Resilience When You Need It

Posted by J Huffine, Ph.D. on April 22, 2020


What Are The Ingredients of Resilience? 

8CF9201F 9CA4 4DFB 82FE E5D6D6B850B5These are difficult times. COVID-19 has affected everyone’s life in some very challenging ways. People are dying from it. People are losing loved ones. Many people are out of jobs. Schools are closed. There are restrictions on public access to places that provide recreation and escape.

It would be easy to feel down, anxious, depressed, and to cope in unhealthy ways. I have noticed that many people are managing this crisis in ways that are working for them. They are adjusting their coping mechanisms to help them maintain some degree of sanity.

I work in a Wilderness Therapy program and have for most of my adult life. At Evoke Cascades, we work with adolescents and young adults who are experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties. These individuals have all developed symptoms: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc., associated with challenges in their lives resulting in them not functioning up to their capacity academically, socially, and/or occupationally. In Wilderness, we endeavor to help individuals address the underlying issues that have negatively affected them and to assist them to return to previous higher levels of functioning or better. We help them develop and practice something called resilience. Resilience is the ability to maintain some degree of psychological equilibrium during stressful situations. Resilience also allows people to rebound more quickly from psychological trauma or stress.

I wrote an article on resilience a few years ago after doing a considerable amount of research, believing that if there is any intervention that can foster resilience, it is Wilderness Therapy. I wanted to understand exactly what research data existed that both defined resilience and explained how to foster and encourage it in our wilderness clients. I was somewhat surprised, after sifting through a lot of information, to discover that resilience is less dependent on the biological makeup of the person and more dependent on elements that anyone can develop and utilize. These elements are part of what we routinely cultivate in the wilderness – skills to enable people to make it through difficult times and not fall apart.

The four main ingredients of resilience:

1. Having a social support system and using it
2. Having a positive mindset
3. Being an effective problem-solver
4. Being an effective communicator

I thought it important to write about this again, now.

Regarding the first ingredient of resilience, I am seeing people find sources of support, even with social distancing. It can be very difficult to manage alone. There are on-line support groups (Evoke conducts them). Social media (with its upsides and down) is helping people stay connected to some degree. It takes intention to remember you are not alone and effort to reach out to others for support.

The second ingredient, maintaining a positive mindset, can be challenging. Uncertainty is unsettling at best and often frightening. I don’t know where we are in the process of flattening the curve or when things will, if ever, return to what I previously considered normal. I miss sports. I miss being able to hang out with people. I miss having access to rivers and trails. Many people have it infinitely worse than I. A positive mindset is believing that things will be okay--eventually. Even in the worst situations. It is focusing on what is inside one’s control. It is making the most of the situation. It is being mindful of what one thinks, taking care to avoid “disasterizing,” thinking the worst, “what iffing.” It is living in the present and taking it one step at a time. Remembering that “this too shall pass.”

Regarding the third ingredient: I see many people doing an incredible job of problem-solving. Homeschooling. Child care. Groceries. Working from home. Using electronic communication for group conferences, family celebrations, and even being “with” loved ones who are ill when it is not possible to physically be present with them. Finding ways to get healthcare when needed. 

And the final ingredient, effective communication, is just that. Effective. Communicating in ways that achieve the desired effect. This could be asking for emotional support and encouragement from others. It could be offering support, help, and encouragement to others. It could be venting, expressing feelings; just feeling heard by someone can be comforting. People are more apt to listen when you are communicating effectively.

Many of you are aware of these principles and concepts and practice them regularly. I often need reminding.

The wilderness where I work two days a week with a group of adolescent boys is a sanctuary where I am removed from everything going on in the “front country.” I sometimes wish I could just live out in the field, but I can’t. I thought it might be helpful, especially for myself, to review aspects of resilience during these very difficult times.

Stay home. Stay safe. Be resilient. Be well. 


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