Growing up in Ohio, winters were cold. We walked to and from school, regardless of snow, rain, or sleet. My mom would sometimes remind me to grab my umbrella, or wear my boots. She wasn’t typically up in the mornings with me, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to even ask her for a ride (sadly, she was battling clinical depression, but I didn’t know that back then). My high school was one mile away, and the walk took a half hour each way. To say the least, I didn’t like it (especially on those freezing cold days), but I did it anyway. My kids roll their eyes every time I remind them of this fact. They respond with, “yes, we know, mom...you had it hard, that stinks for you, but times have changed!” Looking back, I have a strange sense of pride as I think about all the ways I entertained myself and made it through those long walks. I realize I wasn’t alone in this. It seems toughness and grit were common traits back then.
Times have indeed changed. What I’m wondering is, what exactly has changed and are things better? Ask anyone in the mental health field and they will tell you that the trends for adolescent anxiety, depression, self-harm, substance use, and suicidal ideation (including attempts and completion) have risen at alarming rates. We hear our youth talk about how anxious, overwhelmed, and discouraged they often feel. We hear them express hopelessness and despair when they encounter breakups, mistakes, and challenges. Could resilience be a factor? Is this a skill that seems to be declining in recent years? If so, why? in many ways, it’s not their fault. The terms “helicopter parents” (swooping in and rescuing) and “snowplow parents” (removing any obstacles) have become nomenclature for today’s parenting culture (admittedly, at times, I was guilty of this as well!). By the way, it’s not just the parents fault either. It seems to be a shift that is reinforced from many directions.
So, what exactly is resilience? According to Merriam-Webster, resilience is defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.” Psychology Today describes resilience as “the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting
difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward
their goals." In one word, resilient people are adaptable. Picture the way a rubber band is stretched with a constant tension, and yet instead of breaking, it springs back.
In a recent seminar through the Institute for Natural Resources, Dr. Stacy Daughn’s research showed that 90% of the population will experience at least one traumatic event in his/her lifetime. So, the question isn’t will we face hardships in life, it’s a question of when, and, more importantly, how will we handle it?
Now, before discouragement sets in, there is good news! Resilience can be learned. Yes, you heard it correctly, you don’t have to be born with it. You can learn and build skills that grow resilience. According to Daughn, here are common factors of a resilient person:
1. They take care of their mind & body (paying attention to needs and feelings)
2. They work to nurture and maintain healthy relationships
3. They avoid seeing stressful events as “unbearable”
4. They accept circumstances that can’t be changed
5. They develop realistic goals and move toward them
6. They take decisive actions in adverse situations
7. They look for opportunities for self-discovery
8. They work to develop and grow self-confidence
9. They keep a long-term perspective (and can look at situations with a broader context)
10. They maintain a hopeful outlook (they have the ability to expect and visualize good things)
Finally, Daughn’s research shows that there is growing evidence that the highest levels of human flourishing have a strong correlation with positive emotion, healthy engagement with others, sense of meaning, and, you guessed it, resilience. So, the next time you are faced with a challenge, rather than allow yourself to be overcome with a sense of defeat, consider it an opportunity to practice growing your resilience. Over time, this might just be a path toward happiness and healing.