What Is Resilience?

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What Is Resilience?

People who remain calm in the face of disaster have what psychologists call resilience. People with resilience are able to utilize their skills and strengths to cope and recover from life's challenges, which can include those related to:

Instead of falling into despair or hiding from issues such as these with unhealthy coping strategies, resilience helps people face life's difficulties head-on.

People with resilience do not experience less distress, grief, or anxiety than other people do. They simply use healthy coping skills to handle such difficulties in ways that foster strength and growth, often emerging stronger than they were before.

This article discusses the signs, types, and causes of resilience. It also covers some of the strategies that people can use to become more resilient.

Signs of Resilience

Resilient people often have a number of different characteristics that help them weather life's challenges. Some of the signs of resilience include:

  • A survivor mentality: When people are resilient, they view themselves as survivors. They know that even when things are difficult, they can keep going until they make it through.
  • Effective emotional regulation: Resilience is marked by an ability to manage emotions in the face of stress. This doesn't mean that resilient people don't experience strong emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear. It means that they recognize those feelings are temporary and can be managed until they pass.
  • Feeling in control: Resilient people tend to have a strong internal locus of control and feel that their actions can play a part in determining the outcome of events. 
  • Problem-solving skills: When problems arise, resilient people look at the situation rationally and try to come up with solutions that will make a difference.
  • Self-compassion: Another sign of resilience is showing self-acceptance and self-compassion. Resilient people treat themselves with kindness, especially when things are hard.
  • Social support: Having a solid network of supportive people is another sign of resilience. Resilient people recognize the importance of support and knowing when they need to ask for help.

Recap

Signs of resilience include the ability to regulate emotions, a sense of confidence and control, effective coping skills, leaning on social support when needed.

Types of Resilience

Resilience represents and ability to handle life's setbacks and is an overall representation of adaptability. However, there are also different types of resilience, each of which can influence a person's ability to cope with various forms of stress

Physical Resilience

Physical resilience refers to how the body deals with change and recovers from physical demands, illnesses, and injuries. Research suggests that this type of resilience plays an important role in health. It impacts how people age as well as how they respond and recover from physical stress and medical issues.

Physical resilience is something that people can improve to a certain extent by making healthy lifestyle choices. Getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and engaging in regular exercise are just a few ways to strengthen this type of resilience.

Mental Resilience

Mental resilience refers to a person's ability to adapt to change and uncertainty. People who possess this type of resilience are flexible and calm during times of crisis. They utilize this mental strength to solve problems, move forward, and remain hopeful even when they are facing setbacks.

Emotional Resilience

Emotional resilience involves being able to regulate emotions during times of stress. They are aware of their emotional reactions and tend to be in touch with their inner life. Because of this, they are also able to calm their mind and manage their emotions when they are dealing with negative experiences. 

This type of resilience also helps people maintain a sense of optimism when times are tough. Because they are emotionally resilient, they understand that adversity and difficult emotions are temporary and won't last forever.

Social Resilience

Social resilience, which is also referred to as community resilience, involves the ability of groups to recover from difficult situations. It involves connecting with others and working together to solve problems and deal with problems that affect people both individually and collectively. 

Aspects of social resilience include coming together after disasters, supporting each other socially, becoming aware of the risks that the community faces, and building a sense of community. Such responses can be important during challenges such as natural disasters that affect communities or large groups of people.

Recap

Resilience can come in different forms. This includes physical resilience, mental resilience, emotional resilience, and social resilience.

Causes of Resilience

Some people come by these abilities naturally, with personality traits that help them remain unflappable in the face of challenge. However, these behaviors are not just inborn traits found in a select few. Resilience is the result of a complex series of internal and external characteristics, including genetics, physical fitness, mental health, and environment.

Social support is another critical variable that contributes to resilience. Mentally strong people tend to have the support of family and friends who help bolster them up in times of trouble.

Resilient people may also show characteristics like:

  • Being a good communicator
  • Having an internal locus of control
  • Having high emotional intelligence and managing emotions effectively
  • Holding positive views of themselves and their abilities
  • Possessing the capacity to make realistic plans and stick to them
  • Viewing themselves as fighters rather than victims of circumstance

Impact of Resilience

Resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with stress and hardship. It is the mental reservoir of strength that people are able to call on in times of need to carry them through without falling apart. Psychologists believe that resilient individuals are better able to handle adversity and rebuild their lives after a struggle.

Dealing with change or loss is an inevitable part of life. At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of these challenges might be relatively minor (not getting into a class or being turned down for a promotion at work), while others are disastrous on a much larger scale (hurricanes and terrorist attacks).

Those who lack resilience may become overwhelmed by such experiences. They may dwell on problems and use unhelpful coping mechanisms to deal with life’s challenges.

Disappointment or failure might drive them to unhealthy, destructive, or even dangerous behaviors. These individuals are slower to recover from setbacks and may experience more psychological distress as a result.

How people deal with these problems can play a significant role in not only the outcome but also the long-term psychological consequences.

Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life's difficulties. People who possess this quality don't see life through rose-colored lenses. They understand that setbacks happen and that sometimes life is hard and painful. They still experience the negative emotions that come after a tragedy, but their mental outlook allows them to work through these feelings and recover.

Resilience gives people the strength to tackle problems head-on, overcome adversity, and move on with their lives. In the wake of large-scale traumas such as the terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals demonstrated the behaviors that typify resilience—and they experienced fewer symptoms of depression as a result.

Even in the face of events that seem utterly unimaginable, resilience allows people to marshal the strength to not just survive but to prosper.

How to Become More Resilient

Fortunately, resilience is something that people can build themselves and their children. There are distinct steps that can lead to greater resilience.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

Resilient people are able to look at negative situations realistically, but in a way that doesn't center on blame or brooding over what cannot be changed. Instead of viewing adversity as insurmountable, reframe thoughts to look for small ways to tackle the problem and make changes that will help.

Focusing on the positive things a person can do is a great way to get out of a negative mindset.

This approach can also be used to help children learn how to better cope with challenges. Encourage them to think about challenges in more positive, hopeful ways. This way, instead of getting stuck in a loop of negative emotions, a child can learn to see these events as opportunities to challenge themselves and develop new skills.

Seek Support

Talking about life's difficulties doesn't make them go away, but sharing with a supportive friend or loved one can make people feel like they have someone in their corner, which can support the development of resilience Discussing things with other people can also help people gain insight or even new ideas to better manage the challenges they are dealing with.

To help a child develop a support network, adults should try modeling good social skills like sharing feelings, being empathetic, cooperating with and helping others, and expressing gratitude—and remember to reinforce a child's good behavior.

Focus on What Is Within Control

When faced with a crisis or problem, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by things that feel far beyond an individual's control. Instead of wishing there was some way to go back in time or change things, it can be helpful to try focusing only on the things that a person can directly impact. Adults can also encourage children to develop this skill by talking about their situation and helping them make a plan for how they can react.

Even when the situation seems dire, taking realistic steps can help improve it. No matter how small these steps may be, they can improve sense of control and resilience.

Manage Stress

Building healthy stress management habits is an effective way to increase overall resilience. These habits could include behaviors that help overall health, like getting enough sleep and exercise, as well as specific actions to take during moments of stress, like:

With some practice, these skills can be learned and mastered by adults and children alike. Eventually, people then tend to feel prepared to face stressful situations and resilient enough to bounce back quickly. For those struggling to keep stress levels under control, it may be helpful to consider enlisting the support of a cognitive therapist.

Recap

While some people tend to be more naturally resilient, it is also a skill that can be strengthened. Looking at situations in more positive ways, getting support from others, and focusing on the things that can be controlled are helpful strategies. Good stress management skills can also foster greater resilience.

A Word From Verywell

While previous findings suggested that most people tend to be resilient, one 2016 study found that resilience in the face of events such as the death of a spouse, divorce, and unemployment is less common than previously believed. Such findings indicate a need for interventions and support following stressful or traumatic life events.

If you are struggling to cope with challenges, don't be afraid to talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Even resilient people need help and part of being a resilient person is knowing when to ask for support and assistance.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can build inner strength and resilience.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the key factors in resilience?

    There are a number of different factors that play an essential role in resilience. These include coping skills, emotional regulation, a sense of control, communication skills, and social support. These abilities interact to allow people to feel confident in their abilities to cope, make realistic plans to deal with problems, manage emotional responses in the face of stress, and seek out the support and assistance they need in times of crisis.

  • What is emotional resilience?

    Emotional resilience refers to the ability to manage emotions and calm your mind during times of stress. It involves being aware of your emotions and knowing how to deal with difficult feelings effectively. Rather than becoming overwhelmed or lashing out, emotionally resilient people utilize different strategies to cope. They understand that these feelings are not permanent and are able to maintain a positive outlook.

  • How does trauma affect resilience?

    The impact of trauma can depend on a variety of factors including a person's age, existing resources, and the nature of the trauma. People who have strong support and existing emotional resources are often likely to emerge from trauma with an even greater sense of resilience. Children are often resilient to trauma, but ongoing or cumulative traumas can significantly affect a child's ability to recover and may impact future resilience.

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