Resilience - what is it exactly?
Resilience describes the ability to recover from difficult experiences and withstand setbacks. People who have a high level of psychological resilience tend to maintain their mental health even when facing highly stressful situations or are able to restore it fairly quickly to pre-crisis status.
People face all types of challenges throughout their lives. These can range from personal crises such as an illness, loss and grief, the end of a relationship, experiences of violence, to external events like a natural disaster - or a pandemic, for example.
But the way each person copes with such blows can vary deeply. Some manage to get over them quickly and even emerge from the situation stronger, while others quickly fall into a dark place. The level of resilience each of us has depends on various factors: our personal disposition, biography, family environment and social support system all play a role. Other key aspects are the way we assess situations as well as our behaviours and habits. The encouraging thing? Overcoming crises can be learned.
Why does resilience matter?
When the level of mental resilience is low, individuals can quickly feel overwhelmed and helpless and their mental health suffers as a result. They often resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms like avoidance, isolation, or self-medication for example. They also find it much more difficult to ask for support and assistance.
People who are resilient also experience stress, emotional turmoil, and pain but have an edge when processing these difficult feelings. Resilience is not a character trait, but simply an ability that is more developed in some than others. With this ability, they find it easier to deal with difficult situations by drawing on their resources, strengths and skills. The good thing about this is that resilience can be built and trained, just like a muscle.
How to strengthen mental resilience? The 7 pillars of resilience
When it comes to resilience, we often hear about the model of the seven pillars. Although there is no general validity as the factors on which inner resilience is based vary depending on the theory, the basic idea is clear: these pillars represent abilities that resilient people show. If you want to strengthen your resilience, you can develop the following aspects.
1. (Realistic) optimism
Optimism is not about closing your eyes to life's adverse circumstances. Rather, it is an attitude that enables you to recognise the positive aspects of a negative situation. It is important to look realistically at the existing crisis and problems, yet believe that good times will follow hard times and see the glass as half full despite the circumstances. In order to train your optimism, you can, for example, focus on what you are grateful for or what experiences and insights you can gain.
2. Solution orientation
By approaching a certain situation with a goal- or solution-oriented attitude, one can succeed in taking the focus off the actual problem, by instead focusing on a possible way out. “What is within the scope of my own strengths and capacities? What can optimistic goals look like?” Those who focus on such questions often manage to recover more quickly from a trauma. There is no need to set unrealistic goals. In fact, that could even be counterproductive. Instead, it is best to formulate and strive for realistic outlooks that can be achieved in small positive steps.
The aspect of acceptance goes hand in hand with solution-oriented thinking. This is because, when faced with something beyond our control, acceptance helps us deal in a healthy way with unchangeable circumstances that may arise in life. It can help bring closure to hard knocks or the past, help us look to the future and forward, and also can unburden us. Those who practice acceptance realize that the burden of responsibility for the course of events is not theirs alone. Instead, it is even possible to develop a more forgiving and accepting view of one's own self with all its facets.
4. Network orientation and social competence
Building and maintaining interpersonal relationships and our social environment also play an essential role in strengthening psychological resilience. A strong social network is an important protective factor when going through a stressful period in life. People close to us provide support and help when needed. Of course, empathetic sympathy within friendships or families is a privilege that not everyone has. Also, friends or family members may be equally overwhelmed with the severity of a situation. In these cases, it can be a great support to seek the necessary help and orientation within self-help groups or professionally guided support groups.
The concept of "self-efficacy" can be explained in simplified terms as leaving the victim role behind. For resilience to be strong, it is important to understand that one's actions have certain consequences. By being aware of your own scope of action, you can bring about improvements and pursue desires and goals. No one is a mere pawn in their own life and we have the opportunity to shape it ourselves.
6. Taking responsibility
People who are resilient take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and actions and are thus better able to find a way out of a crisis. They succeed in influencing life through constructive approaches and awareness of their own responsibility. Of course, this does not in the least mean seeing oneself as a scapegoat. Instead, it helps to also take responsibility and ask yourself which part you may have played in the situation. Reflecting on this makes you capable of taking action and helps you find your way out of the dark cloud.
7. Planning for the future
When it comes to mental health, the focus is always on the here and now. However, on top of these factors, it is also important to plan for the future. Thus, setting goals and the desire to achieve them is another significant aspect of mental resilience. This offers a positive outlook, provides support and gives strength when life goes off track. It also allows you to plan specific steps and focus on beautiful aspects of life, which in turn can make you feel good and give you hope.
Braving the storms of life is not an easy undertaking. But they can be overcome - with inner resilience, support and the right resources.