So what is resilience? We all want it, and we want to teach it to our children. But are there only a lucky few who inherit it?
Resilience is the ability to lead a healthy life, both physically and mentally, despite living through horrific circumstances, says Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A., chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. While there’s a genetic component, he said the thinking is changing around the idea that only some people are born with the ability to stay mentally strong in the face of war, natural disaster, rape, terrorism, chronic poverty and other traumas.
“Humans are far more resilient in general than we think, than we have assumed in the past,” Levounis said. “People who have been subjected to absolutely traumatic situations very frequently come out on other side and do quite well.”
There are some who may suffer more after a traumatic event -- people with depression or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But PTSD is not the opposite of resilience, Levounis explained. “PTSD doesn’t mean you are weak. We now know that developing PTSD is associated with compassion and imagination and creativity.”
“Staying healthy both physically and mentally is paramount. Not only exercise and nutrition, which pretty much everybody knows, but also sleep hygiene. Sleep is the neglected stepchild of physical health. Keeping your mental health intact, your social life, your sexual life, your intellectual life, and for some your spiritual life—these build resilience,” Levounis said.
He added that parents who impart those healthy lifestyle habits to their kids will be helping their children be resilient, too.
By Mary Brophy Marcus, health writer, APA