Resilience is the ability to recover from adversity and return to a normal state quickly.
In other words, it is the capacity to bounce back. Since it is impossible to completely get rid of adversity, it is essential to develop your resilience so you can properly navigate life's twists and turns.¹
In this article, we define and explain resilience using psychological and sociological research. Further, we provide proven tools to improve resilience based on leading studies.
A lot of research exists on building resilience in children. As a parent, this information can be helpful, but what about adults who want to develop and learn about their resilience? Studies suggest that it is never too late to work on your resilience.
Canadian researchers offered a two-sided definition of resilience: ego-resilience and resilience. Ego-resilience is an innate personality trait, determined by the maturation of frontal neural circuits, the same brain functions involved with self-regulation.
Some people are born with high ego-resilience and thus adapt to stressors more easily than those with low ego-resilience. However, the second aspect of resilience refers to a dynamic process that requires adversity to develop. This ever-changing resilience is the aspect that adults can work on and develop.²
The ability to cope when presented with a stressor is a large part of resilience. A 1998 study introduced a widely used model, The Basic Ph Model, which identifies six different coping mechanisms or “languages” used by people. People do not always rely on one coping language, often employing several in their coping process.
The mechanisms are:
Belief: Using values or beliefs to guide them; whether that be religious, political, or other values.
Affective: Releasing emotion. This can include crying, laughing, “venting”, or creative expression
Social: Receiving support through group membership and participation.
Imagination: Employing imagination such as daydreaming, distraction, or humor.
Cognitive: Gathering information surrounding the problem or stressor, problem- solving, using internal conversation.
Psychological focus: Using physical expression with body movement. Examples include meditation, sports, drinking, eating, and smoking.
The Basic Ph Model can be a useful tool in helping people cope with severe or prolonged stress. Research has shown that it can be effective to identify a patient’s coping “language” and then communicate with the patient in that “language”.
For example, someone who tends to cope using the cognitive and social mechanisms would likely not find it useful to do creative writing, which may be more appropriate for someone who employs the imagination mechanism.³
Why Are Some People Less Resilient Than Others?
There are many reasons why some may struggle to cope with stress more than others.
Studies suggest that facing a moderate amount of adversity is an important aspect of developing resilience. A 2010 study found a quadratic relationship between adversity and global distress and functional impairment.
This means that those who had never experienced adversity and those who had experienced a high level of adversity through life experienced more distress and impairment. However, those who had experienced a moderate level of lifetime adversity (2–4 events) had better outcomes in these measures.
These findings suggest that adversity is important for developing resilience because it can force people to develop coping skills and seek involvement in support networks.⁴ Depression, poor sleep, and anxiety are also associated with low resilience.
All three of these factors are also correlated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Following a trauma, many people have PTSD symptoms, but many are able to recover without receiving a PTSD diagnosis. However, those who do develop PTSD are more likely to be less resilient.⁵
How Can I Become More Resilient?
If you consider yourself to be someone who collapses in the face of stress, there is hope.
First, it is important to acknowledge that resilience does not look the same for everyone. For some, resilience is becoming a state senator after a childhood full of adversity. For others, resilience can be getting out of bed in the morning after facing an adverse stressor. A resilient person is not someone who doesn’t experience negative emotions. Rather, it is how they respond to that negative emotion and are able to bounce back.
Here are four ways you can work on your resilience.⁶
Several studies have proven the effects of different types of coaching on resilience and stress. One 2010 study demonstrated that developmental coaching for high school teachers significantly lowered stress levels and increased resilience.
Another study showed that Solution-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Coaching (SFCB), a coaching style based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) led to less stress and better emotional functioning. When it comes to coaching, solution-focused approaches have been shown to be more effective than problem-focused approaches at reaching goals, reducing stress levels, and improving emotional functioning.⁷
Research has demonstrated the many physical and psychological benefits of meditation, including increasing resilience. There are many different effective types of meditation, but breathing meditations and body scanning increase positive affect, which can help with coping with stressors.⁸
Both breathing meditations and body scanning are related to the practice of mindfulness. Rooted in Buddhism, mindfulness is a nonjudgmental, non-evaluative, and persistent awareness of your mental states, your surroundings, and your physical sensations.
A study evaluating the efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a mindfulness program conducted in groups over the course of about two months, showed significant improvements in anxiety, depression, and coping styles of participants.⁹ For more information on meditation see our article on the topic.
3. Development in The Workplace
A 2016 study offered that there were two different types of stressors: challenge stressors and hindrance stressors.
As their names would suggest, challenge stressors present people with a difficult situation that they will likely be able to overcome and tackle with hard work.
Hindrance stressors drain personal resources and are often not able to be overcome. This research suggests that exposure to challenge stressors in the workplace can help employees develop resilience while exposure to hindrance stressors can lead to less resilience.
Examples of challenge stressors used in this study were time pressures and heavy workload. The hindrance stressors used were role ambiguity and role conflict. The researchers suggest that their results can be used by upper-level management to build resilience in their staff by responsibly enforcing challenge stressors while reducing employee burnout by avoiding hindrance stressors.⁴
4. Build Up Your Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve has been shown to be involved with stress responses, and therefore resilience. Fortunately, the following actions have been shown to directly influence the vagus nerve’s health: ¹⁰
Cold exposure: taking cold showers and walking in cold weather
Breathing exercises: learning how to control breathing reduces anxiety (Try the 4–7–8 method: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale with an open mouth for 8 seconds)
Singing, humming, chanting, gargling
Consuming probiotics: found in yogurt, kefir, fermented foods, and more
Omega-3 fatty acids: found in salmon, nuts, and more
Improving resilience is an involved effort that will take both time and trial and error. However, the results can be life-altering. Facing challenges throughout life is an essential aspect of the human experience, but how we tackle these difficulties is what defines us as a resilient person or not.
Using the tools provided in this article, you can begin your journey to resilience.
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