25 Ways To Build Resilience
Last updated: May 8, 2020
The word "resilience" derives from the Latin ‘resilire’, meaning "to recoil or rebound". It refers to our ability to bounce back or recover from stress, and stress comes in many forms: physical, mental and emotional. In an uncertain and ever-changing world, resilience determines our ability to thrive and not simply survive.
The mind and body influence each other so if we seek to be resilient, the health of both is essential. If an injury or illness comes our way, the more resilient our body and mind, the quicker we rebound. Muscle mass is one of the predictors for how long someone will live, and so is mindset.
The field of psychoneuroimmunology speaks to the intimate connection between our thoughts ("psycho-"), our nervous system ("-neuro-") and our immune system ("-immunology"). Put simply, our thoughts are connected to the systems that influence the entire health of our being. If we think negative thoughts, if creates negative physiological effects in the body. Similarly, if there is an unhealthy physiology in the body (for example, a bad gut microbiome), this can create unhealthy thoughts and feelings.
The significance of this mind-body connection as it relates to well-being and resilience can be highlighted by some research bullet points:
Studies have linked troubled marriages with heightened inflammation (and inflammation is at the root of virtually every chronic disease)
Growing evidence has implicated the gut microbiome in mental and physical health
Childhood adversity is a risk factor for persistent fatigue after cancer treatment (you can check out my article on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) here)
Depression and stress can cause a greater inflammatory response following exposure to pathogens and stressors (ie: those most susceptible to dying from COVID are because of an out of control inflammatory response)
The pathway between depression and inflammation is bidirectional so an exaggerated inflammatory response increases the risk for depression
The brain can interfere with the immune system, where chronic psychological stress inhibits many functions of the immune system
Chronic inflammation, whether mild (during aging and psychological stress) or severe (chronic inflammatory diseases), clearly interferes with brain function, leading to disease side-effects like fatigue, but also to overt psychiatric illness
Psychological stress can promote diseases such as in chronic inflammatory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, acute and chronic viral infections, sepsis, asthma, among others.
Decreased levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine (stress-related hormones) were associated with interventions like yoga, meditation, tai chi, acupuncture, mindfulness, religious/spiritual practices, cognitive behavior therapy, coping and physical exercises. These interventions were also associated with reductions in inflammatory processes and levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in cancer, HIV, depression, anxiety, wound healing, sleep disorder, cardiovascular diseases and fibromyalgia.
How to Build Resilience
We often consider the resilient person as someone who has faced adversity and risen above it. While some people may be born with inherent personality traits that tend to lend them towards being resilient, research also shows us that we can absolutely develop the skills and traits of resilience. In this article we will focus on building resilience in the mind.
One of the well-respected and validated assessment tools for measuring resilience is the Connor-Davidson Resilience scale (CD-RISC). Therapists trained in using this scale measure client improvements in resilience across treatment. Individuals with mental illness, for example, tend to have lower levels of resilience when compared with the general population.
The CD-RISC contains 25 different items, and the higher one rates on each item, the higher the resilience score. It is not necessary to have all 25 items in order to be resilient. For our purposes, we are using this as a tool to look inward, to be honest about how we are showing up in the world and the ways we can look to build our resilience. This exercise is to be done with self-compassion, and free of negative judgement and self-criticism.
Jot it down in whatever way works for you and then come back to it again in the future and see where you've made improvements and what other improvements can yet be made. You may have your own scale you use, or you might just draw a line signifying "none" to "completely" and put a dash on it where it feels like you currently reside, not needing to give it a specific number at all. Do what feels right for you. All of the items are on a scale, they are not "yes/no" questions.
With each item, jot down where you would rate yourself. I've added a question and a consideration about things you can do to help improve that resilience item; add your own ideas on what actions you can take.
Once you've gone through all 25 items, take a general survey and ask yourself:
"What is one action I can take that will produce the greatest benefit to bolstering my resilience?". The action must be specific and achievable -- something you can start today or tomorrow , that you know if you stick with it for a month, it would increase your resilience by some measure.
So, without further adieu, here it is! 25 ways to build resilience:
1 - Able to adapt to change
When plans change or the unexpected happens, how well do you adapt?
What prevents you from being adaptable? Anxiety? Worry?
What steps can you take to be more adaptable? Practicing acceptance?
What kind of person do you need to become to be more adaptable?
2 - Close and secure relationships
Do you have one or two (or more) really close and secure relationships?
What can you do to develop these relationships?
Would a pet help fulfill this role for you?
3 - Sometimes fate or God can help
Do you believe that sometimes larger forces outside of yourself can help?
What resources do you require if you want to cultivate this? Books? People? Groups?
4 - Can deal with whatever comes
Do you believe that you have the ability to handle whatever comes your way?
What has to happen in order for you to believe that you can handle whatever comes your way?
What would happen if you decided to pretend you were the kind of person that could handle whatever came your way?
5 - Past success gives confidence for new challenge
Do past successes fuel your sense of confidence to deal with future challenges?
What would happen if every day you chose to focus on a past success and filled yourself up with that feeling of confidence?
6 - See the humorous side of things
Are you able to find humour even in darker and more difficult times?
How would things change if you decided that every day you would search to find the humour in things?
7 - Coping with stress strengthens
Do you see stress as a challenge that can strengthen you?
What would happen if you chose to reframe stress as an opportunity for challenge?
What examples in your life have stressful events made you stronger?
8 - Tend to bounce back after illness or hardship
If hardship or illness comes your way, do you generally bounce back?
What prevents you from bouncing back?
What would have to happen for you to bounce back more easily and what can you do to cultivate this?
9 - Things happen for a reason
Do you believe that things tend to happen for a reason?
How might things be different for you if you chose to believe that things happen for a reason?
How do you know that things don't happen for a reason?
10 - Best effort no matter what
Do you always give your best effort, no matter what?
What sort of outcomes may have happened in the past had you given your best effort?
What would happen if you decided to give your best effort no matter what?
11- You can achieve your goals
Do you believe you can achieve your goals?
How can someone achieve their goals if they don't believe they can?
What would have to happen for you to believe you can achieve your goals?
How many goals have you already achieved?
What would happen if you pretended to believe you could achieve your goals?
12 - When things look hopeless, I don’t give up
Do you persist even when things appear hopeless?
Who do you have to be in order to persist in the face of hopelessness? What would happen if you pretended to be like them?
What are the benefits of persisting?
What would happen if you simply chose to persist?
13 - Know where to turn for help
Do you know what you need to do or where you need to go for help?
What resources did you use in the past when you needed help?
What resources could you use in the future?
What steps can you take to ensure you'll know where to turn for help should you need it?
14 - Under pressure, focus and think clearly
Can you maintain clear thinking in the midst of stress and pressure?
What prevents you from staying focused and thinking clear when you're under pressure?
What mindfulness practices can you begin that will help you stay centered in the midst of stress?
15 - Prefer to take the lead in problem solving
When a problem arises, do you step in and take charge?
What would be the benefits or payoffs of taking charge of problem solving? Improved creative thinking? Team work? Leadership? Confidence?
In what ways can you begin taking charge in your own life?
16 - Not easily discouraged by failure
Even when failure knocks you down, do you get right back up again?
In what ways have you succeeded despite past failures?
What specifically discourages you about failure? Is that belief actually true?
What would happen if you pretended to be the kind of person who doesn't get discouraged by failure?
17 - Think of self as strong person
Do you consider yourself to be strong?
Recall a challenging time that you persevered through. What qualities/traits did you demonstrate then that you can demonstrate now?
What would have to happen in order for you to believe you are strong?
What are the positive outcomes of imagining yourself to be a strong person?
18 - Make unpopular or difficult decisions
Are you comfortable making challenging decisions?
What holds you back from making the tough decisions and what can you do about it?
How would things be different if you decided that you are the kind of person who can make difficult decisions?
What decisions have you put off that you can choose to face today?
What are the payoffs from making these decisions? Confidence? Sense of control over life? Taking control of stress? Good role modeling? New opportunities?
19 - Can handle unpleasant feelings
When negative feelings arise, do you handle them well?
What prevents you from managing your feelings better?
What mindfulness practice can you begin that will enable you to more easily process your feelings?
20 - Have to act on a hunch
Do you trust your own instincts? (which is say, your own subconscious mind)
In what ways in the past did you listen to your own instincts and it paid off? When did you not listen and missed out on a payoff?
If only you truly know what is in your best interest, whose instincts should you trust?
What practices can you begin that connect you with your instincts/subconscious mind? Meditation? Self-hypnosis? Breath work? Body scans? Martial arts?
21 - Strong sense of purpose
Do you have a strong sense of purpose?
How will you know when you have purpose? How do you know you don't have it?
What has to happen in order to cultivate this sense of purpose?
22 - In control of your life
Do you feel in control of your life?
What prevents you from taking control of your life?
In what ways can you begin to take action to gain control of it?
What would happen if you pretended to be the kind of person who takes control of their life?
23 - I like challenges
Do you enjoy navigating challenges?
Who would you have to be in order to enjoy challenges?
In what ways have the past challenges you've overcome benefited you?
What mindset will you choose to adopt in the face of a challenge?
24 - You work to attain your goals
Do you work hard to achieve your goals?
What prevents you from working hard?
What kind of goal is worth working hard for? Set one that is aligned with your values
25 - Pride in your achievements
Do you take pride in your achievements?
What prevents you from taking pride in your achievements?
Consider a past achievement that made you feel good - step back into the event and see, hear and feel the experience - What is it about that achievement that felt good?
Relive past achievements like a 3rd party observer, as if the achievement was by another person - What aspects of that achievement would you congratulate that person for?
Resilience is our ability to bounce back from physical, mental or emotional stress. The health and well-being of both mind and body is important when considering resilience, since each can have a significant (and detrimental) impact on the other.
The Connor-Davidson Resilience scale (CD-RISC) is a useful tool we can use outside of a clinical setting to gain personal insights on our level of mental resilience. While there are 25 specific items to the scale, more broadly, there are 5 primary interrelated components that underpin the nature of this resilience:
Trusting one's instincts and tolerance of negative affect/stress
Secure relationships and acceptance of change
Much like a health assessment, evaluating where we fall on the resilience scale enables us the opportunity to purposefully cultivate those skills and behaviours we would benefit from strengthening.
If you come across some stubborn limiting beliefs in the process that you'd like some support with feel free to drop me a line, I'm happy to help.
Here's to your resilience!
References & Resources
Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser. Marriage, Divorce, and the Immune System. Am Psychol. 2018 Dec; 73(9): 1098–1108.
Julienne E. Bower, Joshua Wiley, Laura Petersen, Michael Irwin, Steve W. Cole, Patricia A. Ganz. Fatigue after breast cancer treatment: Biobehavioral predictors of fatigue trajectories. Health Psychol. 2018 Nov; 37(11): 1025–1034.
Moraes LJ, Miranda MB, Loures LF, Mainieri AG, Mármora CHC. A systematic review of psychoneuroimmunology-based interventions. Psychol Health Med. 2018 Jul; 23(6):635-652.
Straub RH, Cutolo M. Psychoneuroimmunology - developments in stress research. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2018 Mar;168(3-4):76-84.