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Resilience: The Antidote to Stress

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Resilience is often thought of as the ability to bounce back from difficulties. So, in that sense, it’s a kind of toughness. But that view is a bit one dimensional. Moreover, we’re learning that resilience is not a one-size-fits-all skill.

Because resilience is a skill, it can be built and strengthened with practice. So, that’s good news because it gives us the power to respond better to stress and trauma.

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    Understanding stress and trauma

    There's a benefit for you to understand how stress and trauma affect resilience. That is, you can learn ways to respond effectively. And that's better than simply reacting to adversity.

    Certainly, most us face adversity of some sort in day-to-day life. Stress and trauma are very common.

    Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain. It results from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The word ‘stress’ comes from Latin, meaning ‘to be drawn tight.’

    Some stress is healthy for you. Healthy stress is short-term and it can inspire and motivate you. It can help you grow by stretching a bit beyond your comfort zone. It can feel energizing. Plus, it may also enhance your performance.

    But long-term stress is unhealthy for you. It begins to wear on you. You might feel jittery. Or you experience anxiety or confusion. You may have trouble concentrating.

    Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. The word ‘trauma’ comes from Greek, meaning ‘wound.’

    Traumatic events like abuse, neglect, and violence are sources of unhealthy stress. And these threaten well-being.

    Three dimensions of resilience

    Resilience is more than a one-dimensional strength. The different dimensions of resilience will help you better handle whatever comes your way.

    Bouncing back – the ability to maintain or return to “normal”

    The skill of bouncing back is very helpful with short-term stresses like traffic jams, technical challenges at work, or having disagreements in your relationships. Seeing resilience as simply bouncing back is not as helpful when facing more serious adversities such as trauma.

    And there can be side effects to the idea of just bouncing back. You might find it harder to accept the new reality a stress or trauma caused. Maybe you'll feel a strong yearning to just get back to “normal.” Or you could even hold on to bitterness, resentment, or anger.

    Grit – the ability to “grow where you are planted” and persevere

    Grit is a kind of resilience that helps you deal with chronic and long-term challenges like illness, disability, systemic oppression or marginalization.

    Possible side effects of grit as a resilience strategy include bypassing rather than addressing your emotions. Or internalizing oppression, developing a lack of empathy for others. Even wanting people to feel sorry for you as a victim.

    Growth – the ability to expand to hold a new reality

    Growth can come from stress and trauma. It is a kind of resilience that brings incremental change over time. Growth takes self-awareness about your vulnerabilities. And a willingness to practice self-care. As well as your empathy and solidarity with others.

    Growth has the positive side effects of increasing your capacity to hold both the happy and the hard experiences of life in healthy balance. It honors your personal agency and choice. It helps you learn to respond well rather than just react instinctively. And it strengthens your connection with others.

    Resources to build your resilience

    So, if you’d like to learn more, YIPA has an On-Demand training called Real Talk About Resilience. It’s free to YIPA members. In addition, you can also check out The Passionate Youth Worker podcast. You'll hear youth workers share the challenges they’ve faced. Also, how those events helped to shape their work with young people. Resilience runs through every story.

    About the author

    Barbara Van Deinse is the operations director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Barbara a question or share your feedback about this blog, email barbara@yipa.org.

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