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Resilience Theory: The Path to Surviving and Thriving

Written by Adriana Fedorowycz


Although there is no single agreed-upon definition, resilience is often described as a reactionary trait that is a facet of recovery (1). This is reflected in the online Oxford Dictionary’s definition of resilience: “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape” or “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” (2). However, recent literature has begun exploring resilience as a characteristic not only related to reactive recovery but to “proactive learning and growth through conquering challenges” as well (3).

Resilience has both behavioural and psychological components. The behavioural components enable people to focus on tasks and complete them effectively, even when under stress (1). The psychological components aid people in maintaining mental wellness in such situations (1). Of the factors that impact resilience, six have been identified: positive attitude, active coping, cognitive flexibility, moral compass, physical exercise, and social support (including role models) (1). Positive attitude is reflected in behaviours displaying optimism and a sense of humour, which help to reduce the perceived danger of stressors (4). Active coping involves behaviour such as problem-solving, seeking out information, and seeking out support when needed (4). Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to adapt to novel circumstances by regulating affect and behaviour to meet the demands of the situation (4).


Adverse experiences can have varied effects on resilience. Experiencing stressors can have an “inoculating” effect against future stressors; however, these experiences also have the potential to increase individuals’ risk of developing mood and anxiety disorders due to their inability to adaptively cope with the situations that they face (1). Factors that impact how adverse experiences affect resilience include intensity of the experience and availability of social support (1).


While resilience is in part attributable to underlying personality differences between individuals, it appears that people possess the ability to increase their baseline level of resilience. This can be done through individual experience, as mentioned previously, and through resilience training programs that work to increase an individual’s engagement with the six factors affecting resilience (1). In a study that examined the effects of resilience training among a group of police officers, the group that received this training displayed trends towards significantly less negative mood, less heart rate reactivity, a larger increase in antithrombin (an anti-clotting factor related to lower stress levels), and better police performance compared to the control group, who received only standard training (1). Results such as these indicate the potential benefits of implementing resilience-training programs in work and academic settings.Through attempts to increase individual resilience, we strengthen both our individual mental health but also the ability to function well in our communities, leading to additional positive outcomes.

 

References

1. Robertson I, Cooper CL. Resilience. Stress & Health 2013;29:175–6.

2. Resilience. Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/resilience (accessed November 23, 2018).

3. Youssef CM, Luthans F. Positive Organizational Behavior in the Workplace. Journal of Management 2007;33:774–800. doi:10.1177/0149206307305562.

4. Cicchetti D. Resilience under conditions of extreme stress: a multilevel perspective. World Psychiatry 2010;9:145–54. doi:10.1002/j.2051-5545.2010.tb00297.x.

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