Resilience – is it important for your health?

What is Resilience? 

We all face pressures, stresses and challenges in our life. Resilience can help us react and adapt to these in a positive or productive way. It means that when you encounter stressful life circumstances, you’re able to endure, get through them and even bounce back, without falling apart. As one report described, “resilience transforms potentially toxic stress into tolerable stress.”

Trendy Topic or Serious Phenomenon?

There have been numerous articles on the subject of resilience in the past few years. Most researchers agree with the idea of resilience and its benefits. However, many acknowledge there are gaps in the scientific evidence. These gaps exist because resilience is difficult to measure in any direct way. For example, how do you know someone is resilient if they haven’t experienced stress? Or how do you compare one person’s resilience in one type of stressful situation to the way a different person has reacted to a different type of adversity?  

Instead of providing Recipes for Resilience that can be applicable to everyone, scientific research tends to focus on particular groups of people, such as children, teens or people with illnesses; particular types of stressful events, like disasters or illnesses’; or particular types of resilience-building interventions. This means that studies of resilience can’t be compared head-to-head to absolutely define its causes and benefits for everyone. As one report described, “despite widespread rhetoric about the importance of resilience, there was a dearth of studies which operationalised resilience factors,” i.e., there is no standard way to measure it.

The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Resilience

Despite this, existing studies of resilience point to many positive health benefits.

  • Mental Health: Resilience-focused interventions were found to reduce general psychological distress, symptoms of depression, social withdrawal, anxiety, and disruptive behaviour for children and teenagers, according to a systematic review of all relevant evidence, published in 2016.
  • Brain & Organ Development: Stress has a negative impact on a child’s developing brain and other organs, which can be avoided by promoting greater resilience. These findings are summarized in a 2014 paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.
  • Cardiovascular Health: A short, small-scale study published in 2012 suggests that resilience is linked to improved cardiovascular health.  
  • Management of Physical Illness: When people have resilience, they can also see many positive benefits when they are suffering from a physical illness. A systematic review conducted in 2011 found that these benefits include “self-care, adherence to treatment, health related quality of life, illness perception, pain perception, exercise adherence, and physical outcomes.”
  • Benefits at Work: A small-scale study of nurses found that resilience training in the workplace “resulted in significantly large reductions in fatigue,” which also meant there was boosted productivity at work. While a 2015 review of published studies summarized the benefits of resilience in the workplace as being “lower prevalence of burnout, symptoms of anxiety and depression,” which can be positive for employers because it can help reduce employee turnover and boost performance.

Conclusions 

  • There are challenges when it comes to researching resilience, because the challenges we each face and the way we respond can vary significantly. 
  • However, research so far suggests that resilience seems to help improve our mental and physical health. 
  • It can help people bounce back from adversity without falling into depression and anxiety, and can also help negate the physical reactions that tend to manifest as a result of stress. 

For information on how to maintain and develop resilience, see Building our Resilience

Jennifer Jamieson, December 2017. Next review date, December 2020. 

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Building Personal Resilience in the Workplace

On Resilience