What is it? Who has it? How does one get it? How does it relate to mental health and wellness?

I polled a few of my co-workers to get their perspective on definitions of resilience. One person stated that resilience is “the ability to absorb and cope with emotionally trying issues that come up and ‘bounce back’”. Another co-worker stated it is “the structural integrity to be able to withstand stress with minimal negative impact on the self”. Yet another co-worker added, “it’s like a rubber band—you can twist it, tie it, stretch it, throw it, roll it, snap it. When you stop messing with (stressing) it, it goes back to its original shape. The hope is that you can learn a variety of strategies to manage life so you can stay flexible.”

The above definitions of my co-workers are all similar but it is important to note the differences in meaning and perception. Everyone above works at a behavioral psychology firm and all have various understandings of behavioral and wellness issues. One person who provided a definition works in a Marketing department, one works in a front call center and screens all incoming calls and forwards them appropriately, and one works as a case manager, daily screening individuals/couples/families for mental health or substance abuse issues. While all have some knowledge on wellness and resilience, it is interesting to read the differing definitions depending on personal/professional experiences and their role in the company and with clients.

While most people do have some idea of what resilience means, that brings me to the next question: who has resilience? The simple and short answer is everyone; and everyone has different experiences and levels of resilience. However, there are some common characteristics that have been observed in people who seem to bounce back from trauma or even thrive after it while others crumble and really struggle. People can vary in the following qualities and this variation influences whether they have higher or lower levels of resilience.

  1. Flexibility – People who are observed as possessing higher levels of resilience are those who are flexible and adapt to new circumstances and thrive with change.
  2. Confidence – Going through trauma expecting to bounce back and having the confidence that getting better will happen.
  3. Awareness and Acceptance – An understanding that life is full of challenges and awareness of situations and reactions to them.
  4. Internal locus of control – Believing everyone has control of their own lives, and while some experiences are out of anyone’s control, knowing the power of choice in how to react to a certain situation lies with-in each individual.

On the other hand, people who tend to have lower levels of resilience tend to be less aware of their circumstances and their emotions and blame others for their challenges. They tend to have weak problem-solving skills and are unable to react beyond emotion to come up with logical, realistic solutions to experiences. These people are also less likely to ask for help when challenges arise and instead choose a “victim stance”.

When thinking about who has resilience, one might ask if people can obtain or even learn it. Given the answer to the previous question, it can be said that practicing these characteristics and developing the skills mentioned above can improve a person’s ability to deal with life challenges. When going through a crisis, people should ask themselves if they are utilizing these characteristics, or are they blaming others or not asking for help? Are they in control and aware of their situation or are they playing victim to life?

One thought that comes up is whether or not people are born with certain levels of resilience. How can two people born to the same parents and raised in the same circumstance grow up with one struggling in life and the other seeming to be completely successful? Researching this question will bring mixed results. There are some that say people are born with higher levels, and others that state resilience can be learned, practiced, and improved.

I think it is important to note that practicing the skills that lead toward higher levels of resilience are useful skills of life in general, and should be what people strive for whether it is for higher resilience or not.

The final question is how levels of resilience relate to mental health and wellness issues. Everyone at some point in life will struggle: with choices, grief, life transitions, emotions, and the list can go on and on. People struggle in life, relationships and in connections with themselves.

Let’s examine levels of resilience with the specific issue of grief. Whether it is due to the loss of a loved one, pet, job, or relationship, humans experience grief at some point in life. And while grief is a universal process, it is very individualistic. No two people experience grief in exactly the same way. Most have heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. No one goes through them in a linear process; instead, it’s often related to a roller coaster. Emotions go up and down and back and forth and the only real way to heal is to go through them all and accept the emotions as they come.

Resilience is an important part of the grief process as well. In applying the skills listed above for resilience, we can see that it helps people accept that grief happens in life and helps them make the choice to ask for help, either from family and friends, or from a professional. Having resilience means grievers have control over how they react to grief and they know they will be okay; that right now is hard but it will get better with time.

Resilience can be applied to mental health and wellness issues in how people are able to go through some sort of challenge or struggle and know they will be okay as long as they can accept that struggle is part of life and learn to accept their emotions as they come without judgment.

Resilience means knowing that life changes and is hard at times, and being able to make healthy choices in the effort to “bounce back” and still be okay. Everyone has this ability and it can be learned and practiced and improved. It is a very important part of mental health and wellness, and making the choice to improve resilience skills can improve one’s quality of life.

The Case Management Team