What Is 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 you wanted to take or being turned down for a promotion at work), while others are disastrous on a much larger scale (hurricanes and terrorist attacks).

How we deal with these problems can play a significant role in not only the outcome but also the long-term psychological consequences. The good news is that there are things you can do to become more resilient.

What Is Resilience?

People who remain calm in the face of disaster have what psychologists call resilience. Resilient people are able to utilize their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges. These problems may include:

  • Job loss
  • Financial problems
  • Illness
  • Natural disasters
  • Medical emergencies
  • Divorce
  • Death of a loved one

Instead of falling into despair or hiding from problems with unhealthy coping strategies, resilient people face life's difficulties head-on.

This does not mean that they experience less distress, grief, or anxiety than other people do. It means that they use healthy coping skills to handle such difficulties in ways that foster strength and growth. In many cases, they may emerge even stronger than they were before.

Those who lack this resilience may instead 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.

What Resilience Provides

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 traumas such as the 9/11 attacks and the Hurricane Katrina disaster, 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.

Who Is Resilient, and Why?

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 your 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:

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

How to Build Resilience

Fortunately, resilience is something that you can build both in yourself and in your children. There are distinct steps that you can take to become more resilient.

Reframe Your 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 your thoughts to look for small ways that you can tackle the problem and make changes that will help.

Focusing on the positive things you can do can help get you out of a negative mindset.

You can also use this approach 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, your child can learn to see these events as opportunities to challenge themselves and develop new skills.

Seek Support

Talking about the difficulties you are coping with doesn't make them go away, but sharing with a supportive friend or loved one can make you feel like you have someone in your corner, which could help you build your resilience. Discussing things with other people can also help you gain insight or even new ideas that might help you better manage the challenges you're dealing with.

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

Focus on What You Can Control

When faced with a crisis or problem, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by things that feel far beyond your control. Instead of wishing there was some way you could go back in time or change things, try focusing only on the things that you can directly impact. Encourage your child 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 your or your child's sense of control and resilience.

Manage Stress

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

With some practice, these skills can be learned and mastered by adults and children alike. Eventually, you or your child will feel prepared to face stressful situations and resilient enough to bounce back quickly. If you need help learning to keep your stress levels under control, consider enlisting the support of a cognitive therapist.

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.

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