Building Resilience

Why are some of us better able to cope with the everyday stresses of life, survive crises and loss, and even thrive in the wake of trauma or significant stress?

Our ability to handle adversity and stress — whether we “bounce back” and adapt, or fall apart — is, in large part, determined by our resilience.

While resilience cannot shield us from stress, loss, grief, or hardship, it can galvanize our inner resources, strengthen our ability to deal with life’s challenges, and reinforce our capacity to turn to external support systems. It allows us to “bend” and adapt in new or stressful situations, to adjust to loss over time, and to perceive that life can be good.

Resilience can be cultivated. Thoughts, behaviors, and actions can be learned and developed. Resilience is not avoiding stress or adversity, but how you respond and move forward.

One of the first steps is developing self-awareness and an understanding of some of the factors that promote resilience. In his Harvard Grant Study “Aging Well,” George E. Vaillant identified life and lifestyle choices that positively impact resilience. Vaillant found that individual choices in how we live our lives play a greater role in promoting resilience than genetics, wealth, race, or other factors. In particular, Vaillant’s study identified the following:

  • Play, creativity, intellectual curiosity, and lifelong learning are highly significant
  • Long-term intimacy, and forming new friendships and social networks, are increasingly important as we age
  • Ongoing intimacy, generativity, and identity formation are key
  • Alcohol abuse impairs one’s ability to form and sustain intimate relationships

Vaillant’s work shows that we thrive when we are hopeful and “future-oriented.” Our resilience increases when we develop a capacity for gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. We benefit when we cultivate our abilities to be open, imagining the world as it seems to others and, in essence, “leave the screen door unlatched.”

Habits of mind, body, and spirit can promote resilience. When we practice deep engagement, we can change our minds—literally rewire our brains and shift our neurochemistry—and in so doing, change our lives. These practices can lead to courage, and hope, and resilience.


This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional with any questions about personal healthcare status and prior to making changes in approaches to diet and exercise. This material is not a guarantee of coverage under any Episcopal Church Medical Trust health plan.


Unless otherwise noted, websites referenced herein that are outside the domain are not associated with The Church Pension Fund and its affiliates (collectively, the Church Pension Group) and the Church Pension Group is not responsible for the content of any such websites.

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