Resilience refers to the ability to not only persevere, but to thrive in the face of adversity. Most people will encounter some form of adversity in their lifetime – whether it stems from an acute traumatic incident, or daily life stressors. However, it is how we respond to these inevitable challenges that matters most. Our life experiences foster resilience by tapping into our capacity to cope and bounce back from hardship.
While we may all be born with some level of innate resiliency, resilience is often nurtured and developed as a function of our values, convictions, goals, and life experiences. From the perspective of an employer, this ability to build resiliency is critical in supporting employees to show up as the best versions of themselves. Resilient employees are not only prone to overcoming work challenges, but they also adequately manage life stressors, so that resulting stress does not interfere with work performance.
In the long term, stressors can take both a physical and psychological toll. Physically, stress is known to negatively impact multiple systems within the body, and can contribute to migraines, obesity, high blood pressure, and more. From a psychological perspective, stress and trauma can contribute to mental health diagnoses including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and insomnia.
Resiliency can help to prevent these negative physical and mental health consequences. This has been observed by the fact that most people who are exposed to a traumatic event will not develop PTSD, largely due to their resiliency factors. Resilience in individuals includes, but is not limited to, tapping into social supports, maintaining a positive attitude and adaptability, incorporating spiritual/religious/meditation practices, activating one’s personal identity, pursuing aspirational goals, and preparing for potential and/or anticipated challenges.
Employers are well positioned to nurture resiliency so that their employees maintain wellness physically and mentally, and ultimately are better able to succeed in the work environment.
Resilience can be built by practicing healthy ways to manage stress. Individually, many of us have already overcome adversity in either our personal or professional lives. We all know certain people in our lives who made it through distressing circumstances, for example, a bad divorce or a work layoff, and emerged as a healthier and happier version of themselves. People should critically examine and reflect upon how they responded to hardship in the past and hone that skillset, while simultaneously seeking opportunities to build and expand a repertoire of strategies to manage stress.
Employers can support and promote resilience in the workplace by doing the following:
- Encourage and offer opportunities for employees to maintain a professional network of support in the work environment by promoting networking events, diversity enrichment, mentorship programs, and more.
- Offer and encourage mindfulness, meditation, or spiritual practices. This might include brief 15-minute mindfulness breaks at work.
- Model how to manage work challenges by refocusing on the positive, critically analyzing and preparing for the future, and learning from past mistakes.
- Create a safe work environment in which people have space to set limits, prioritize sleep and physical health, and have access to mental health support when needed.
- Acknowledge and encourage employee’s personal strengths by commending an employee’s strengths like problem solving or organizational skills– thereby proactively validating that strength to promote self-confidence.
Contributed by: Alexis Lighten Wesley, M.D. Dr. Wesley is a 2018-2021 APA SAMHSA Minority Fellow and a Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.