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How Can We Tap into Resilience During Difficult Times

By Kay Van Norman March 27, 2020 Mindset

Resilience is the ability to adapt and overcome, rebounding from stressors and returning to a balanced state of well-being. It’s key to living a positive quality of life – complete with joy, hope, and possibilities – regardless of challenges.

Physical and Psychological Resilience

Research describes two types of resilience – physical and psychological. Physical resilience used to be viewed as the opposite of physical frailty – but it’s more complicated than that.

It’s defined as one’s ability to withstand or recover from functional decline following acute and/or chronic health stressors throughout the full lifespan.

Psychological resilience refers to a person’s ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. It relies more heavily on the external environment and social support than physical resilience.

Some people seem born with resilience. They bounce back from tragedy, overcome obstacles, and just keep moving forward no-matter-what. But a lot of people require help to build it. They need to immerse themselves in a mindset and environment that actively supports resilience.

Whole Person Wellness and Resilience

Supporting all the dimensions of wellness – physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and vocational – is part of the equation. They, of course, link together and overlap but understanding them separately helps you support each one.

In the same way, it’s important to understand individual components of resilience. Every person, regardless of age or circumstances, has basic human needs. Some are concrete like food, water, shelter and clothes.

But there are also more abstract needs like having meaning and purpose, feeling competent and in control, giving as well as receiving, and feeling of value to others. These more abstract needs are critical to building and supporting resilience.

Behaviors That Lead to Resilience

Positive attitudes and expectations (regardless of age) generate a sense of well-being, uplifting hope, optimism, confidence, perspective, and mastery – which (by the way) are building blocks of resilience.

Positive social connections with family and friends, and/or a close-knit community of mutual social support, build resilience, and a healthy active lifestyle is also predictive of higher resilience.

Effective coping strategies – like embracing a sense of self-efficacy (I can face challenges with flexibility and adaptability.) and a willingness to view challenges through a lens of optimism rather than despair – impact happiness and well-being. To activate resilience, seek to identify and solve challenges on your own and with others.

Past Resilience

One strategy known to bolster resilience is reminding yourself how you’ve faced and overcome previous challenges. Remembering specific times you’ve been resilient can trigger a mindset of seeking adaptive strategies to keep moving forward – to overcome rather than simply cope with challenges.


Practice optimism. It’s important to avoid personalizing challenges (i.e., why me?). Life and stress happen.

Recognizing stress as a normal part of life and building yourself in ways to take stress breaks – short walks, mindfulness meditation – can help shift the focus away from the stressor and towards what to do next.

Consciously re-writing the story to include triumphing over adversity helps build personal resilience.

Savoring Positive Experiences

A study done by Mather Lifeways describes the value of consciously savoring positive experiences to support resilience. They examined how some people tend to amplify positive experiences by fully appreciating the experience, actively choosing to share it with others, and feeling gratitude for it.

Comparatively, some people tend more towards “dampening’ behaviors – i.e., thinking of ways an experience could have been better, feeling disappointed that it will end soon, and downplaying the overall value of its positive effect.

This study’s intervention asked participants to intentionally focus on a happy experience twice a day for one week. They were asked to fully embrace those feelings of happiness and emotional well-being.

This simple intervention had a positive effect on resilience primarily by helping people who tended to downplay positive experiences become aware of their “dampening” behaviors and helping them savor positive experiences.

It demonstrated that even if you’re not naturally inclined towards a positive outlook, you can use tools to support a shift in mindset – a strengthening of resilience.

Purpose and Resilience

Finally, having a sense of purpose has been repeatedly shown to have a strong impact on building both psychological and physical resilience. Purpose influences the building blocks of resilience like optimism, mastery, and confidence which support the ability to continue to move forward – regardless of challenges.

A strong sense of purpose – especially when focused on giving support to others – also leads to improvement in physical health, making individuals more likely to engage in healthy lifestyles, improving longevity, and making the body more resilient against stressors.

If you want to learn more, download these free resources related to building family resilience and personal wellbeing.

What stress-reducing strategies are you currently using during this difficult time? Can you think of ways to reach out to others (remotely) to provide support? Please share one example of past resilience with our community.

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The Author

Healthy aging expert Kay Van Norman is the President of Brilliant Aging. She serves on international boards, speaks and consults around the world, and has an extensive list of publications. Her Vitality Portfolio® model for lifelong health will be featured in a book by author Jack Canfield. Visit her at

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