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Resilience: The power to bounce back

A white woman with a buzz cut flexes her tattooed right arm showing a smile of resilience

What keeps us joyful and powerful through hard phases in life? According to researchers, psychological resistance, also known as resilience, is responsible for contentment during or despite crisis situations. This year in particular, the Covid-19 pandemic has been putting us all to the test, showing just how important our own resilience is. We’ll share with you what the secret of inner strength is and how you can become more resilient.

What is resilience?

Defeats and difficult situations are part of life. There’s no way to prevent or avoid every single bump in the road. and cannot necessarily be actively prevented. But you can shape how you react to these life events. Resilience is a marker of how well someone deals with adversity and emerges from it.

The term resilience comes from Latin and means “to bounce back.”1 It was first used in scientific fields to refer to flexible materials that return to their original shape after exposure to external forces.

In relation to people, resilience means continuing to function as normally as possible despite difficult situations such as job loss, going through a breakup, facing work stress or other emotional pain, and even learning to grow from these life experiences 2.

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You’ve probably heard of people whose stories fascinate and inspire you. Just think of the physicist Stephen Hawking, who continued to do research and accomplish incredible things whilst slowly losing his mobility due to ALS. Maybe you’d consider Steve Jobs, who first lost his company but went on to be hugely successful with Apple. Or Maya Angelou, who suffered abuse and an unstable family situation as a child, stopped speaking for years, then went on to become San Francisco’s first Black woman cable car conductor, a singer and dancer, and, most famously, an author and poet. Have a look at her poem, Still I Rise. It’s all about resilience.

What do these personalities all have in common? They experienced severe setbacks or grew up in difficult circumstances, and they still managed to be successful. This phenomenon is so exciting that even scientific studies have looked into it.

One long-term study3 examined children’s development into adulthood. Some of the children had a high developmental risk because they grew up in poverty or with illnesses. Over the years, one third of the children from the “at-risk” group fared surprisingly well.

The result after 40 years of study showed that the resilient subjects had a lower death rate, fewer chronic illnesses, and a lower divorce rate – generally better well-being. This “resilient” group was characterized above all by an optimistic outlook on life, meaningful relationships, and fulfilling work.

But what was the reason behind it? According to the psychologist Emmy Werners, there was at least one loved one in each child’s lives who always stood by them and encouraged them – be it a relative, a teacher, or a friend. This social support, then, seems to be key to build resilience.

A white woman in a white t-shirt in front of a white background wall grins and holds her fists in a
©FJ-Jimenez

What are the 7 pillars of resilience?

Those who show resilience lead successful and satisfied lives despite facing stressors and defeats. What sets them apart from the rest? These 7 pillars of resilience summarize the most important characteristics:

Acceptance

What happens, happens. If you accept the circumstances, you can adjust your hopes and expectations. This improves your ability to adapt to the new situation faster.

Optimism

Optimism is a positive attitude towards life. An optimistic attitude doesn’t automatically make you immune to every life crisis. What it will do is help you realize more quickly that there can be something positive in every difficult period and that times will get better again.

Self-efficacy expectancy

This term describes the conviction that you have the ability to cope with life on your own, or to put it more simply, the belief in yourself. Self-efficacy means that when you face adversity, you don’t look for somewhere to place the blame – you look for a solution. Your experience and emotions are just as painful as others’, but you are not “paralyzed” by them.

Personal responsibility

Individuals with high resilience take responsibility for their lives instead of blaming circumstances or others. If you have personal responsibility, you work to solve your problems on your own, rather than reacting with helplessness.

Having a support network

A good and stable network of family and friends is important for your mental health. If you encounter difficulties, just knowing you have people nearby who you can count on will help you. If you lack social support, this can be a risk factor.

Solution orientation

Where there is a will, there is a way. Resilient people are oriented towards solutions and try to implement them. A crisis can either be solved or gives you the opportunity to come out of it stronger.

Future orientation

Having goals and plans for the future gives you motivation and orientation. If you focus on your wishes, it’s more likely that you’ll achieve them, because you’ll actively deal with the individual steps that are necessary to realize your goals.

A woman of color makes her fingers into a photo-frame shape in front of her face. Her hands are out of focus, while her partially-blocked, smiling face is sharp and clear.
©RyanJlane

Can resilience be learned?

The answer is yes! No one is born resilient. Rather, it is a variable and context-dependent adaptation process to different stressors4. In other words, resilient people have learned to adapt well to and cope with crises over the course of their lives. And you can use resilience building skills, no matter where in your life you are. Resilient individuals evaluate a difficult situation differently than people who see no way out.

From the findings of human resilience research, someone who is able to think “I can make a difference” or “I am appreciated” remains positive despite adversity. This positive attitude helps a resilient person accept difficulties as challenges instead of being intimidated by them.

Social relationships and feelings of support are major factors that influence whether you become more resilient. In short, people around you who encourage you and pay attention to you can help you believe in your own effectiveness and thus learn resilience.

Resilient “role models” or people who have successfully overcome major challenges in their lives can also strengthen your belief that you can influence events yourself5.

Do resilient people have a different brain structure?

There is no particular brain structure that is responsible for resilience. However, the neurotransmitters in your brain that transmit signals from one neuron to the next collectively mediate resilience.

According to one study,6 brain structures that are also activated during reward are particularly important for resilience. For example, the study showed that small rewards could reduce subjects’ responses to stress. Other studies suggest that reflecting on personal values or fond memories also promotes resilience2.

A white man does a splay-legged handstand on an outdoor staircase
westend61

How do you strengthen resilience?

Are you interested in building resilience? Great! Everyone can learn coping strategies to deal better with high stress levels. But it doesn’t happen overnight. This process takes time and you may not always see constant progress, but keep working at it. You can make a habit of becoming more resilient through repetition. You just have to get into it.

We have prepared a few resilience-building tips and coping skills that can help you build more resilience:

Maintain social connections

Humans are social beings. Contact with others gives us support. Even if you have drifted apart over time or can no longer meet in person due to current circumstances such as the pandemic, try to maintain and nurture social relationships. We live in a digital age that makes it easier than ever. You can meet online to have a conversation or play a game together. Remember, good friends are priceless. The same goes for family members.

Be active instead of passive

Sometimes we are overwhelmed by stressful situations and react with helplessness. When you are faced with a problem, try to think about how to solve it and take specific action against it. One possible strategy to be active instead of passive is to control your emotions. Look at a stressful situation objectively. Maybe the problem is not as bad as you thought. If you put the negative emotions aside for the time being, you can think more clearly and come up with a solution more quickly.

Practice gratitude

Learn to appreciate the things you already have. An easy way to practice is to write down three things you are grateful for. This will also help you see the positive in a crisis. You’ll develop a new perspective on the situation, which will also help you to re-evaluate it. After all, stress is not always a bad thing. A difficult phase can be seen as a challenge or an opportunity that you can grow from.

Increase your sense of self-confidence

Self-confident people are usually not easily intimidated by stressful situations. They believe in themselves and their abilities. Wondering how to boost your self-esteem?

Think about some positive experiences you’ve had before. How did they make you feel? Positive memories can help you respond to stressors a little more calmly. Is there something you are particularly proud of? Consciously think back on such events and build up more self-confidence step by step. Your past successes give you the confidence to achieve great things in the future.

Three athletes perform pull-ups in a backlit gym setting
©Corey Jenkins

Find a hobby that suits you

Exercising can help you clear your head, relieve stress, and just get some distance from your problems. The expression “healthy body, healthy mind” exists for a reason. Physical exercise makes your body release endorphins. These improve your mood, making you feel happy. And that, in turn, can improve outcomes during stressful situations.

You can also set goals for yourself when you exercise, such as learning to do a handstand or pull-ups. This way, you’ll set yourself a new challenge, giving a purpose to your workouts. Hitting that goal helps boost your pride and self-esteem, which gives you strength to believe in your own abilities. You may be able to apply this approach to other areas of your life.

Of course, it doesn’t always have to be sports. Everyone deals with stress differently. Painting, reading a book, playing an instrument, or simply taking regular walks in the fresh air – there are no limits to your imagination. Find a hobby that suits you and helps you relax and relieve stress.

Disclaimer: This article contains tips for better handling stressful situations. However, they are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If your daily life or that of a loved one is dominated by fatigue and feelings of depression for several weeks straight, seek help from a mental health professional. Early symptoms that may indicate depressive phases or depression include lack of energy, persistent fatigue, irritability, anxiety, sleep disturbances, listlessness, apathy, and loss of appetite7.

Summary

  • Resilience is the ability to withstand stress factors and can be learned
  • Resilient people find a grain of good even in a stressful situation, see a problem as a new challenge, and believe they can make a difference themselves
  • Social connection and resilient role models can foster your resilience
  • An active search for solutions, a high self-confidence, and a suitable hobby can help you to cope better with stressful situations.
Article sources
We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • 1https://flexikon.doccheck.com/de/Resilienz?utm_source=www.doccheck.flexikon&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=DC%2BSearch

  • 2https://www.quarks.de/gesellschaft/psychologie/resilienz-gegen-stress-gewappnet/

  • 3N. Ölsböck (2013) Resilienz–die innere Widerstandskraft. In: Psychologie in Österreich 2.

  • 4K. Fröhlich-Gildhoff und M. Rönnau-Böse (2019): Resilienz. 5. Auflage Ernst Reinhardt GmbH & Co KG Verlag München.

  • 5C. Wustmann (2011) Resilienz in der Frühpädagogik – Verlässliche Beziehungen, Selbstwirksamkeit erfahren. In Handbuch Resilienzförderung, S. 350-359.

  • 6Janine M.Dutchera, J. David Creswell (2013): The role of brain reward pathways in stress resilience and health. In: Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Volume 95, December 2018, S. 559-567.

  • 7https://www.neurologen-und-psychiater-im-netz.org/psychiatrie-psychosomatik-psychotherapie/stoerungen-erkrankungen/depressionen/fruehsymptome/

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