How to Build Resilience

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

We will all experience some sort of hardship in our lives. The key to getting through it is resilience. Learn about the tools you can use to build your ability to be resilient after hardship. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz.

What Is Resilience?

Although 7-year-old Amy's mother and father died in a car accident, she is acclimating well after moving in with her aunt and uncle. She even started the second grade at a new school the very next month.

After Julian's 4-month-old son suddenly died of a heart problem, he felt like his entire world was taken from him. Just a couple of months later, Julian is now back at work and taking care of himself by exercising each day and eating healthily.

Both Amy and Julian suffered devastating losses but are displaying remarkable resilience. Resilience is a process of adjusting well after trauma or tragedy. Resilience involves rising above adversity despite hurt and pain. We all will experience tragedy and suffering in our lifetime; it is those that are resilient that will be at a lesser risk of mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These individuals will have a better quality of life and be able to enjoy life after misfortune and trauma. Resilience is the key to stable mental and emotional health; this is why building resilience is so important.

This flower exhibits resilience by growing beautifully despite the harsh rocky conditions
Resilient flower

Expression of Feelings

Resilient individuals are able to 'bounce back' from adversity relatively quickly. But this doesn't mean they skip the feelings of grief that follow a traumatic event. In fact, resilient individuals permit themselves a period of grief where they are able to express their feelings freely without restraint. Crying, telling their story, getting professional counseling, and/or acquiring validation and support from friends and family are all healthy ways to express feelings after catastrophe. Keeping feelings pent up inside is detrimental to one's emotional and mental health.

Tools for Resilience

Imagine a wooden toolbox labeled, 'Resilience' in large bright red letters. Inside are the tools that are required to be a person with excellent resilience. A resilient individual has more of these tools in their box than someone who crumbles in the face of adversity. We will discuss each of these tools further using the example of Tim, who has returned from three years of war while being stationed in the Middle East. In order to avoid the depression and PTSD that accompanies returning from war far too often, Tim must use the tools in his resilience toolbox as much as possible.

Establish a Strong Support System

This is the hammer of the resilience toolbox. It is one of the most important and well-used tools in the face of adversity and hardship. While at war, Tim was sure to keep up with family and friends through phone calls and letters. When Tim returned home, he was welcomed with open arms by these people. They invited him to social gatherings, dinners, church and sporting events until he felt like life was somewhat 'normal' again.

The presence of supportive family and friends is one of the most important factors in building resilience amongst veterans
Family receiving sailors from war

Change Your Perspective

Just like the wrench manipulates a screw, a change of perspective shapes and shifts the way you think about a crisis. Perhaps the crisis could have been worse and you can be thankful that it wasn't. Or maybe something positive came out of the crisis. In Tim's case, he was thankful that he still had his life after the war. He was also thankful for his fellow soldiers and friends who also made it through the war with him. In the end, he could appreciate life more now than ever before.

Embrace Change

When do you use a tape measure? When you are changing the look of a room, and measuring for new furniture, appliances, or curtains. Accepting that life changes, and embracing this fact, is vital for resilience. Tim's girlfriend had moved on to a new relationship, as she had difficulty waiting for Tim for three years while he was at war. Tim was able to embrace change by getting excited about dating again.

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