer. Being resilient does not mean that you spare yourself from feeling an array of emotions in response to negative life events, stress, or hardship. Instead, it means that you use mental processes or behaviours to protect yourself from the potential negative effects of stressors. You still feel the pain but you keep on going.

Resilience is not an event but a process. People who are resilient adapt well to adversity, tragedy, threats or significant sources of threat such as illness, workplace stress or relationship breakdowns over time. They may in fact grow from the experience and find that they are physically, emotionally or psychologically stronger for surviving what they have gone through. There is no one act or single gesture which proves that somebody has resilience. 

Resilience means applying problem solving skills and addressing aspects of your environment, mind and mood that you can change whilst accepting situations and events outside of your control. 

Importantly, resilience can be a skill, capable of being learned. Building resilience is like strengthening a muscle. People can develop the capacity to be resilient, or more resilient. 

What are the traits of a resilient person?

A resilient person has a positive self-perception. They have high levels of emotional intelligence and effectively manage their emotions. They understand and accept that life is full of challenges and believe that they have control over the outcomes of their lives. They identify as survivors rather than victims. They often show strong problem solving skills. They are skilled communicators who develop strong social supports and are able to ask for help. 

Why is resilience important?

Therapist and counsellor Joshua Miles lists a few of the wide range of reasons that resilience is a great trait to have:

  • Greater resilience leads to improved learning and academic achievement.
  • Resilience is related to lower absences from work or school due to sickness.
  • It contributes to reduced risk-taking behaviours including excessive drinking, smoking, and use of drugs.
  • Those with greater resilience tend to be more involved in the community and/or family activities.
  • Higher resilience is related to a lower rate of mortality and increased physical health.

Resilience has a powerful impact on our health (and vice versa, in some ways).

A recent review of the research on resilience suggested that resilience leads or contributes to many different positive health outcomes, including:

  • The experience of more positive emotions and better regulation of negative emotions
  • Less depressive symptoms
  • Greater resistance to stress
  • Better coping with stress, through enhanced problem-solving, a positive orientation, and re-evaluation of stressors
  • Successful aging and improved sense of well-being despite age-related challenges
  • Better recovery after a spinal cord injury
  • Better management of PTSD symptoms 

More details can be found here. 

How to build resilience

The 7C’s of resilience model was developed by paediatrician Ken Ginsberg. Ginsberg’s model says we can build inner strength and draw upon outside resources by learning competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control.

In their review on Resilience, the American Psychological Society focus on facets of connection, wellness, purpose and healthy thinking:

Build connections

Imagine you have suffered the loss of a close friend or relative. Isolating may increase hopeless thoughts that you are the only person suffering such pain. In contrast connecting with others and having your emotions validated allows you to increase positive thoughts that you are not alone in the crisis and will recover with time. 

  • Focus on finding trustworthy compassionate individuals who will validate your emotions.
  • Prioritise genuinely connecting with people who care about you including friends and family.
  • Joining in community groups has been shown to increase a sense of hope after trauma. For example being part of a faith based group, local organisation or civic group can increase a sense of belonging that is critical to displays of resilience over time. 

Take care of your body

  • Have you heard of the digestive system being referred to as the second brain? Research into the gut-brain axis has shown that nutrition and digestive health have profound impacts on stress and anxiety. The ability to be resilient in the face of trauma therefore relies on a healthy diet that includes high quality fats and oils, adequate fibre and protein, and low amounts of highly refined and sugar-based foods. 
  • Regular exercise can strengthen the body making it better at adapting to stress.
  • Taking time out to relax activates the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces levels of stress hormones. Actively seeking out moments of calm in your life can help you better deal with stressors and bounce back from adversities. 
  • Sleep deprivation is linked to high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. In order to experience trauma and come out with more positive thoughts and a stronger connection with your life you require 7-8hrs of uninterrupted sleep per night. 

Practice mindfulness

  • The mindful practice of gratitude is known to increase a sense of hope after trauma.
  • Mindful journalling, yoga, prayer and meditation can all help to build connections. 

Face the stress

Stress is uncomfortable, so it is natural that many people tend to try and find ways to block out or mask the pain. Turning to drugs or alcohol reduce your capacity to develop helpful coping strategies that are the core of resilience. Whilst they may numb some of the pain, they are likely to increase other problems in your life and do not allow you to learn to deal with the stressor you have struggled with. 

Find purpose

Help others: When you help others (which can be simply supporting a friend in their time of need) you garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people and tangibly help others all of which can foster resilience. 

Be proactive: Take initiative. Use problem solving thinking with a solution focused lens to remind yourself that you can muster the motivation to survive periods of hardship.

Move towards your goals: Ask yourself “what is one thing I can do today to move in the direction of better times and/or less stress?” It might seem as though nothing is achievable but if you can set a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goal you increase your sense of mastery and highly increase the likelihood that you will default into a proactive purposeful way of being no matter how tragic your loss or great your suffering may have been.

Embrace healthy thoughts

Keep things in perspective: Many of us default to negative thinking styles such as all-or-nothing thinking, or catastrophisation, or black and white thinking, where we think in absolutes. For example, we may think that because one area of our life is messy at the moment, all of our life is in a mess and we may even think that all of our life will remain a mess, forever. To be resilient it is important to practice balanced thinking where you recognise the loss but contain your mind so that it doesn’t create negative patterns of thought that may trap you in a state of despair and impair resilience. 

Accept change: Accepting that there are circumstances that cannot be changed allows you to focus on what you can influence or alter.

Maintain a hopeful outlook: Try visualising what you want rather than worrying about what you fear. It’s hard to be positive when faced with adversity but an optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that your future will be brighter than your past and move forwards with your life. 

Learn from your past: Change in any direction stops us getting stuck. Resilience is about growing and learning lessons from our past experiences.

Getting help

As we said, resilience is like a muscle. It can be trained and strengthened. This means it can also be guided and/or coached by health professionals. Psychologists use a variety of tried and tested approaches to tackling negative thinking styles such as cognitive restructuring and can provide you with psychoeducation on how to best approach diet and sleep to remain healthy. Support groups can be great ways to seek professional support whilst also increasing connection with others who may be highly empathetic to your specific adversity. 

Knowing when to ask for help is an act of resilience in itself because it shows a level of insight into how debilitating stress can be. Reaching out and knowing when to reach out are acts of resilience as they are ways in which you can take control of adverse circumstances. 

These sources were used in the preparation of this reflection.

The assistance of Jessie Driels is acknowledged.