Women and Resilience

By Rose Gantner
Senior Director of Health Promotion
UPMC WorkPartners
UPMC Insurance Services Division

Resilience is a scientific term that applies to materials that have the capacity to return to their original shape after being bent or stretched. Over time, however, we have come to apply the term to people as well. People who have the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, defeat, or other kinds of adversity.

For many women, resilience is a strength considered essential. Both women and men need resilience to deal with difficulties in life. But, women often need more resilience than men to overcome traditional obstacles placed in their way, in order to advance in the business world. Too many women, however, are not aware of the amount of resilience they do possess.

My friend, Gail M. Wagnild, Ph.D, is founder the Resilience Center and a national expert on resilience, and she says that when you know your capacity for resilience, it gives you the confidence to deal with whatever life throws at you. Being resilient helps you to cope in variety of different ways, be they personal, professional, or social.

Dr. Wagnild has even created a “resilience scale” (www.resiliencescale.com) so that women (and men) can determine their level of resilience and from that learn what they need to do to increase it.

Of course, all of us face challenges from time to time that seem overwhelming or that knock us back. That’s life. It’s the ability to get back up, get back on track and get back into the game that requires resilience.

Dr. Wagnild writes: “Even though we have no control over many events in our life – accidents, natural disasters, crime, illness, the economy, etc. – we can control how we respond to these events and we can choose to do so with resilience.”

The Five Characteristics of Resilience

  1. A sense of purpose. Without a sense of your purpose in life, you lack a driving force. So, how do you know what your purpose is? Ask yourself: What do I do that others value? In what ways and by whom am I needed every day? What in my life has the most meaning? The answers will reveal your purpose.
  2. Perseverance. Giving up is always the easy way out. Resilient people demonstrate the ability to stick to things and get them done.
  3. Equanimity. Stay balanced. Understand that regardless of the situation it is never entirely bleak nor entirely positive. There’s a middle ground that allows you to see all possibilities and will help to give you the optimism needed to make things better.
  4. Self-reliance. Belief in yourself needs to be realistic to be helpful. Remember the challenges in the past that you have met successfully and those that were less successfully met. You can learn from both experiences and develop problem-solving skills that help to build self-reliance.
  5. Existential aloneness. To be truly resilient, you need to be able to live with yourself. You can also call this, “being comfortable in your own skin.” Truly resilient people need to have this ability. You need the sense that, if necessary, you can go it alone and take a course of action that may not be popular, but which you believe in.

How to Maintain Resiliency

  1. Take care of yourself. Feeling good is an essential part of feeling able to be resilient. Eat right, exercise, and try to stay in good health. Dr. Wagnild calls it, “Putting your own oxygen mask on first.” You’re no good to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.
  2. Seek and give support. Giving back to others is a way to reinforce resilience in your life.
  3. Remain fully energized in life. Stay engaged, stay involved, keep doing the things that interest you.
  4. Balance work and life. Too much work or too much fun can throw off your balance.

Measure your resilience with the resilience scale online tool and see how you measure up. It’s quick and it’s fun, and regardless of your score you can learn something about yourself and learn how to get better.

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