Right now, it seems as if everyone is talking about the high levels of stress and anxiety in our lives which can lead to serious mental health issues like depression or chronic anxiety (i.e. New York Times Article). One only needs to look at the news to feel a rising sense of helplessness: wars, climate change, mass shootings, uber-competitive university admissions processes, unstable political landscapes…the events that occur on a daily basis seem deep, insurmountable, and in some cases, unsolvable. Teenagers are privy to all of this and more, especially in a 24/7 online world. They feel the stress of marks, social status, complicated family dynamics—all of which is underpinned and made more complicated by hormones!
The approach to understanding these problems and putting in place strategies to ameliorate these issues will be complex, multi-faceted, and will require coordination between many of the major societal pillars: families, schools, corporations, and governments. This seems a daunting task.
In the meantime, however, I like to approach huge problems with the mindset that they can be solved and that by taking small, incremental steps one can begin to chip away at the problem.
That is where resilience comes in. Scholars, scientists, and psychologists who study stress and anxiety almost always also talk about the role of resilience in this equation. They are quick to state—and I agree—that resilience is not a cure and no one who understands anxiety would ever simply say, “suck it up and develop some resilience.” That said, there is evidence that people in general learn to adapt well over time to stressful situations. That involves resilience, an enduring practice requiring time and effort.
The American Psychological Association (APA), has excellent resources in the area of resilience. They define resilience in this way: “The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats for significant sources of stress– such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”
The APA provides 10 ways to build resilience (full article here):
- Make connections
- Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems
- Accept that change is a part of living
- Move towards your goals
- Take decisive actions
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery
- Nurture a positive view of yourself
- Keep things in perspective
- Maintain a hopeful outlook
- Take care of yourself
What’s encouraging is this. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions they can be learned and developed in anyone. That’s not to say it’s an easy road—just to say that it’s not a helpless one.