It Resilience is defined as a person's ability to form healthy responses to traumatic life events. This does not mean that the person doesn't feel stressed, angry, grief or helpless in the moment, but rather, has some way of making it through those times and emerging on the other side, seemingly no worse for wear. It is, in fact, considered to be a defense mechanism as well as a protective factor, however, it is not something we are genetically provided with at birth.
Resilience is affected by a myriad of different factors, and these are highly individual, meaning they vary from person to person and can be influenced by factors in their environments. These can include things such as:
Three of the main factors felt to maintain and foster resilience are social support, cognitive flexibility and strong, acquired coping strategies. Acquired coping strategies are those that are learned in the moment by the person experiencing the trauma and stressors: these are ways the person has learned to lessen or mitigate the negative effects of the trauma; behaviours that were adopted to help them survive the experience. This doesn't happen without some flexible thinking skills too, however. This is known as cognitive flexibility, and could mean the difference between getting 'stuck' in the negative experience or being able to think of ways to move through it.
Problem solving skills require knowledge, however. Knowledge can be intrinsic or extrinsically motivated. With intrinsic motivation, perhaps the person enjoys working through challenging situations, as it offers them personal gratification for their ability to problem-solve or be a survivor. Extrinsic motivation may come from the need to find solutions in order to save their family, job, home, or in order to avoid other negative factors that could impact them.
From a biological and physiological lens, resilience has been found to have familial predispositions, biological underpinnings and a notable protective factor against negative life events. Environmental stressors experienced by prior generations can directly affect the wiring of the next generation. What you eat may also play a bigger role in development of healthy levels of resilience.
Studies are starting to emerge that further define resilience from a biological perspective, and one substance in particular, gluco-corticoids, seems to play an integral role as a regulator for stress. Gluco-corticoids are part of the cortico-steroids naturally found in the body. Their role is to break down the carbs, proteins and fats in our diets, and provide the internal environment some protection against an inflammatory response, but they can also prevent this from happening. This process occurs deep within the limbic area of the brain. Other studies have shown that chemical changes in the body as a result of trauma, can affect the brain on these deeper levels, in turn cascading inward to affect neuroplasticity, neurotransmitter actions, responses to stress and neuron health; all of which can lead to a increase in vulnerability to further mental distress; another indicator of low resilience.
So what can we do to ensure that we have a strong level of resilience when needed? Well, scientists have studied groups of people from all walks of life, who've experienced a variety of stresses and traumas and have been able to say that those who are more successful in breezing through traumatic events are those who have the following:
If this seems too overwhelming to tackle on your own, by all means reach out to your family physician for a referral to a Mental Health professional for support. There are services in most communities that offer counseling, therapies and resources for many of these types of needs. Don't be afraid to reach out.
There exists a great program developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association called Bounce Back. Be sure to click on this linked text to check it out.
Schwarz, Silke (2018). Resilience in psychology: A critical analysis of the concept. Theory and Psychology Vol 28(4). pg. 528-541
O’Keeffe, D., Hannigan, A., Doyle, R., Kinsella, A., Sheridan, A., Kelly, A., Madigan, K., Lawlor, E., & Clarke, M. (2019). The iHOPE-20 study: Relationships between and prospective predictors of remission, clinical recovery, personal recovery and resilience 20 years on from a first episode psychosis. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 53(11), 1080–1092.