None of us can be protected from adversity or personal tragedy all our lives. In fact, an over-protective outlook about our own lives as well as our loved ones can result in poor problem-solving and later poor coping skills in the face of adversity.
Recently, I planted a Tree of Hope in the People’s Park in Limerick as a symbol of how hope and brighter days will come after the storms pass.
People resemble trees in that having survived the most challenging weather conditions and been tested by adversity, they will grow, endure and thrive.
All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. How we respond to these has a big impact on our well-being. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but in principle, we can choose our attitude to what happens. In practice, it's not always easy, but resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.
What is resilience?
Resilience describes our ability to cope with and bounce back from adversity. Some people describe it as the ability to bend instead of break when under pressure or in difficulty, or to persevere and adapt when faced with challenges. The same abilities also help to make us more open to and willing to take on new opportunities, i.e. if Plan A isn’t working we move to Plan B. In this way, being resilient is more than just survival; it includes letting go, learning and growing as well as finding healthy ways to cope.
It’s not rare
Resilience isn't a rare quality found in a few, extraordinary people. One expert in the subject, Dr. Ann Masten, describes it as ‘ordinary magic’, noting that it comes from our normal, everyday capabilities, relationships and resources. She argues that resilience is dynamic and that we can be naturally resilient in some situations or at different times in our lives and not at others.
We can all learn resilience
We can all work on our resilience. We can build a range of skills and resources to help us respond flexibly, effectively deal with challenges, recover more quickly and even learn and grow. It can lower our risk of depression and anxiety and enable us to age successfully.
Three areas that influence resilience
- Our development as children and teenagers.
- External factors such as our relationships with others or having a faith.
- Internal factors such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour.
As adults we can't change our childhoods, there is plenty we can do to build our resilience within the second and third sets of factors, and research shows that resilience can develop in adults as well as in children.
Experiencing adversity during our lives can increase our resilience by enabling us to learn ways of coping by identifying and engaging our support network. It also gives us a sense of mastery over past adversities, which helps us to feel we will be able to cope in the future.
Some psychologists argue that most of us aren't as prepared as we might be to face adversity and so we run the risk of giving up or feeling helpless in the face of difficulty. But, by changing the way we think about adversity, we can boost how resilient we are. They believe our capacity for resilience is not fixed or in our genes, nor are there limits on how resilient we are able to be.
Resilience & relationships
One of the key external sources of resilience is our network of relationships. Taking time to nurture our relationships is a vital part of resilience building.
Knowing when we need help and asking for it is an important part of resilience too. In this era of mental health awareness, reaching out and offering support is critical to building resilience.