Many individuals in the US and throughout the world are experiencing difficult times. Communities within Houston, Texas were recently devastated by a hurricane, while the west coast is ablaze with wildfires. With more hurricanes and natural disasters in the forefront of weather forecasts, more turmoil appears destined to occur.

There are, however, reasons to be hopeful. Despite the destruction, loss of life, and challenging circumstances, people will survive. Communities will resurrect, and we, as a nation, will move on in spite of the harsh realities of being mortal creatures destined for death in one way or another. What keeps us going? How can people possibly overcome and bounce-back from such incredible hardships? The answer can be found in psychology.

As someone earning my doctorate in clinical psychology, I am not only exposed to a wide range of diverse and resourceful clients, I'm also privileged in my ability to access psychological studies shedding light on these very questions. One factor that plays a significant role in recovering from traumatic events and difficult circumstances is called resilience.

According to one excellent study, resilience includes personal qualities and skills that allow people to successfully and healthfully adapt to adverse conditions and disruptive life events. People who are more resilient not only have more adaptive behaviors, but also are more likely to continue growing psychologically after the disruptive event. This psychological concept of resilience includes many different parts.

Resilience, according to psychological research, can be divided into two factors--demographic variables and psychological variables. Demographic variables include things like age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Psychological variables can be broken down into risk factors and protective factors.

Risk factors--or things that make recovering from challenging events more difficult--include things like significant depression or severe anxiety, while protective factors--or things that help buffer people from difficult events--include things like life satisfaction, optimism, positive emotions, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and social support.

To discover which of the components of resilience are the most important, a meta-analytic study took 33 individual research articles and analyzed them together. They discovered that the protective factors made the most impactful contribution to resilience. A medium effect was found from risk factors, and the smallest effect was demographic factors. This means that things like age and gender were not as important as risk factors. And risk factors like depression or anxiety were not nearly as important as protective factors in relationship to resilience.

Resilience, in other words, is largely determined by protective factors--things that provide a psychological buffer from devastating events. To boost resilience and help people overcome difficult times, then, you need to bolster protective factors. While we can't expect people recovering from natural disasters to increase certain protective factors like optimism or positive emotions, there is one area where we can all make a difference--social support.

Survivors of difficult circumstances need to feel like their needs for support, information, and feedback are fulfilled. So, act with compassion. Provide space to listen to people's stories. Reach out to friends and family members to ask them questions about their experiences. Ask them what they need, and then provide what you can. Don't forget about them after the news cameras stop filming--continue reaching out and offering support. Send money, yes. But also make sure to give people your time and energy.

We all deserve to feel heard and respected. Challenge yourself to provide that support so that others can boost their resilience and continue overcoming difficult circumstances.

Published on: Sep 8, 2017