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Building Resilience

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Luan II. Mixed media on paper. Discovery Bay, Dec 2021.

Resilience is a term that we are hearing more and more in the healthcare world. But what does it actually mean to have resilience? I like the definition from Merriam Webster that says that resilience is the ability to recover or adjust to adversity or change.

Notice that having the capacity to adjust to change just means being adaptable - a basic evolutionary criteria for survival that is a fundamental principle for all biological systems. So I think of having resilience as being a measure of our toughness, as in how well we are able to withstand stress.

In other words, resilience is a measure of how well we are able to bounce back or recover from either physical or emotional stress. This article is going to focus on emotional stress and resilience.

Managing stress credit to Luis Villasmil

Okay - I hear you rolling your collective eyes. Yes, this article may mention meditation as one of the tools to manage stress, but bear with me for just a moment here.

I like to envision building emotional resilience using two different toolkits: coping tools and cleaning tools. Remember in the last article LINK when I described re-imagining stress as being negative emotions or messiness? And I talked about how we have these default coping tools for managing stress, and how there are pros and cons to those coping tools.

So what are cleaning tools? These are the tools that we use to actually clean up the mess. Examples of clean up tools are: planning and goal-setting, analysis and reframing, processing emotions, setting boundaries, negotiation, taking risks, asking for help, trusting, conflict resolution.

It takes positive energy to do the work of cleaning up, so no wonder we default to using coping tools more often. Sometimes we can even forget that the clean up tools are available to us.


Because we are creatures of habit, we may not actually be aware when we go into default mode. Nor do we consider what default mode is doing to us.

Let’s say that when I get home at the end of a long day, my default mode is to turn on Netflix and have a glass of wine. Are these coping tools giving me some temporary relief from dealing with stress so that I can rest up and go fight the good fight another day? Or is it actually getting in the way of my being able to get what I want in life?

You may be asking yourself how you would know if your tools are serving as a brief pleasurable respite from stress or they represent an escape from dealing with life. The answer is that you just do, because you see what results you are creating in your life. Often such coping tools begin as habits to help to get through the day, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Only you get to decide if you feel bad about not making progress towards your dreams, or if procrastinating on doing the thing is just putting more pressure on you and creating more emotional mess. And when you get sick and tired of being sick and tired, you begin looking around for another solution.

Being intentional credit to Luis Villasmil

And yes, here’s where we get to the mindfulness part. Becoming aware of our own thoughts and feelings is the best place to start in dealing with any stress in our lives. Trusting ourselves to know when a coping tool is serving us, and when it is no longer helpful.

I see stress as a negative emotion which has a kind of energy that drives me to take action. Usually that action is to go to a coping tool like food, and that’s okay as a default temporary way to feel better. I’m working on rewiring that neural pathway, but it’s been there for decades, and of course my mind will seek comfort there.

But later when I have been able to rest and regroup, and when I have been able to gain some insight into my thoughts and feelings through self-coaching, I am able to reframe and redirect the negative emotion into a more positive emotion that drives me to want to clean up the stress.

We each already have a set of tools both for coping with and cleaning up stress in our lives. We simply have to decide if we like our toolkits. And if we choose to build more emotional resilience, we get to be intentional about how we go about doing so.


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