How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, redundancy or loss of a job, moving overseas or moving house, serious illness, divorce or separation and other traumatic events: these are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.
Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enables them to do so? It involves resilience, an ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking a number of steps.
What is Resilience? [i]
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.
Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Some of the factors that make someone resilient are a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.
Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience – families in Victoria after the devastating bushfires; more locally, Brisbane residents rebuilding after the tragic 2011 floods. Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn't experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.
Factors in Resilience
A combination of factors contributes to resilience. Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person's resilience. Several additional factors are associated with resilience, including:
The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
Skills in communication and problem solving.
The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.
All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.
Strategies For Building Resilience
Developing resilience is a personal journey. People do not all react the same to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. People use varying strategies.
Some variation may reflect cultural differences. A person's culture might have an impact on how he or she communicates feelings and deals with adversity — for example, whether and how a person connects with significant others, including extended family members and community resources. With growing cultural diversity, the public has greater access to a number of different approaches to building resilience.
Some or many of the ways to build resilience in the following pages may be appropriate to consider in developing your personal strategy.
10 ways to build resilience
Make connections. 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. Some people find that being active in community groups, or other local organisations provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable 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. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective. 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.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. 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.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
Resilience involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your life as you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events. This happens in several ways, including:
Letting yourself experience strong emotions, and also realising when you may need to avoid experiencing them at times in order to continue functioning.
Stepping forward and taking action to deal with your problems and meet the demands of daily living, and also stepping back to rest and re-energise yourself.
Spending time with loved ones to gain support and encouragement, and also nurturing yourself.
Relying on others, and also relying on yourself.
Places to look for help
Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience. Beyond caring family members and friends, people often find it helpful to turn to support groups or books and publications. Often people can seek comfort by reading about or talking with others who have overcome adversity or found strength from a position of hardship.
If more help is needed and you want to work with a registered mental health professional, seeing your GP or a qualified Psychologist is a great place to start in developing a strategy for moving forward.
At Incorporate Psychology, we work with many men and women struggling to cope with life’s hardships. We take a real-world, practical approach and have plenty of information about our qualifications and experience, as well as common FAQs on our website. Give us a call or visit our website today (07) 3852 2441 or www.incorporatepsychology.com.au
[i] Reference Source: American Psychological Association
The Australian Government Department of Health has produced a great tip sheet for Promoting Resilience and Well-Being in young people with particular focus on the School setting. To read more, visit: