Resilience is being able to bounce back from adversity or trauma

Can Resilience Be Learned?

The American Psychological Association (2014) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress.  Clinically, it might not be that simple, but for most of us resilience is the ability to bounce back – to mentally or emotionally cope with a situation or return to the way we were before the situation occurred.  If we recognize the importance of resilience the next question we’re likely to ponder is whether we’re born resilient or can resilience be learned?

Resilience is being able to bounce back from adversity or trauma

An example of professional resilience

Annabelle Timsit, writing in Quartz magazine, recently described the tragic situation of a young French woman who, while caring for a new baby at the tail end of maternity leave, discovered she had breast cancer.  After a 15-month bout of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment she was thankfully cancer free. Unfortunately, her much anticipated return to work was shattered with news that her job had been eliminated.

For most of us, a one-two punch like this would have been a crushing blow.  For Patricia Acensi-Ferré it led to an entirely new career as she launched a consulting company coaching employees and employers on how to foster resilience in professional situations.

Why do employers need a resilient workforce?

Acensi-Ferré’s situation may have been more severe than typical, but personal situations that either distract us at work or disconnect us from work happen quite frequently. Situations resulting in employees taking voluntary leave can happen for many reasons.   On average, 273,000 women and 13,000 men take maternity or paternity leave in the US every month.  Many more take voluntary leave for other reasons,  burnout being one of the most common.  According to a recent Gallup study, burnout affects three out of every four US employees to some degree.

Increasingly, companies understand the value in supporting employees through personal transitions, crisis or burnout.   The reason for supporting those employees is quite clear.  When employees take voluntary leave the cost to retain or retrain them when they return can be very high.

Resilience can be learned

Resilience isn’t a trait people either have or don’t have — it involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed.

A good, comprehensive EAP, like what we offer at Espyr, will have coaches specifically trained on how to help employees learn to be more resilient.

Here are 8 strategies used by Espyr’s coaches for building resilience:

  • Nurture a positive view of yourself. Develop confidence in your ability to solve problems and trust your instincts.
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. “You can’t prevent stressful events from happening, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events,” says Dr. O’Gorman, PhD., a psychologist in private practice in East Chatham, N.Y., and a spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association. “Try keeping a long-term perspective.”
  • Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals no longer may be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that can’t be changed can help you focus on circumstances you can affect.
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship report better relationships, a greater sense of strength, an increased sense of self-worth and a greater appreciation for life. Take a lesson from Patricia Acensi-Ferré who relied on her personal resilience to not just overcome a trauma, but thrive as a result.
  • Make connections. Good relationships with family, friends or others are important. Accept help and support from those who care about you.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect good things to happen in your life.
  • Move toward your goalsDevelop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
  • Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat a healthful diet and limit alcohol consumption.

Consider writing your thoughts about stressful events in your life. Try meditation and other spiritual practices. Many people find these activities help them build connections with others and restore lost hope.

“Becoming conscious of your strengths makes you stronger,” says Dr. O’Gorman. “Resilience increases as you recognize the magnitude of what you’ve already accomplished and survived in your life and helps you believe you can meet the challenges that lie ahead.”

About Espyr

Want to know more about building a resilient workforce?  Espyr is a leader in Employee Assistance Programs, coaching and other innovative behavioral health programs, all designed to help your employees and company achieve their full potential.  To learn more call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.