How to develop resilience to face difficult times

Resilience is a process that people can learn and activate to help recover from personal or community disaster, trauma or loss.  While it has sometimes been described as a trait that some people have and others don’t, it is better understood as a skill, or series of skills, that we can all build or improve upon in times of need.  We can learn to increase our own resilience for a better recovery, no matter what our past experience has been.

The capacity for resilience is inherent in all people, and it can be promoted and developed in individuals and communities.  For example, some would look at a community that has experienced a traumatic event like an earthquake or wildfire, and observe that some people develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress and others don’t.  Much remains to be understood about post-traumatic stress, but it isn’t correct to say that the non-appearance of symptoms in a person who experienced trauma is itself resilience.  Rather, resilience is the process of recovery, whether with PTSD or without, from difficult times or events.

Dr. Abby R. Rosenberg has written a Viewpoint article in JAMA Pediatrics that unpacks the implications of resilience-as-process with an in-depth look at categories of resilience that serve as resources for individuals, communities and organizations, and how these resources may be applied.

Much of what Dr. Rosenberg advocates is spelled out in more detail in a variety of MoodSurfing posts over the years.  On an individual level, she notes skills such as goal-setting, mindfulness and stress management.  On a community level, we have support networks such as family, faith communities, advocacy groups, etc.

Lastly, Dr. Rosenberg also identifies an “existential” level of resources for resilience, which includes the search for meaning, ways of reframing what happens to us as a learning experience, and looking towards the future and how we will build today’s adversity into tomorrow’s improved systems and processes. Cultivating what Dr. Rosenberg calls “deliberate resilience” on an individual and community level is well within the grasp of each of us.  There is hope for individuals, families and communities that take action to develop the resources inherent in human capacity for stronger, healthier approaches to life and living.