Have you ever met someone you would describe as an eternal optimist? Someone for whom the glass is always half-full, who seems to let trouble roll of his or her back? Maybe you know someone whose positive attitude caused you to comment, “Wow, nothing ever seems to get you down!”
Although it’s unlikely anyone is happy all the time, some people seem to deal with problems in a productive way and bounce back quickly after a challenging time. Those are characteristics of someone who is resilient.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or other significant sources of stress.
The impacts of stress, and especially trauma and post-traumatic stress, on our mental and physical health are well understood. Developing resilience is an important part of mental health treatment. In fact, many strategies a therapist might teach someone struggling with mental health — such as self-care, building support networks, identifying priorities — are techniques for building resilience.
In addition, post traumatic growth — the positive changes experienced as a result of struggling with highly challenging and stressful life circumstances — helps develop our resilience to further stress or trauma in our lives.
Like most personality characteristics, some people seem to be naturally resilient. But if you are someone who finds it difficult to find the teachable moments that help develop resilience, don’t worry — the most important fact to know about resilience is that it can be learned.
Last April, Psychology Today published an article identifying skills and attitudes that can help build resilience. You may already be good at some of these, and if you want to learn more about others, a mental health professional can help. Here is a shortened version of the list:
• Being connected to others. Relationships that can provide support and caring are one of the primary factors in resilience.
• Being flexible. This is a key component of resilience and one of the primary factors in emotional adjustment and maturity.
• Being able to make realistic plans and take action to carry them out. Being able to see what is, rather than what you would like is a part of this skill.
• Being able to communicate well with others and problem-solve both individually and with others.
• Being able to manage strong feelings. This requires the ability to put emotions aside when clear thinking and action are required.
• Being self-confident. Having a positive self-image is critical for being be able to manage fear and anxiety in your life.
• Being able to find purpose and meaning. Being able to make sense and find meaning what is happening is critical for managing feelings aroused in a crisis.
• Being able to see the big picture. Optimists hold themselves and others accountable without the emotional dose of blame.
• Being able to appreciate and use humor appropriately. Laughter may have healing powers.
• Being able to take care of yourself (diet, exercise, financial health). First responders and healthcare professionals are often major offenders in this area.
• Being able to care for others physically and emotionally. Occupations and volunteer activities that involve caring for others can help build resilience.
While this is not a definitive list — an online search will yield many versions, some much shorter — what’s important to know is that we all can use life experiences, especially stressful and traumatic ones, to grow and build resilience. And, because none of us is immune from stress, challenging circumstances and loss as we go through life, learning more about resilience — and how to be resilient — may be one of the most important things you can do to support your mental health.
Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Haralson County.