Resilient Wisconsin: Understanding Resilience

What is resilience?

A mother and daughter smiling with their heads pressed against each otherWe all experience ups and downs in life. Feelings of loss or uncertainty. A serious health or relationship problem. Stress at work or harmful substance use in the home. Even natural disasters and large-scale emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Trauma and adversity can make it difficult to take care of yourself and the people around you. Learning ways to cope with, and recover from, tough times in healthy ways is the heart of building resilience. Without it, we can become overwhelmed by toxic stress, trauma, or other mental and behavioral health challenges like chronic disease or harmful substance use.

While adverse childhood experiences or the risk and protective factors in a person’s life may contribute to making them more or less resilient than someone else, our ability to manage physical, mental, and emotional health in the face of difficulties isn’t set in stone. Like a muscle, resilience is a skill we can strengthen over time and at any age. That’s important, because people who learn to bounce back from hardships help make their loved ones and their community more resilient, too.

Try these seven strategies for building resilience

These resilience-building practices can help you learn to adapt and recover in the face of adversity.

  • Prioritize healthy relationships: Build a supportive network of people who care about you and spend quality time (even if virtually) with them.
  • Take care of your body: It’s easier to maintain mental and emotional balance when you feel healthy. Make an effort to eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise three or more times a week.
  • Avoid negative outlets: Look for healthy ways to process difficult emotions. Trying to escape these emotions through harmful substance use will create more stress. 
  • Be proactive: We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can take charge of our response. Break problems into manageable tasks and move forward.
  • Practice self-awareness: When stressful events occur, it’s important to take a step back and reflect before we react. It helps to understand where your emotions are coming from before you share them.
  • Learn from the past: Recognize who or what was helpful (or unhelpful) the last time you were in a stressful situation. Remembering other challenges you’ve overcome can help.
  • Ask for help when you need it: Reaching out to family or friends, a health care professional, or a community resource isn’t easy, but knowing how to accept help is a sign of strength.

Take a closer look at resilience

Get to know the influential elements of mental, physical, and behavioral health that help public health professionals and others understand and promote resilience in our communities and organizations, in our relationships, and within ourselves.

Last Revised: September 9, 2020