What is Resilience?
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The recent celebration of World Mental Health Day brought discussions around mental health and wellbeing which is particularly important as the world grapples with COVID-19. Many of us would have had and continue to have significant challenges due in part to the pandemic. Additionally, COVID-19 exacerbated existing stressors in our lives. No one is escaping the effects of this one in a hundred-year event, not even our children. Despite all the challenges, adults and children have been able to bounce back; this is resilience, and because of it, there is reason to be hopeful for the future.

What is Resilience?

The dictionary definition of resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. The definition of resilience is different based on the discipline that studies it. However, there are some common features of resilience that cross all disciplines. Based on a systematic review of resilience Gill Windle (2010, p.12) defines resilience as the “process of effectively negotiating, adapting to, or managing significant sources of stress or trauma. Assets and resources within the individual, their life and environment facilitate this capacity for adaptation and ‘bouncing back’ in the face of adversity. Across the life course, the experience of resilience will vary.”

Resilience in Action

A few years ago, I had a very traumatic life experience that left me broken, vulnerable and riddled with self-doubt. It brought me to the lowest point in my life, where I often thought that dying would be the only way to end the way I was feeling. I knew I needed help, and I got that help through therapy. With therapy, having my family and friends by my side, and knowing my capacity to change my situation, I was on my way to recovery. A couple of years later, one of my best friends came home to Jamaica for her annual summer holidays. On a night out, as we talked and laughed, I filled her in with all the new things in my life and my plans. She looked at me and said, “you are so resilient.” I blushed and said thank you. I felt at that moment that I made her proud. I had bounced back and was thriving. I had the capacity to withstand and recover quickly from the horrible thing that had happened in my life.

We know from the challenges in our society that children, our most vulnerable group, are exposed to toxic stress, including high levels of violence, abuse and trauma that threaten their development. However, many of our children thrive in the face of these adversities. A risk or adversity poses a significant threat for a negative development outcome. For example, severe poverty poses a threat to a child’s physical, educational and socio-emotional development with negative consequences, including a life of crime and violence, low economic participation and early pregnancies. From our own life experiences, we know that despite difficulties in our childhood, we were able to thrive academically, physically and became well-adjusted adults.

Protective Factors

Why do some children thrive despite experiencing trauma and childhood adversities and some children do not? Resilience is an adaptive quality that helps an individual to navigate negative life experiences, whether it is a one-time event or a continued event. This adaptive quality is a combination of protective factors that influence how a person functions in the face of adversity and include the individual, social and community/societal factors (Windle, 2010).

Model of Protective Factors

What is Resilience?
Photo Credit: Margo Morrison

When faced with adversity, people can draw on their assets and resources to help them navigate difficult life events and prevent them from experiencing maladaptive outcomes. Assets are the internal reserves of a person, including psychological and biological, while resources are the external reserves such as family support and community services (Windle, 2010). When combined, these protective factors facilitate resilience and make a difference in the consequences of life’s adversities. I can see now how these combined factors of personal internal assets and resources in my environment facilitated my quick recovery from adversity in my life.

COVID-19 and Resilience

To navigate the effects of COVID-19, many of us would have drawn on our assets and resources.  We believed in our capacity to juggle work-from-home and homeschooling, to deal with the loss of loved ones and income and to stare in the face of uncertainties knowing that we will somehow find a way. Our children made good grades despite the challenges of online learning due to school closures; they found their unique way of developing and maintaining friendships despite social distancing, and they developed coping skills to help them with their fears and anxieties about the virus. The effect of resilience is clear; despite adversities over the last year and a half, we are still thriving. One thing to note, resilience will not prevent us from experiencing distress and pain in our lives. Being resilient will make us bounce back quickly and continue to thrive.

We need many tools to navigate this difficult period in our lifetime; resilience offers us some protection.

Source: Windle, G. (2010). What is Resilience? A Review and Concept Analysis. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/231842385_What_is_resilience_A_review_and_concept_analysis

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