Complex Made Simple

Resilience: Navigating Our Way Through Uncertainty

A special group talk was organized on May 23rd, 2020, to discuss the challenges people in the community have been facing during the Pandemic. When faced with adversity in life, how does a person cope or adapt? Why do some people seem to bounce back from tragic events or loss much more quickly than others? We find out here

Resilience is not a personality trait. It is something that you can grow and learn, and it is not time specific Research on trauma has shown that many people go on to experience positive change after a traumatic experience When we are kind to ourselves, it is reflected it to the world around us and we affect people in a positive way

With the joint efforts of Sand Fitness, a community-based gym located in Dubai Motor City and Dr. Chasity O’Connell, from HRI Institute & Clinics, a special group talk was organized on May 23rd, 2020, to discuss the challenges people in the community have been facing during the Pandemic.

We need to manage unknown circumstances in our lives; there are lots of people staying at home now, and it seems overwhelming to take on all these changes. Dr. Chasity explained what resilience is, the importance of understanding it, what is post-traumatic growth and how it is connected to resilience. Dr. Chasity also gave some pointers as to how we can work our way through these uncertain times.

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What is Resilience?

When faced with adversity in life, how does a person cope or adapt? Why do some people seem to bounce back from tragic events or loss much more quickly than others? Why do some people seem to get “stuck” at a point in their lives, without being able to move forward? Resilience is about advancing despite adversity. A lot comes to mind with resilience. When asked to define resilience, the attendees mentioned: mental toughness, recovering quickly and overcoming obstacles, and doing the impossible! People are under the impression that we need to put up a fight to be resilient.

There is so much advice online on how to be resilient, what it is, and how to be resilient. The word resilience is overused online and it is hard to really grasp what this entails. Before we define it, exactly where did resilience originate? 

Research started by Werner and Smith who studied how adverse life circumstances impacted the development and outcomes of children in the late 1940s in Hawaii. Much of this research was inspired by Werner’s own experience as a child growing up during World War II and how children managed to survive these circumstances. Forty years on, the research showed that 33% of these high risk children became competent, caring and employed adults, contributing to society—they were “vulnerable, but invincible.” Many of the other children also had what was referred to as a “late bloomer” effect. Many of them experienced varying difficulties but ultimately managed to overcome their early life circumstances. The key message was that these children had major life stressors, however, they managed to navigate these problems and emerge as competent and contributing adults. And so, one of the most basic definitions of resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, to be able to be flexible and adapt to changes in our environment.  

Resilience is not about a one-time event – it is a dynamic process.

Resilience is not a personality trait. It is something that you can grow and learn, and it is not time specific.  In fact, resilience is quite complex. You cannot have resilience without adversity. There are certain factors—such as characteristics, ways of thinking, traits, and behaviors—that play a role in developing resilience. The more you can apply these factors in your life, the more you bolster your resilience, and the more you’re able to deal with adversity. There are some keys ways of strengthening resilience, and this talk focused on the following elements of resilience: strengthening our self-awareness, optimism (hope), flexibility and supportive relationships.

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Resilience is about Self Awareness 

Are you aware of what you are good at? How do you talk to yourself? Is it positive?  Is the way you talk to yourself helpful? How adaptable are you? How flexible are you? And how optimistic are you?  In other words, we need to be deeply connected with ourselves.  When we think about stress (our emotional responses to stress, in particular), how we respond and how we perceive stress, is the degree of resilience.

Resilience and Post Traumatic Growth (PTG)

Research on trauma has shown that many people go on to experience positive change after a traumatic experience. This positive change, this improved functioning is post-traumatic growth. The research refers to trauma as seismic events (just like earthquakes) that shake up a person’s world. When people experience post-traumatic growth, it changes their sense of self (who am I now?), their relationships (I know who I can count on), and their philosophy on life (life is meaningful and precious).

Resilience is About Naming Your Emotion

Many people may not have the emotional language or awareness of their emotions. It’s important to label what we are feeling and connect with ourselves (e.g. I am angry, sad, or I am sleepy, hungry, tired—emotional and physical needs)  Be aware of that and be aware of the emotional awareness and put a label on what you are feeling and identify your emotion. If we feel inferior, this will have an impact on what we think and do –  but when we are aware of what we are feeling, we are much better able to make helpful decisions.

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Resilience and Self Compassion

Self-compassion has 3 components (Neff): being kind to ourselves, being mindful and aware of what is going on in our body, and having a sense of being connected to others (especially during COVID-19). When we feel low, when we are kind to ourselves, it is reflected it to the world around us and we affect people in a positive way.  Connecting to ourselves and others is critical to help us through resilience. Self-awareness and sharing our story with friends helps us connect with others. But, we need to think about who we are sharing our story with. This is not about over sharing, it’s about how to connect with other people.  This helps us discover what is really important to you. What do you want to be known for? Sometimes we are too busy to connect with others, and it does take some creativity to connect with people.

Resilience is a skill – and like any skill, resilience can be learned. It just needs some practice. By getting some of the foundations right, like self-exploration, emotional awareness, getting good sleep, exercising, creating or strengthening boundaries, and having some ‘me time’, then we can set ourselves up to thrive and strive. Some of us swim rather than sink, some of us bend rather than break, and some of us bounce back. This inner strength is resilience, and it is a powerful tool to harness in pursuit of our personal and professional ambitions.  Through these uncertain times, resilience will be crucial to help us overcome this stage of our lives.

Blog Prepared by Maha Ahmad.

With and M.A. in Marketing and a Diploma in Digital Marketing, from the UK, Maha worked on several projects in Dubai and the UK. With over 15 years’ experience in project management, content development, branding, event management and communications, Maha continues to blog for clients on a freelance basis.

About Dr. Chasity O’Connell

Dr. Chasity holds a doctorate in Psychology, is a Professor at American University of Sharjah, and is a licensed clinician at Human Relations Institute and Clinic where she works with adults, children, and families in therapy on a variety of issues ranging from depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders, to parenting, and more