Resilience: Developing the ability to ‘bounce back’

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ or recovery quickly after adversity or a challenge in your life. The interesting thing about resilience is that it has to be developed. Although understanding the theory is great, it is through experience that we truly start to become resilient.

It is resilience that helps us to cope after significant stress or upheaval in our lives. Whether it is dealing with challenging life experiences such natural disasters (like a cyclone or flood), loss such as a relationship or death of a loved one, job loss, serious illness, or work stress, many people react to such circumstances with strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty. On the whole, people generally adapt well (in time) to life changing situations or stressors. Resilience is the ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking a number of steps.

Resilience is ordinary. Most people will demonstrate the ability to cope and recover. Having resilience doesn’t mean we will not get distressed, as emotional pain at times is normal. Resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that are developed. We all have the ability to develop or learn resilience.

Teaching our children Resilience

We often see parents that will try and protect their children from being uncomfortable or distressed in anyway. However, it is these little lessons that are important for teaching children to develop resilience.

For example, imagine a young child learning to ride a push-bike: As the parent it is tempting to run out every time they fall off. The child looks up and waits for the parent to come to the rescue. Then there will be tears and the child will most likely want to go home. As we learned to stop and allow our children to work it out themselves (by not jumping up and running to their aid) they will be able to learn how to dust themselves off and get back on the bike. The child may still look up at the parent for reassurance (which could be given with a smile and a big thumbs up), but then they would be ok. This child is developing resilience.

10 Ways to Develop Resilience

[Based on APA (2017). ‘Road to Resilience’.]

  1. Make connections/Relationships.

    • Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as overwhelming problems.

    • You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.
  3. Accept that change is a part of living.

    • Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
  4. Move toward your goals.

    • Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
  5. Take decisive actions.

    • Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery.

    • People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself.

    • Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
  8. Avoid Catastrophising- Keep it in perspective.

    • It’s very easy to catastrophise (blow things out of proportion – it’s terrible, the sky is falling etc.). Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
  9. Maintain hope.

    • An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  10. Self-care.

    • Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of you helps to keep your mind and body ready to deal with situations that require resilience.

Learn from our Experiences

It’s important to reflect back on what we have been able to cope with in the past. Ask yourself what situations do I normally find most stressful? How have I coped with these situations in the past? Who I have I been able to lean on for support during these times? Have I been able to overcome difficulties, if so how?

Resilience is a skill to be developed. If you think you need assistance with resilience, a psychologist can help you with appropriate strategies to move forward.

APA (2017). Road to Resilience.

By Judy Travis

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