Have you ever noticed that some people are more adept at handling setbacks and stress than others? Or that people experience varying rates of improvement in their mental well-being following traumatic experiences? 

All of this also has to do with resilience. In psychology, resilience refers to a person’s psychological and mental resistance, essential for successfully dealing with critical and stressful events. Resilient people are better equipped to handle the adverse effects of stress and can still grow and thrive despite challenging circumstances. The exploration of this concept dates back to 1971, and since then, numerous significant factors that play a role in resilience have been identified. 

These include: 

So how do you know if a person is resilient?

Research and studies conducted by scientists and psychologists have answered this question. For example, children from similarly challenging environments (i.e. children confronted with poverty or violence) develop differently. Some become psychologically healthy adults, while others develop deficits. Children who possess these factors tend to demonstrate a higher level of resilience, which can help explain this observation. 

This occurrence can also be seen later in life. Let’s take, for example, resilient people over 60. Studies have shown they are physically fitter and generally more satisfied with their lives. That said, we should all aim to become resilient over-60s or resilient employees and students because they can better cope with difficult events and are less prone to psychological symptoms.   

So let’s summarize: Resilience is vital for mental toughness and is also an important element of Positive Self-Management.   

Now you know what resilience is and we took a look at its impact, but what exactly makes a person resilient? 

Unfortunately, this is (as is always the case in psychology) very individual. Each individual has a unique environment and possesses distinct strengths and abilities. In his resilience model, Michael Ungar has identified three central factors contributing to a person’s resilience. The model is now used in programs that aim to promote the resilience of children and young adults, families, and communities.  

Let’s take a look at these factors:   

  1. Protective factors help you to cope with stress and its consequences. These can be family, friends, or mentors. It’s not just individuals who play a role, but also abstract factors such as educational opportunities, social connections, and supportive communities, which serve as protective factors. 
  2. Resources of the individual: Of course, your resilience depends not only on your environment but also on yourself, more specifically, on your personal strengths, skills, and attributes. Characteristics that promote resilience are, for example, emotional intelligence, the ability to solve problems, flexibility, a positive self-perception, optimism, and the ability to self-reflect. 
  3. Contextual conditions: While it may initially seem complex, contextual conditions refer to the environment or context in which a person lives. Isn’t that the same as the first one? It may be similar, but here it specifically emphasizes the social, cultural, and economic context. Living in poverty, in a violent environment, or experiencing discrimination naturally exposes individuals to higher levels of stress. That, of course, does not promote resilience.  

This model demonstrates that resilience is not an inherent trait present or absent at birth, but rather a characteristic influenced by multiple factors. The environment in which you grow up and live also contributes to your resilience.  

How resilient am I and how can I improve my resilience? 

Resilience is primarily measured using self-descriptions, where individuals indicate the applicability of certain statements (for example: “If I have plans, I follow through”). However, alternative approaches include asking others how they would rate your resilience. Because resilience is so complex, it makes perfect sense to employ multiple methods.   

The good thing is: with the help of resilience training you can improve your resilience! These trainings have demonstrated their potential to enhance overall mental health, increasing satisfaction, well-being, and happiness. The trainings aim to teach you concrete techniques, such as:  

Strengthening individual skills:  

Building social support systems:  

Building problem-solving skills:  

At first, it may sound like a lot, but the exciting part is that there is even more to discover! For example, a healthy diet, enough sleep, physical activity, and relaxation techniques. All this helps to cope with challenges in daily life. But not only that, seeing meaning in life and orienting oneself on fixed values helps to cope better with stress. Let’s not forget the most essential aspect: a positive attitude, which is closely intertwined with resilience. Having an optimistic mindset, perceiving challenges as opportunities, and having faith in your abilities are all crucial elements. Again, resilience is a multifaceted construct influenced by various factors, and cultivating a positive outlook is an excellent starting point. 

Author: Prof. Dr. Saskia Pilger