What is resilience?
Resilience is a way to describe the quality of something that goes back to its original form after it has been bent or stretched. It is also a popular term used to describe a psychological quality in people. Resilience has been described as "the capacity to cope with change and challenge and bounce back during difficult times." You may have heard the term ‘bouncing back’ used in this sense.
Resilience comes in many different forms, and some young people have described it as:
- Dealing with hardships and still holding your head up
- Giving things a go or trying your best
- Being tough on the inside
- Being able to cope with what life throws at you and shrug it off
- Standing up for yourself
As you can see, the idea of resilience focuses on how we deal with adversity - the more resilient we are, the better we manage adversity.
Experiencing the tough times
Ups and downs are a normal part of life and there are many times when people feel stretched or under pressure. Challenges in life can range anywhere between being easy to manage and causing a small amount of stress, to being very stressful and less easy to solve such as a trauma or crisis.
What might seem like a mild pressure to one person may be experienced as very difficult for another. Likewise, what seems unbearable to one person may be something someone else manages fairly easily. For example, you may have heard someone's story and thought to yourself "If that was me I don't know how I would have coped!" Or you might have thought "What's the big deal, what are they so worried about?".
What influences resilience?
Everyone is different and has unique challenges in life. Factors that influence how someone experiences a challenge or trauma include:
- Personal capacities and coping skills
- The degree of the trauma or stress
- Support and resources available to the individual
- Timing and context of events
- Presence of other circumstances or additional stress present at the time of the event
Given that everyone has different life experiences and different resources, it's important not to judge people on how they cope or how long it takes them to bounce back from a stressful event. It is also equally important not to judge yourself about how you are reacting to a stressful situation. However, it can be helpful to examine how you cope, acknowledge your needs and develop new strategies to get through the tough times.
What helps people to be resilient?
Research suggests that there are certain factors and circumstances in life that promote resilience. Some of these factors include:
- Supportive and stable family relationships
- Having positive expectations or being optimistic
- Sense of self worth
- Participating and contributing to social and or community activities
- Having a sense of belonging and good friendships
- Personal attributes such as problem solving abilities and communication skills
- Positive relationships with an adult outside of the family
Behaviours of resilient people
Resilient people often do a number of things. Here are some ways resilient people act that may provide ideas for you to develop your own resilience:
- Learn to see opportunity in all things
- Accept change as part of living
- Keep things in perspective
- Be realistic
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle through physical activity, eating well and doing stuff they enjoy
- Nurture a positive self view
- Maintain supportive relationships and spend time with others
- Learn communication skills
- Create strategies to self soothe
- Take action and work towards goals when needed
- Talk to someone and get help if/when needed
- Develop an attitude of tolerance, acceptance and flexibility
Because we all come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences, not everyone has had the ideal circumstances to develop resilience. So it's good to know that it's possible for anyone to learn from adversity and to develop positive ways of dealing with things.
An important step to building resilience is to develop self awareness and to understand your emotions and how you react. This will help you build on your existing strengths and set goals for further growth. For example, it might be useful to understand:
- Your needs, joys and frustrations
- Your goals, values and beliefs
- Your limits
- What is in your control and what is not
- Your strengths
- The bigger picture of your life beyond the 'problems'
- How you normally respond to stress - your actions, thoughts and feelings
- Your personal style and history and how this relates to your current behaviour
Stories about resilience
At Kids Helpline, we hear many inspiring stories about how young people find ways to cope with adversity in their lives. Young people tell us about many skills and strategies they have learned to respond to challenging situations. They also tell us about how they have overcome adversity and taken care of themselves. You can read other people's stories at our Tell Us Your Story pages.
Through dealing with adversity, many young people have learned to build resilience and have discovered courage they didn't previously know they had. While people can't be resilient all the time, it is important to remember that resilience is something that can be learned and improved on, and support is available to do this.
Counselling can be a helpful way to develop self awareness and understanding and to explore further options to help you build resilience. If you want to talk to someone about your situation or discuss any of these ideas, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or use our web or email counselling services.
- Mind Matters Booklet 2005 Enhancing Resilience 2: Stress and Coping http://www.mindmatters.edu.au/verve/_resources/EnhanceResilience_2.pdf
- Riding the Waves: A Guide to building resilience in 10 to14- year- olds 2006, Australian Drug Foundation.
Published: 22 October 2009