re·sil·ience /rəˈzilyəns/

re·sil·ience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty/adaptability/toughness

Are you feeling freaked out and/or out of control right now? Are you feeling a little less than resilient?

I think a lot about resilience. Early in my academic career, I worked on a World Health Organization-inspired project that focused on how schools could put measures in place to foster resilience among school-aged kids (known as the Health Promoting School). That professional experience affirmed what I knew from my personal story: That resilience is vital for adaptation to stress and is the foundation for good mental health. The experience also opened me up to participating as a mentor in Snoqualmie Valley Community Network Youth Success! Mentoring program (and if you don’t know about this phenomenal program, check it out).

But what is resilience? And how can we build it?

In the 1980s, research on child development, family dynamics, school effectiveness, and community development coalesced around the idea that humans are innately equipped with a biological imperative for growth and development. That is, when faced with adversity and stress, we already have the capacity to recover, “self-right” or be resilient. What’s more, we can boost resilience by developing tools like social competence (e.g., empathy, and a sense of humor); problem-solving and creative thinking; self-identify and self-awareness; and a sense of purpose.

Respondents to a recent survey in Mindful magazine described resilience as:

  • seeing past the darkness to the sunshine
  • carrying on with grace and strength when times are tough
  • staying on track in the face of setbacks
  • showing up
  • fielding difficult emotions

When we are resilient, we are more likely to be in good mental health and have healthier immune systems.

Arm yourself with the right tools

But social and economic arrangements that confer disadvantage like poverty, income inequality, exposure to interpersonal violence, neurotoxins, and stress makes it incredibly challenging for many of us to be, or feel, resilient. The good news is that we can arm ourselves with the right tools to build resilience as individuals and as communities by building social support (through programs like Youth Success! Mentoring) and fostering presence for ourselves.

Here’s the American Psychological Association roadmap to building resilience:

  • Build connections—relationships are everything
  • Foster wellness—cherish your body and mind through self-care, contemplative practices, and a willingness to be present
  • Find purpose—be kind to yourself and others
  • Embrace healthy thoughts—accepting change is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my own life
  • Seek help—it’s OK, we all need to borrow a life jacket sometimes

Resilience is part of the human story and is needed more than ever right now. What helps you cultivate resilience?

Fostering Breath Awareness

Breath awareness is a good place to start practicing presence.

  1. Set a timer for 3 minutes.
  2. Sit in a comfortable position on the floor, a mat, or in a chair.
  3. Rest your hands on your thighs, palms down.
  4. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out through your nose.
  5. Observe each inhale and exhale.
  6. Notice where each breath starts in your body.
  7. Notice how each breath feels.
  8. Continue like this until the timer rings.
  9. Open your eyes when you are ready.
  10. Has your breath slowed down?

Check out more on slowing down your breath.