From Psychology Today
There is a consensus among professionals that ‘mental health’ is a positive state where an individual is flourishing,
thriving and meeting their full potential in life. There are many cognate terms
for ‘mental health’ including subjective well-being, quality of life or simply happiness.
Another term commonly used in
relation to positive mental health is ‘resilience’. This
phrase is actually borrowed from engineering, where it refers to the ability of
a physical material to withhold external stress. A
resilient material thus has hardiness, flexibility and strength.
What is Mental Health
In psychiatry, the phrase is used similarly, referring to the ability of an
individual to handle stress and adversity. It is sometimes referred to as
‘bouncing back’ and can be particularly important after people have experienced
difficult circumstances such as losing a job, divorce or bereavement.
Research on resilience indicates that it is not a fixed
attribute, but can change over time. Indeed, individuals can cultivate
resilience, though this can require time and effort.
In fact, the road to resilience
often involves pain and struggle, as does the mastery of any new life-skill.
For example, learning to
ride a bike often involves falls, cuts and bruises, but results in a new-found
ability and autonomy. The same can be said for the resilience-enhancing
strategies described below.
Evidence suggests that the
acquisition of new skills can play a key role in enhancing resilience.
Skill-acquisition helps develop a sense of competency and mastery, which can be
deployed in the face of other challenges. This can also increase self-esteem and problem-solving ability.
Skills to be learnt depends very
much on individual circumstances. For some, this will mean learning cognitive and emotional skills that may help everyday functioning,
for example active listening. For others it may involve pursuits, hobbies, or
activities that involve the mastery of new competencies.
This is explored in the
insightful documentary below, detailing how the acquisition of art skills
enhanced resiliency among a group of people with mental illness. Interestingly,
skill-acquisition in a group setting maybe especially effective, as this gives
an added benefit of social support, which also fosters resiliency.
Much research indicates that the
setting and meeting of goals facilitates the development of resilience. This
helps develop will-power, as well as the ability to create and execute an
action plan. Goals may vary in size, depending on individual circumstances, but
often involve a series of short achievable steps.
For one person, it may be related
to physical health, for example exercising more regularly. For another, it may
be related to social or emotional goals, such as visiting family and friends more frequently. Goal setting that involves
skill-acquisition, for example learning a new language, will have a double
Interestingly, some research
indicates that goal-setting involving
a sense of purpose and meaning beyond the individual self (e.g. volunteering or religious involvement) can be particularly useful for resiliency. This may
give a deeper sense of coherence and connection, valuable in times of trouble.
This involves the slow and
gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations,
thus helping individuals overcome debilitating fears. Numerous studies indicate
that controlled exposure can foster resilience. Controlled exposure can offer a
triple benefit when it involves skill-acquisition and goal-setting.
For example, public speaking is a valued skill that can help people
advance in life. People who are fearful of public speaking can acquire this
skill through setting small goals involving controlled exposure. They can start
with an audience of one or two friends, progressively expanding their audience
A controlled exposure action-plan can be self-initiated, or
developed in tandem with a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Again, successful efforts will
result in increased self-esteem, as well as an enhanced sense of mastery and
autonomy. This can be harnessed to surmount future challenges.
An amassed body of research
suggests that resilience can be developed and cultivated over the life course
through simple (though challenging) self-initiated activities. This often
involves discipline, will-power and hard-work, but the results will be
bountiful: greater autonomy, mastery and confidence.