The concept of resilience can be hard to define and its relevance to mental health is often missed. Dictionary definitions touch on the capacity to recovery quickly from challenges or setbacks.
I tend to think of resilience as our “bounce-back” factor.
This can apply to both individuals and groups; it can also apply to broader systems such as economies. We will see this in the post-pandemic era – some countries, economies, and businesses will bounce back from financial setbacks after the pandemic. Some will not.
Likewise, resilience is one of the foundations of mental health. We tend to think of mental health in categorical terms. For example, a person either “has” depression or they don’t. If they do, their doctor is likely to prescribe antidepressant medication, a practice rooted in the assumption that low levels of certain neurotransmitters are at the root of the experience we call depression.
In reality, a person’s state of mind fluctuates all the time. If we drift into a low mood and stay there for an extended period of time, this experience is often triggered by something in our environment and “depression” is our response. Depression can be viewed as a feeling of being stuck, powerless, or hopeless.
Depression and grief often overlap. It is important to bear in mind that these are valid feelings and responses to losses and setbacks. Yet, small steps can always be taken in even the most devastating and impossible situations. Sometimes, the only small step that can be taken is allowing yourself to feel the awful feelings.
Resilience is not any one thing; rather, it involves a diverse set of skills that can help us chip away at an overwhelming situation in a productive way. This ‘chipping away’ eventually helps to reduce the burden of stress while freeing up to new possibilities.
So what can be said of people who have high levels of resilience? How do they differ from people who experience lower levels of mental health? Such people will tend to show the following characteristics:
- A tendency to acknowledge and face the reality of the situations they find themselves in, including the feelings associated with those situations
- A proactive approach to handling the stressful aspects of those situations (vs. reliance on passive coping patterns)
- A sense of personal responsibility for taking control of that which they can control (vs. blaming the situation or others)
- A willingness to acknowledge any mistakes that may have led to the current situation and to work on learning from those mistakes
- Attempts to frame difficult situations in a positive light; seeing challenges as opportunities for growth
- A tendency to remind themselves of their ability to handle difficult situations
- A sense of trust in their own competence to figure it out when faced with a difficult situation
- High levels of emotional intelligence (EQ)
- Strong social connections
- Self-compassion when things do not turn out as they had hoped
At its essence, resilience refers to our ability to minimize the impact of stressors in life. It is the force within us that resists being stuck or immobilized when we feel overwhelmed by the demands of life or the things that happen to us. It allows us to stay grounded in a mindset that promotes growth and learning in response to difficulties.
If resilience is something you wish to build as we move toward a post-pandemic world, consider the list of characteristics above:
- Which of these characteristics do you already possess?
- Which indicate areas you could work on?
- What specific things could you do to develop those skills or characteristics?
Identifying skills and characteristics you would like to develop, then working on them, is a great way to build up your bounce-back factor! In this way, you can create a plan for your personal growth. Once you start to implement your plan, you will likely notice yourself bouncing back more easily from setbacks – this is the result of building resilience and an important foundation of mental health.
Faye Gosnell, M.C., R Psych
Revive Wellness | My Viva Inc.