by Tanya Kowalenko, Educator & Kids on the Block Coordinator
It is with great pleasure that I attended the International Women’s Day Conference in Peterborough on March 8, 2018. As I was sitting in the audience, listening to the keynote speaker, Samra Zafar share her story of being sent to Canada as a child bride in a forced marriage; living in an abusive family dynamic for over a decade, and her journey of getting an education, against all odds, and ending up an international speaker, human rights activist, scholar, author and social entrepreneur, I thought, “this is resilience!”
I had been thinking a lot about resilience as I gathered research, and my thoughts, for this blog post, and as I listened to Samra’s story, one question stood out for me:
What makes a person resilient?
I held this question in my mind as I attended my first morning workshop with local Workplace Facilitator and Registered Psychotherapist, Colleen Carruthers, called “Try a Little Kindness – Building Resilience.”
At one point during the workshop, she asks us this question, “How many of you have a daily exercise routine?” Many hands go up.
Well, she says (and I’m paraphrasing), just as incorporating movement into our daily routine helps to build strength and fitness, building resilience involves daily training.
This might sound daunting but I assure you, daily habits that build resilience don’t have to be hard. In fact, if they are too hard, you probably won’t do them. We know that behaviour change is most successful when the goals are realistic and attainable (and heck, perhaps even a little fun). While creating habits takes some persistence, many tools that help build resilience are probably things you already do, or enjoy doing.
Which brings us back to my question, what makes a person resilient?
Well, the first thing to understand is that, as humans, we have a natural capacity for resilience. Resilience, however, is not something that we either have or don’t have, it’s something we need to develop and maintain.
The good news is: we can.
According to the American Psychological Association1, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.”
The second thing to know is that resilience is multidimensional and is associated with individual, relationship, community, cultural and environmental factors. While there are many factors that are out of our control, there are also many things that are within our capacity to influence.3
So with that, I’m going to suggest that we think about building resilience using a metaphor Colleen offered us at the workshop: the Resilience Bank Account. Studies indicate that protective factors (things that increase resilience) are cumulative – meaning that the more deposits we make, the more resilient we will be 1. Unfortunately, risk factors (things that decrease resilience) are also cumulative. Therefore, if you looked at a resilient person’s bank account, they would have more deposits than withdrawals. The great news is that we can choose to add to our resilience bank accounts as often as we wish, and know that we are making a valuable investment into our well-being.
There has been a lot of research done on resilience building – those factors that are within our control. I’m going to outline some of them.
|Optimism||The expectation for good outcomes|
|Cognitive reappraisal||The ability to reframe negative thoughts|
|Active coping||Positive coping skills to reduce or overcome stress (versus passive coping such as withdrawal, avoidance or alcohol use)|
|Social support||Having social support and the behaviour of seeking social support|
|Humour||Being able to find the humour in something; not taking things too seriously|
|Prosocial behaviour/altruism||Acting for the benefit of others|
|Mindfulness||Present-moment non-judgemental awareness of bodily sensations, feelings, emotions, environment and thoughts|
By looking at these protective factors, you can probably see many ways you can make deposits to your resilience bank account everyday. Here are some more ideas:
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Take stock of how you’ve overcome hardships in your life (your strengths)
- Volunteer for a cause you believe in
- Do something nice for someone else
- Practice mindfulness – there are tons of great guided meditations online. However, mindfulness doesn’t have to be seated meditations. You can practice mindfulness at any time during your day….when you’re brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, eating lunch, petting your cat, etc.
- Notice when you’re having negative thoughts. Come up with a few positive alternatives. There are lots of online resources to help you with this (search CBT tools)
- Do something just for the sheer silliness or fun of it
- Spend time with people you care about. Reach out for support
- Take a walk at your lunch break
So, before you brush off that gratitude journal or laughter yoga as something hokey and pointless, think again. We all encounter adversities at some point in our lives, building resilience means we can better meet them when they do. Making a deposit into your resilience bank account is worth every “penny.”
- American Psychological Association. (2018). the road to resilience. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
- CBS News. Video: Psychologist Meg Jay on resilience and overcoming adversity. Retrieved on March 8 2018 from: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/psychologist-meg-jay-on-resilience-and-overcoming-adversity/
- Resilience Research Centre. A multidimensional model of resilience. Retrieved on March 7 2018 from: http://www.resilienceresearch.org/about-the-rrc/our-approach/16-a-multidimensional-model-of-resilience
- Wu, G., et al. (2013). Understanding resilience. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 7(10), 1 – 15