Understanding and Developing Resilience
By: Alessia Cecatini
By using trees as a representation of human nature, we are able to compare their traumas and hardships to individual suffering. From the moment a tree is planted as a seed, it needs to be nurtured and cared for. It requires essential resources including water, sunlight, and fertile soil. Further, in hopes of survival, the tree must withstand the challenges of its surrounding environment.
From the moment we are born, we are immediately confronted with challenges outside our control. We need to be loved, nurtured, and protected. In doing so, we begin to rely on others and trust the environment around us.
Each of us experienced a different upbringing based on our surrounding environment. Some may have had loving and supporting caregivers to help navigate, overcome, and prevent further challenges. Unfortunately, others did not experience the luxury of growing up in a safe space due to potential factors of parental stress and financial challenges. By revisiting the tree metaphor, we encounter conditions that make it challenging to persevere. Through adapting and utilizing the resources provided, resilience is embodied.
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of trauma, tragedy, threats, adversity, or significant sources of stress (APA, 2012). Despite diverse lived experiences, resilience encourages managing distress through healthy outlets. It functions to minimize feelings of distress and reduces the risk of depression (Osório et al., 2016). Resilient individuals have the ability to recognize their emotional state and overall personal strengths while coping with stress and feelings of adversity (Srivastava, 2011).
How to build resilience:
1. Take care of yourself: mind, body and soul. For the mind, meditation and mindfulness have been demonstrated to reduce stress and increase one’s ability to deal with adverse circumstances. . This is achieved through focusing on the present moment. By staying in the present, you are less likely to worry about issues beyond your control. The key question to ask is, “what can I do to help myself right now?”. Your response could simply be 'doing nothing'. Caring for your body can often be daunting as there are constant changes to health and wellness. Fundamental ways to care for your body include drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and being active. To properly care for your soul, it is important to remove negative coping mechanisms and better understand your inner self. Items such as alcohol and drugs are negative coping techniques to divert attention from the original problem. An important question to ask yourself includes: Do you need to focus more on things you love? Filling your time with soul-fulfilling activities is a healthy way to manage stress.
2. Build connections, prioritize your relationships & join groups with like-minded people. Healthy relationships are built on foundations of support, compassion, and genuine care for one another’s well-being. Feeling validated and supported can reduce the risk of isolation and therefore contribute to being more resilient in the face of challenges (APA, 2012). The main takeaway: you are not alone.
3. Work with distress tolerance skills. Distress tolerance skills help us to manage situations that create distress (Therapist Aid, 2015). It can feel different at first- but once we get comfortable with using more adaptive thinking/ coping skills- it can help to create a sense of calm and resiliency.
4. Focus on purposeful activities. When we do things that give us a sense of purpose, we are more often to find meaning and joy in our everyday lives. With that comes a better state to manage adverse circumstances.
American Psychological Association. (2012). Building your resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience.
Osório, C., Probert, T., Jones, E., Young, A. H., & Robbins, I. (2016). Adapting to stress: Understanding the neurobiology of resilience. Behavioral Medicine, 43(4), 307–322. https://doi.org/10.1080/08964289.2016.1170661
Srivastava, K. (2011). Positive mental health and its relationship with resilience. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 20(2), 75. https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.102469
TherapistAid. (2015). Distress Tolerance Skills. Retrieved from https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/dbt-distress-tolerance-skills.pdf