By Janis Mallon, Ph.D. University Health & Counseling Services
Depression and anxiety rates are trending up among teens and young adults. More college students are reporting a lifetime prevalence of risk of harm to self. At the November 2018 annual meeting of the New England College Health Association, Christo, Mariani and Drexler-Hines addressed seven key factors of resilience and their connection to well-being. They also identified resources and interventions that foster resilience building. Christo et al. described resilience as the ability to bounce back from daily challenges and to move forward in the pursuit of goals. It is the ability to live through, learn from and adapt to pain. Resilience allows us to keep focus, solve problems effectively and juggle multiple priorities. It also helps us treat ourselves and others with dignity and respect. Genes, temperament and life experience all contribute, but resilience can be taught and can be boosted. It helps us live more fully and can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and trauma.
Here are the seven key factors of resilience:
Emotion Regulation – “Grace under pressure;” the ability to manage strong feelings.
Impulse Control – Allows us to stop and think before responding hastily.
Causal Analysis – Results in good problem solving. It it the ability to think logically and predict outcomes and helps us understand why outcomes occur.
Self-Efficacy – The belief in one’s ability to impact outcomes. It relies on a combination of inner and outer resources and permits confidence and hope in the face of challenge.
Realistic Optimism – Not minimizing or catastrophizing, but hoping for improvement.
Empathy – The ability to another’s perspective and to feel what they feel.
Reaching Out – Taking on new challenges; not stagnating.
How can we enhance resilience? By having compassion for others and for ourselves. Compassion entails warmth and a desire to alleviate suffering. The basis of all compassion is self-compassion, grounded in mindfulness, the ability to notice our experience without judgment. To appreciate our common humanity is to connect with others, and requires the ability to be kind to ourselves. Recognizing our intrinsic worth, not based on social comparison or achievement, naturally leads to a collaborative mindset.
To enhance resilience it is important to learn how to self soothe. Simple strategies include rocking, swinging, gentle movement, rubbing hands together or giving ourselves a hug. These practices can activate the release of oxytocin and engage our mammalian caregiving response. Through mindful self-compassion we are able to reduce our suffering without judgment and take steps to alleviate distress.
Other strategies include deep breathing, getting adequate good quality sleep and connecting to nature. The experience of awe in nature, while watching a sunset or walking on a beach, have been shown to correlate significantly with positive affect and may help to protect against negative emotions. Giving and receiving social support and for many of us, spending time with animals can also build positive emotions and resilience.