What is resilience?

How many resilient people do you know? And have they made a difference in your life?

Spookily, we all think we recognise these people. They appear as leaders, heroes, and inspirational figures helping us make sense of adversity. 

Well, that is what I used to believe.

Nowadays, I believe that none of us really can be sure who will cope when adversity strikes.

Plus, adversity can happen to all of us.

But I do know we all can learn to be more resilient.

Let me show you how.

What is resilience?

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.”

That’s a bit of a mouthful in my humble opinion.

I much prefer the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary definition that states that “resilience is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”

Makes better sense, doesn’t it?

This definition also takes this skill from being a superhuman quality to something we all can aspire to.

No matter how you landed here, you may be feeling a little unsure about how resilience relates to you.

I know that when I started my journey, I never thought that I would be standing up wearing the virtual t-shirt that says I Am Resilient. 

But, I can share what we all can learn.

So, let’s learn together.

The study of resilient individuals 

The word resilience comes from the Latin word resilio meaning to turn around, make a leap, or rebound. I like to think of resilience as an elastic band that even when stretched and stretched always returns to its initial shape. 

From what I learned, the first studies focused on individuals who found themselves in extreme situations. For instance, people in concentration camps, homeless children and women who were the victims of violence. 

Nowadays, many disciplines research individuals to broaden our understanding of what allows some individuals to bounce back so effectively.  

Four types of resilience

Behind every type of resilience, there’s a human story and experience.

Transforming myself from a victim of trauma into being more resilient didn’t happen overnight.

It’s a journey that I am still on.

Fortunately, I soon learned that there are four types. These are:

  • Psychological resilience
  • Emotional resilience
  • Physical resilience
  • Community resilience

Let me explain.

Physical resilience

Physical resilience is the body’s capacity and ability to adapt to adversity. How the body maintains energy and strength. And, how it recovers quickly, efficiently, and effectively. 

The first way to avoid the challenge of adversity is to keep a healthy lifestyle, eat well, and exercise regularly.

I enjoy it when I get asked about physical resilience. Mainly, as it is one of the most accessible, with a degree of commitment, of all the types of resilience. 

Physical resilience also plays a major role in your health. And helps you recover and respond to stress and injury in your life.

Emotional resilience

Emotional resilience relates to how we self-regulate our emotional responses to stress and adversity.

When responding to stressful situations, resilient individuals stay calm, realistic, and measured. And, they promote a sense of optimism that might not be shared with others impacted by the adversity.

Our choice of emotional responses is often habitual. So, my favorite piece of advice to promote greater emotional resilience within individuals and teams is to manage negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness. These emotions are often redundant and only sap the energy you’ll need to deal with adversity and stress.

Psychological resilience

Psychological resilience refers to an individual’s ability to adapt to change, adversity, and stress. Psychological resilience is also known as mental resilience. Mental strength allows individuals to stay calm during periods of stress while others may be losing their heads.

Psychological resilience is closely associated with emotional resilience as the individual regulates their emotions to allow them to apply their problem-solving skills to manage the change experienced.

This type links well with my experience of adversity. What I like most about psychological resilience is that it makes individuals focus on what they can control rather than emotionally capitulating to adversity. 

In my own situation, I realized how much I can bounce back by making better choices.

What’s key is to choose our response with care. Accept our strategies matter. And embrace our capacity to adapt to change.

Community resilience

Community resilience refers to the capacity of a group, community, or society to adapt to change, adversity, and stress that impacts them. For instance, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, public-health emergencies, pandemics, and economic turmoil. 

Community resilience is also known as social resilience. And, it allows individuals and groups to stay connected, united and resolved to deal with adversity together.

I often get contact from people who are so proud of how their communities became united during the current pandemic. A fact we all should be proud of.

Four simple ways to be more resilient in your life

Here are four ways that will help you be more resilient in your life.

1. Face the situation head-on

No matter how open to change you think we are, most of us try to avoid change as soon as it strikes.

Being resilient is about tackling our problems directly. 

First, identify your problems/challenges/opportunities. 

Then, by facing the reality, you can control how the change will affect your life.

This means that you avoid responding in a stressful and emotional way.

Sounds like a plan?

2. Don’t over analyze

As suggested above, rushing in to tackle any stressful event is never a good option. Stay calm. Take your time. Know what change you want to achieve. Then simply move on.

But don’t take too long either. Over-analysing any situation can leave you stuck in a forest of indecision. 

Be decisive; once you know what you want to do – make that change happen.

Make sense, right?

3. Accept that mistakes are part of any change

Do not fool yourself into thinking that everything will go the way you want. 

Mistakes are a learning opportunity. 

So they should be welcomed, embraced, and learned from. 

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

None of us can handle significant life changes by ourselves. The resilient individual knows this. And seeks the support of others.

It is not a sign of weakness. But, it is a display of strength. 

Taking your next step

Of course, we’ve all been there.

Dealing with change and adversity is hard, especially if you’ve got a lot going on in your life.

Sometimes, becoming resilient even seems an impossibility. But when we apply this learning, our skills increase.

We learn.

And, that is the hardest part of the journey.

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Catherine Fitzgerald, M.A. in Health Promotion

Catherine Fitzgerald is a health promotion specialist, training professional, educator, and entrepreneur. Catherine received her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Studies and a Masters in Health Promotion from University College Cork. Catherine is also the co-founder of Oak Innovation.

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