Resiliency is considered to be an outcome of a remaining flexible and adaptable to changing environments. It is a personality trait (Potter, 2020) that utilizes constructive emotional, physical, and spiritual attributes to overcome the most severe forms of adversity (Wheeler, 2022).
Resilient people have a unique combination of supportive factors. Supportive factors include caring friends and family, a positive self image, communication skills, impulse control, self confidence, and problem solving skills. A resilient mindset is flexible, sees problems as short term, nurtures gratitude, is action oriented, and has developed internal resources that can be called upon when needed in a crisis (Potter, 2020).
Knowing when and how to activate internal and external resources helps us maintain our personal resilient zone. The resilient zone is the area between our emotional highs and lows over time. Our highs are marked by feelings of mania, edginess, irritability, anxiety or panic, and episodes of angry outbursts and sensations of pain. The lows take the shape of depression, sadness, isolation, exhaustion, fatigue, and numbing. When we are within the range of our resilient zone, we are at our optimum physiological condition for clear thinking and overall functioning (Wheeler, 2022).
Resiliency has been found to be a uniting factor in those who are able to successfully move past their trauma. Moving forward is connected to the idea that, even though painful, what happened needs to be accepted for what it really was. The desire to make positive meaning out of events that have none may arise within some of us. While this might ease our pain or hide feelings of guilt and shame in the short term, it can hinder long term recovery by stifling understanding and acceptance (Wheeler, 2022).
Identifying Personal Needs
Before we dive into exploring our resilient zone, it's helpful to complete an assessment of our physical, emotional and spiritual needs (Maslow, 1972). If one or more of our needs is not being met, it can prevent us from doing the higher level thinking needed to remain inside our resilient zone, where our minds and bodies are at their most adaptable and flexible (Wheeler, 2022).
Consider the graphic below. Notice that our most basic needs are at the top of the triangle, and our higher level needs follow below (Maslow, 1972):
Tips on utilizing the above graphic:
- Use the triangle as a checklist - mark off each need that is being met.
- Next, follow the prompts to describe the internal and external resources used to meet those needs.
- Circle the needs in the triangle that are not being met.
- Write those needs in the rectangle, in the ‘Unmet Needs’ column.
- Brainstorm strategies to help meet those unmet needs. Consider the ideas listed below:
- Prioritize important relationships (Palmiter, 2012).
- Consider seeking out a mentor or a mentee (Potter, 2020).
- Prioritize physical health (Palmiter, 2012).
- Seek out an effective work/life balance (Potter, 2020).
- Join a community group or activity (Palmiter, 2012).
- Volunteer to help someone in need (Palmiter, 2012).
- Utilize a complementary or alternative therapy (Palmiter, 2012).
- Engage in proactive problem-solving (Palmiter, 2012).
- Strategize reaching our goals (Palmiter, 2012).
- Focus on positive emotions (Potter, 2020).
- Learn more about personal preferences and dislikes (Palmiter, 2012).
- Seek out new opportunities and experiences (Palmiter, 2012).
- Prioritize personal growth (Potter, 2020).
- Explore alternative perspectives (Palmiter, 2012).
- Cultivate gratitude, optimism and hope (Palmiter, 2012).
- Make an effort to accept self and others as they are (Palmiter, 2012).
- Reflect on the past through a lens of self love and acceptance (Potter, 2020).
- Are there ways to reduce exposure to, and time spent with, stressors? (Wheeler, 2022).
Now that we understand our needs and have new strategies that will help us meet them, we can evaluate areas of life that positively and negatively impact our ability to stay within our personal resilient zone.
When inside our resilient zone, our minds and bodies are at their most adaptable and flexible. When we are within the high zone, we become anxious and hyper aroused. Our resistances and defenses take over, and we struggle to engage new information, integrate memories or gain insight into ourselves and our situation. Inside the low zone, we are less able to access our emotions, feel bodily sensations or engage in self-regulation (Wheeler, 2022).
To help visualize the resilient zone, high zone and low zone, consider the following adapted graphic:
Tips on utilizing the above graphic:
- This tool is designed to help track mood and triggers over the course of one week.
- At different points of each day, we can think about how we are feeling and mark where those feelings fall on the spectrum of high to low. Click here for more information on identifying emotions.
- If something occurred that moved us into the high zone or low zone, we can write a brief description of the event. Here we also try to identify how long we remained in the high zone or low zone after the event occurred.
- If presently stuck in the high zone or low zone, consider the ideas listed below to help return to the resilient zone (Wheeler, 2022):
- Open and close our eyes slowly.
- Prepare and consume tea, juice or water.
- Seek out something comforting to touch or hold.
- Look around our environment and notice something we can see, smell, touch, hear or taste. Describe what is being sensed in as much detail as possible.
- Notice the temperature of the environment and the feel of clothing on our skin.
- Name six of something we see - six colors, six chairs, or six pieces of paper for example.
- Engage in deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Count backwards from twenty while walking around the space.
- Touch something with hands or feet and feel muscles tense against it.
- Focus on the points of the body making contact with the outside world.
- Utilize another form of complementary or alternative therapy. More information on this is available by clicking here.
It is best to minimize the impact of events that trigger us to enter our high and low zones by reducing our vulnerability to them. This reduces our exposure to harmful experiences and trauma, and facilitates our ability to think clearly and act in the way that best exemplifies our core beliefs and values. Consider ways to lessen time spent around triggering personalities or situations (Wheeler, 2022).
Adaptive coping strategies create helpful thinking patterns, beneficial coping mechanisms and productive behavior that allows us to successfully navigate challenges. For more information on adaptives, click here.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective psychotherapies available in building resiliency (Potter, 2020). It has succeeded in reducing the burden of a wide variety of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, obsessive compulsive disorders, sleep problems, phobias, addictions and eating disorders (Torres, 2021).
At the root of this approach is a short term, goal oriented perspective focused on identifying, challenging and altering damaging patterns of thinking, maladaptive attitudes, and internally held beliefs that exacerbate symptoms. Once these patterns are identified, CBT offers a time constrained, paced series of mentation exercises that work to create more helpful thoughts that encourage more constructive behaviors (Potter, 2020). For more information on CBT, click here.
Resiliency is enhanced by adding coping strategies to our toolbox that we can call upon when needed. Visit the strategies page for access to a full list of coping strategies you can use on a daily basis.