For my entire twenty-seven-year career of working as a clinical social worker, I have been trying to figure out what resilience is and how to give it to more people. I have seen resilience in individuals who suffer horrendous abuse, illness, and life circumstances and still be able to survive and flourish. I have witnessed resilience in my child welfare coworkers who helped to protect numerous children and strengthen many families. I have preached about the importance of resilience to my friends and family, and I have landed on this definition- Resilience is the capacity to withstand something adverse, challenging or difficult.

1995 was my first year working with children in foster care, and it was probably the hardest.  One of my first clients was a newborn that was removed from the home of her mother, who had a long-standing crack cocaine habit. Another one of my clients was a 14-year-old girl who was removed from the home of her mother, who had a long-standing poly substance abuse issue. I lost sleep over that 14-year-old teenager who was beyond angry, so very hurt by her mother’s addiction. She had a raw vulnerability that was awe inspiring. The thing that stood out about this individual that was different from many other teenagers was that she could articulate how she was feeling. She would call me to ask questions about her case, her mother and her mother’s substance abuse treatment. She had a set of coping skills and a display of vulnerability that most of the children that I came in to contact with didn’t have. She had resilience.

I have been able to keep in touch with her through the years. She is now married with a son and has a great career. She is happy and spreads joy to others every day and in writing this article, I reached out to her to ask what she attributes her success to. She said that her early years with her grandfather and great grandmother were some of the only stable years she experienced as a young child. She also attributes her success to having a few stable social workers, one foster parent that ended up adopting her as an adult, a long-standing relationship with her step father (who she calls “Dad”) and her faith. She mentioned the word stability, which I think is one of the most important contributing factors to ensuring that a person has resilience.

Here are my top 5 life skills to build resilience:

 

  1. Develop a daily routine (ex. eat dinner at the same time every day). Routines are grounding and when adversity strikes, being grounded is a good thing.
  2. Have the same bedtime every day. Sleep hygiene is one of the most important components of being healthy and stable. Getting a good night’s sleep will help a person manage their emotions and overall health.
  3. Change is inevitable; understanding this is a healthy spiritual practice. As much as structure, stability, routine and consistency are important, knowing that some days may not go like all the other days is critical.
  4. Build a support system that is nurturing. Having adults, friends and family who are supportive is critical in helping young people get through challenges.
  5. Develop a self-care routine. Carve out time for yourself to read a book, watch a show, exercise, take a hot bath, drink a cup of tea.  Do one small thing for your self-care every day.
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