Resilience, what is it and how can we build it?

Resilience is a word that’s been thrown around a lot lately, mostly by the media and politicians. During times of crisis, we often hear politicians placating us by saying “Australians are so resilient” in the hopes that we all don’t just fall into the abyss and leave them with the job of fixing everything. So, what is resilience and how do we become more resilient in our lives?

The Oxford dictionary defines resilience as “the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc.”, but what does that mean?

Unlike people, when it comes to objects, resilience is the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. This is where the term “to bounce back” comes from. It is similar in a way for people whereas when a person becomes resilient, he or she is able to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or return to pre-crisis status. Resiliency occurs when the person uses physical and mental processes and behaviours to protect themselves from potentially negative outcomes.

It is a common misconception that resilient people are unaffected by a crisis. That they are somehow naturally tougher or more “thick-skinned” than the rest of us. However; this is not the case at all. Any individual can learn and develop resilience through certain actions, thoughts, and behaviours.
To understand this we need to take a look at what it is these people do to build resilience in their lives.

Our lives are filled with trauma, adversity, and other stresses. Here’s how you can cope with them effectively and emerge even stronger than you were before.

Imagine you were going on a boat trip during rough weather. The weather report says you may encounter large swells, high winds and rain. What would you do to ensure a safe trip?

You might use a larger boat to cope with the increased swell. You would ensure that you had all the safety equipment you need such as life jackets, a radio and an EPERB, along with drinking water and food. Although your journey would be rough, with the right tools and supports in place, you would not only make it safely through your journey, you would emerge a more confident and skilled boat person.

You can increase your resilience to weather difficulties and grow from them by using these strategies.

  • Support Network
    Prioritising our relationships by connecting with caring and understanding people can significantly bolster our resilience. It is common for people going through difficult times to feel isolated or to self-isolate. It is important in these times to seek help and connection with others, even if it is just to sit and talk. Make plans to spend time on a regular basis with loved ones. Joining a group or taking part in charity or volunteer work can also help to build ongoing and long-lasting friendships.
  • Health
    Self-care is not just a popular buzzword but an essential component to building resilience. The effects of stress are as much physical as they are emotional. Therefore; we need to keep both our physical and mental health in tip-top condition.
    Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, practice mindfulness activities such as meditation or yoga and avoid as much as possible alcohol, drugs and other substances. Building resilience doesn’t come from sweeping your problems under the carpet nor by masking them with substance abuse.
  • Positive mindset
    Having a positive mindset does not mean that you go through life being disconnected from reality or living in denial, instead it is about viewing the world through a different lens. Just like it takes work to strengthen muscles, so does it take practice to build a strong mind. It comes naturally for humans to focus on the negative, after all that is where the danger lies and our survival instincts teach us to keep a close eye on danger. These days, however, we are no longer being hunted by sabre-toothed tigers but our evolved survival instincts are still very much intact.
  • Try to keep things in perspective. The tendency to catastrophise every little thing that goes wrong can dramatically affect the way we feel mentally and physically and can even lead to us being in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Even though you cannot change a highly stressful event, you can change your interpretation and response to it. Accept that change is a normal part of life and try to look forward to the new and exciting circumstances that change brings. Try to shift your focus towards the outcomes or things that you want, that bring you joy, rather than continuously focusing on the negative. When something bad happens, understand that the sooner you take steps to overcome it and shift your focus away from it, the sooner you can move on.
  • Mistakes = Progress
    Unfortunately, it has been commonplace in past generations to raise children with the carrot and stick approach, usually with much more focus on the stick. If a child did something wrong it got the stick. Not only does this teach them to focus completely on the negative, they learn that making mistakes is not accepted by society. (In a child’s mind, society is their family and it widens from there as they grow). We need to retrain our minds to view mistakes as an opportunity to grow and to become better/stronger rather than seeing ourselves as a failure. This is a tough one and a serious issue that many people struggle with daily. Fear of failure can be so powerful that some will go to great lengths to avoid trying something new just in case they mess it up even though it is incredibly rare for people to perfect anything the first time they try it.
    Remember, making mistakes is a normal and crucial part of the learning process.

Being resilient does not mean that sometimes we are not overwhelmed by what we are facing and is not a personality trait that only a select few possess.
Just like building muscle, improving your resilience takes time and intent.

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. Here is a short list of help organisations:

Beyond Blue
1300 224 636

Blue Knot Empowering Recovery from Complex Trauma
1300 657 380

Mind Health
1300 029 131

In case of an emergency dial 000

Author: Pete Welsh