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Building Resilience


By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program

It can be difficult when dealing with every day stressors. Things like work, home or car problems can be overwhelming and challenge us to find ways to cope or function each day. That’s why it is important to find healthy and adaptive strategies to help us cope more effectively and to deal with these day-to-day life stressors. But how do we do this?

Resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with stress and calamity. You may know resilient individuals. They are often the ones who are better able to handle adversity, cope and rebuild their lives after a catastrophe. But they may also be people you know who just seem to handle smaller, day-to-day stressors better. In my practice, we also see differences in how people handle mental health issues, and resilience shines through with people who are persistent in the recovery phase, or going through the midst of their illness.

Resilient people are usually aware of their situation, their own emotional reactions and behaviour, and the behaviour of those around them. This awareness allows them to maintain control of their situation and find new ways to deal and cope with their problems. They are also able to stay on top of their problems and become more proactive before situations become too overwhelming.

People who are more resilient also understand that life is full of challenges, and that these problems cannot be avoided. Instead these individuals are open, flexible and willing to adapt to change and find appropriate ways to cope.

While some people are more resilient than others, it’s important to note that we can all learn to be more resilient. It just takes a bit of effort, patience and persistence.

Learning to Build Resilience – What is required?

To deal with everyday stressors, it is important to have caring, supportive people around you to assist you during difficult times or a crisis. It is important that those around you allow you to share your feelings, provide support, and share positive feedback.

To strengthen your resilience, it is also important to find possible solutions for your own problems. If you are better able to find solutions to your problems, you are also better able to cope with these problems. Each time you encounter a new challenge, it is important to find ways to solve these problems. Use these opportunities to learn and grow your resilience. And if a challenge seems insurmountable, ask an expert, and learn from them so that you can attempt to tackle the situation next time it arises. Sometimes, even old dogs can learn new tricks, and they may be better for it.

Self-care is another way that you can look at to build resilience. It is important to take care of yourself. When times are tough, we often forget about our own well-being. Small things such as socializing, getting a massage, taking a warm bath, reading a book of interest or other activities can go a long way to helping you relax. Part of being resilient is to be relaxed, calm and level-headed under pressure.

Teaching Resilience to others
It’s back to school time (I know – I go through it too), and resilience in children is an important factor in their growth, especially in their daily interactions outside the house. So how do we build resilience in children?

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to encourage kids to open up and talk about issues or stressors. It’s essential that they’re comfortable enough with you that in case they need support, they can elicit it from those around them that they trust. You can then begin to encourage them to problem solve – whether it be an actual day-to-day situation, as well as some smaller tasks – a puzzle or brainteaser, homework, etc., being mindful to allow them to make concerted attempts at completing the task before intervening.

However, it’s also important to encourage children to take time out to engage in activities they enjoy – socializing with friends, going to a movie, listening to music. Again, it’s important that they learn to find ways to relax and put things in perspective.

This all takes time.

As a starting point, focus on practicing some of the problem solving skills that you have found helpful in the past. In time, slowly build upon your existing strengths. You will find this is a great way to cope with adversity and build your resilience.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. annick aubert #

    Finally resilience is mentioned as a way to cope with adversity, Good advice when it comes to assess one’s own resiliency, however the writer is a bit optimistic when it comes to teach it to others…..Very often the person showing resiliency is dismissed as uncaring or unable to assess the suffering of others !!!!!!

    September 18, 2015
  2. With all due respect, I think that it is hard for those who are trapped in a psychotic illness to employ resiliency to any great benefit. Strategies to cope with an illness after it has been stabilized is another matter. One is very bothered by the word issues when surely we are talking about more serious matters. This ho hum advice seems a bit out of place to me.

    September 18, 2015
  3. amybeall2015 #

    Resilience is like a muscle; we have to work it on a regular basis. I love your comment about teaching it to others. While it is hard to ‘teach’ in the conventional sense, it is rather easy to act as the role model for others. My children know when I’ve been (figuratively) knocked down by life. They watch while I pick myself up and overcome the challenge. Everyone experiences problems in life and a resilient attitude makes the world of difference. Thanks for the post!

    September 20, 2015

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