We are approaching the end of 2020 knowing we will have a different Christmas and New Year experience to past ones. And when we look ahead to 2021 we can have a sense of optimism now that a vaccine is becoming available – but also a sense of uncertainty and weariness. What can science tell us about what will REALLY help us to get through the coming weeks and months?

Even in the early stages of the lockdown in March,the World Health Organisation issued a statement that noted “elevated rates of stress or anxiety” in the general population, before warning that, “as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.” 

How can our understanding of resilience help us?

What does psychology show us about how to deal with these kinds of exceptional stressors? My next series of articles will be about resilience. What is it? Is it something we are born with? How do we achieve it? Why do we need it? I’ll also look at some closely related topics – from grit and having a growth rather than a fixed mindset to how to develop good habits and get rid of bad ones, to good and bad stress, living with change and uncertainty and how to develop a sense of flow or being in the groove despite encountering all kinds of challenges. 

First, resilience:

What is resilience?

We all experience the ups and downs, twists and turns of life from the everyday minor challenge of being stuck in heavy traffic and late for an appointment or to traumatic events with more lasting impact, like the death of a loved one or loss of a job. Despite being knocked back, humans generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful situations and resilience plays a large part in how they do this. 

Resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress whether it’s family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and money stressors.”

Research is showing us that not only can we bounce back from difficult experiences, doing so can also involve profound personal growth. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.

Are people born with it or can we learn it?

While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that anyone can learn and develop.  However, it doesn’t just happen…like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and effort.

It doesn’t mean we won’t be challenged

Being resilient does not mean that a person will not experience difficulty or distress, as emotional pain is common for people when they suffer from a major adversity or trauma. In fact, the path to resilience often involves considerable emotional pain. 

What exactly does resilience look like?

Research has shown that it is made up of a combination of a whole lot of factors including some or all of the following:

  • assertiveness
  • the ability to solve problems
  • self-efficacy (which means one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.)
  • the ability to live with uncertainty
  • self-awareness
  • having a positive outlook
  • having empathy for others
  • having goals and aspirations
  • the ability to maintain a balance between independence and dependence on others
  • having a sense of duty (to others or self)
  • having a sense of meaning
  • having a strong sense of connection to others

And last, but by no means least, having a good sense of humour when needed!

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

See also:

What is Resilience?Self Help: Mindfulness & Resilience


Book a counselling session today!