Resilience: Is it just that simple?

October 2, 2019

Resilience. The ability to bounce back from failure. A capacity to recover from significant difficulty. A necessity for a person to live a happy and fulfilled life.

As per any skill, perseverance and time needs to be invested to see your resilience grow. Resilience is developed through difficulty and setbacks in life, but like anything new, you start small and gradually progress. The more experience of failure you gain, the more resilient you become. Slowly becoming more independent and able to translate the mental skills (created in a niche environment) to a variety of life situations.

Although none of us remember, we repeatedly fell whilst learning to walk as children; we learnt to crawl, eventually stood on two feet, then made our first steps. The key to this is a safe and supporting learning environment to firstly learn from failure to progress, but most importantly learning to manage failure itself. If you grow up experiencing lots of little setbacks, you become aware that difficulty is just a speed bump, not a roadblock.

However, as we move through life, the differentiation in people’s experiences becomes wider, meaning there’s a larger range of resilience levels across a given age group, for example a school year. Certain individuals by a given age may have been weathered by a variety of life experiences; trouble with family, difficulty in relationships, financial pressures, whereas others may have had a relatively smooth run so far. Until both the given individuals reach an event such as exam results, university or job applications or a set-back in the workplace like missing out on a promotion, the differences between the people may not be clear and obvious.

Whether they realise it or not, the individual that is accustomed to managing difficulties will likely move through in a better headspace, having the perspective that the setback is just redirection and an alternative path is not necessarily a bad one. This could be due to coping abilities they’ve developed to manage levels of stress, or simply understanding the road to where we want to go in life is never smooth.

However, each person has a certain limit of stress that they can deal with. No matter the level of resilience, situational factors can play a part in how we manage what is contributing to our levels of stress and influencing our overall wellbeing.

For example, a young person with a very supportive family, that has a close-knit group of friends, is physically healthy and has coping strategies to manage themselves, may sail through the stresses of exams without significant detriment to their wellbeing (or their resilience being tested). However, send them to university where they are disconnected from their family, are trying to connect with a new group of friends, have more responsibility to look after themselves and in a new setting they aren’t accustomed to…suddenly the same process of exams is a different level of test.

In the contrary, another young person may not have grown up with the support that others did, and may have appeared significantly less resilient as the foundations of a support network weren’t present and they have always had high levels of responsibility, be it for themselves or others. When these other factors are resolved, or appropriate coping strategies are developed, a situation of similar significance may no longer take the toll it once did, despite the individual in practice being no more resilient.

To conclude, resilience needs to be worked on little and often. Being out of your comfort zone for short intervals, in environments that are safe and enjoyable, is how the younger generation will become equipped with the skills to handle the larger setbacks in life they will no doubt encounter.

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