Explore the many different things that contribute to resilience.
In life, we all face stressful experiences. But, each of us is very different in how we cope with these experiences. Some of us cope well and may even grow and improve as a result of stress. Others struggle and may even develop mental health issues in the face of stress.
Resilience is the set of personal qualities that enable us to thrive in the face of adversity (Connor & Davidson, 2003). It may involve being calm in difficult situations, implementing effective coping mechanisms, and handling criticism well.
Ongoing stress can be hard on our mental and physical health. Personal resilience can buffer us from these effects, shutting down the stress cycle and HPA-axis, enabling us to better fight off illness and other negative outcomes (Gaffey, Bergeman, Clark, & Wirth, 2016). But resilience can mean different things to different people. For example, to someone who is extroverted, resilience may mean spending extra time with friends. To an introvert, resilience may mean spending more time alone. Although each of us may cope with struggles by using different strategies, the key is to know what works for us and in which circumstances.
So much pain is created from our tendency to fight the things we can not change. But the more time we spend getting upset about the uncontrollable situations in our lives, the more time we spend stressed or angry instead of focusing on how we can make the future better. Perhaps this is why acceptance is linked to positive well-being (Ranzijn & Luszcz, 1999).
Self-knowledge is essential to resilience. If we do not know ourselves well enough to cope with stressors in ways that are effective for us, then we are likely to struggle. For example, maybe we cope by drinking alcohol or using drugs when we’re upset. But the next day, we just end up feeling worse. By developing self-knowledge, we can take actions that help us recover from difficulties more easily.
When we’re sick, tired, and malnourished, we have a harder time responding to any type of stress, big or small. Our bodies just don’t have the resources. For example, research has found that sugar intake is related to depression (Knüppel et al., 2017). If we focus on being healthier, we are likely to boost our resilience. We can do this by eating more nutritious food, engaging in moderate exercise, and sleeping when we’re tired.
Burnout is a very real phenomenon that includes emotional exhaustion and cynicism (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Research has shown that there are several causes of burnout including too much work, not enough control, not enough pay, social issues, and a mismatch in values (Maslach & Leiter, 2016). If we’re burned out, our resilience is at an all-time low. This is why it’s so important to prevent burnout before it gets to this point. If possible, try to get out of jobs or roles that are not a good fit for you. Take breaks whenever possible. And be sure to relax during your time off.
Self-love (or self-worth, self-confidence, self-esteem, etc…) may be a crucial part of what it means to be resilient. Positive self-views are closely linked to positive outcomes like happiness and well-being (Miller Smedema, Catalano, & Ebener, 2010). This may be because if we feel bad about ourselves, it colors every other aspect of our lives. We set ourselves up for disappointing situations and then we blame ourselves for them. By cultivating self-love, we can hopefully respond to stress in healthier ways.
No matter what we’re doing, we feel better when we’re doing it with others. That makes social connections a crucial component of resilience. In fact, one of the most reliable ways to boost well-being is by developing high-quality social relationships and by feeling socially connected to the people in your life (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017).
Sometimes when we’re going through something difficult, we get so immersed in it that we can’t see straight. Our emotions overwhelm and our perspectives narrow. That’s why resilience often means being able to take a step back to look at our situation from outside ourselves. More specifically, if we look at our situation as if we were “a fly on the wall” or “a passerby on the street”, we can get some much-needed objectivity that can help decrease our negative emotions. This strategy is known as emotional distancing, and it can help us feel better during difficult times (Ayduk, & Kross, 2010).
It’s human nature to try to make meaning of our challenges. We often create explanations in our minds for why things happened to us and why they happened the way they did. This can help us cope with loss and other stressful events (Park, 2008). That’s why meaning-making can be a key part of resilience. If we instead think that bad things happen for seemly no reason, we can end up feeling lost or out of control.
Resilience is a powerful tool for well-being. But it is also a complex, multifaceted concept. Hopefully, this explanation helped clarify how to be more resilient in your life.
- Ayduk, Ö., and E. Kross. 2010. “From a Distance: Implications of Spontaneous Self-Distancing for Adaptive Self-Reflection.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98 (5): 809–829. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0019205.
- Connor, K. M., & Davidson, J. R. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor‐Davidson resilience scale (CD‐RISC). Depression and anxiety, 18(2), 76-82.
- Gaffey, A. E., Bergeman, C. S., Clark, L. A., & Wirth, M. M. (2016). Aging and the HPA axis: Stress and resilience in older adults. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 68, 928-945.
- Holt-Lunstad, J., Robles, T. F., & Sbarra, D. A. (2017). Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States. American Psychologist, 72(6), 517.
- Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports, 7(1), 1-10.
- Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of organizational behavior, 2(2), 99-113.
- Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Burnout. In Stress: Concepts, cognition, emotion, and behavior (pp. 351-357). Academic Press.
- Miller Smedema, S., Catalano, D., & Ebener, D. J. (2010). The relationship of coping, self-worth, and subjective well-being: A structural equation model. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 53(3), 131-142.
- Park, C. L. (2008). Testing the meaning making model of coping with loss. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27(9), 970-994.
- Ranzijn, R., & Luszcz, M. (1999). Acceptance: A key to wellbeing in older adults? Australian Psychologist, 34(2), 94-98.