No one can be protected from adversity all their life. Over protection can result in poor problem solving and poor coping skills in the face of adversity.
Recently, I planted a Tree of Hope in the People’s Park in Limerick, a symbol of how brighter days come after a storm.
Some people are like trees in that having survived the most challenging weather conditions and been tested by adversity, they grow and endure.
In reality, sh**t happens, all of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond to these has a big impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can try to choose our attitude to it. In practice it's not always easy, but exciting recent research shows that resilience can be learned.
What is resilience?
Resilience comes from the Latin word resilio - to jump back- describing our ability to cope with and bounce back from adversity.
Some people describe it as the ability to bend instead of breaking under pressure, or the ability to persevere and adapt to challenges. The same ability helps to make us more open to opportunities. In this way being resilient is more than just survival, it includes letting go, learning and growing, finding healthy ways to cope.
Research shows that resilience isn't a rare quality found in a few, extraordinary people.
Expert Dr Ann Masten describes it as 'ordinary magic' that comes from our everyday capabilities, relationships and resources. She says we can be naturally resilient in some situations or times and not others.
We can learn resilience
We can't always predict or control what life throws at us, but we can build skills and resources to help us respond flexibly, to deal with challenges, recover quicker and even learn and grow.
It can even lower our risk of depression and anxiety and enable us to age successfully. The same skills can help us manage fear of new opportunities.
Our resilience is influenced by three areas: 1. our development as a child and teenager; 2. external factors like having relationships or a faith; 3. internal factors such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour.
Parents and those who work with children can help build resilience of kids and teenagers. Whilst as adults we can't change our childhoods, there is plenty we can also do to build our resilience.
Building Resilience skills
The saying 'what doesn't kill us makes us stronger' is shown by science to have some truth.
Experiencing some adversity in life increases our resilience by enabling us to learn ways of coping and to identify and engage our support network. It also gives us a sense of mastery over past adversities, which helps us to feel we could cope in the future.
We have probably all experienced things as stressful initially but later find we are no longer phased. Importantly though, for us to learn through such struggles our coping skills and resources can be taxed but not overwhelmed.
Resilience and Relationships
Take time to nurture relationships with family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues.
Knowing when we need help and asking for it is an important part of resilience. In this era of mental health awareness reaching out and offering support is critical.