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What is resilience?

How do you build resilience in order to cope in an emergency? In this article we look at skills to promote growth and development.
Lady using computer
© Public Health England

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to cope with, adapt to, or bounce back after experiencing difficult events. Some definitions take this further and speak of ‘bouncing forward’: where experiencing disruptive, stressful or challenging life events provides individuals or communities with additional protective and coping skills, thus providing a route to growth and development.

Such a positive outcome is likely to depend on :

  • How much support we have at the time
  • Our previous experience of distressing events
  • Our perceived capacity to cope with the situation
  • The nature and severity of the situation itself

A person’s psychosocial resilience and willingness to accept social support may assist in how they cope.

Psychosocial resilience

The following provides a key to good psychosocial resilience:

  • Being able to accept and use psychosocial support
  • Being able to deal with circumstances realistically
  • Having strong self-belief and value

Psychosocial resilience is NOT the same as:

  • Absence of mental disorders
  • Absence of distress
  • Absence of risk

Social support

Social support is not only about providing an individual with practical assistance but also consists of interactions and relationships that are felt to be caring, comforting and readily available in times of need.

Social support might be provided by anyone within a person’s social network: friends, relatives, individuals in the community as well as staff or volunteers working in health or other support services.

Coping well

There are positive things people can do to help themselves to recover. They may try to reduce stress by problem-solving, or they can adapt to the stress by accepting it. This type of positive coping should be encouraged.

People sometimes behave in ways that are less helpful such as avoiding or denying their problems. Denial may help people to cope in the short term, but it is not a helpful long-term way of coping.

Worrying excessively about events can increase suffering in the longer term. People who show persistent denial or worrying should be signposted to assessment by healthcare agencies. However, no one should be forced to talk or access help if they are not ready to.

© Public Health England
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