These seems to be a lot of interest in resilience in higher education at the moment. For myself, while I know we can all learn how to better cope with the stuff life throws at us, my initial reaction to the topic with was along these lines:
Some Advice on How to Cope in These Tough Times – pic.twitter.com/ZzR5OMtrPU
— Tom Gauld (@tomgauld) June 28, 2016
My impression from these papers is that resilience is not well-defined and interventions, although often very plausible, are not evidence-based. Putting that concern aside, the techniques which seemed most suited to be incorporated in university education were:
- building nurturing social networks,
- fostering a sense of purpose, and
- encouraging reflection.
I read Resilience: how to train a tougher mind (BBC Future) and Jackson, D., Firtko, A. and Edenborough, M. (2007) ‘Personal resilience as a strategy for surviving and thriving in the face of workplace adversity: a literature review’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 60, 1: 1-9.
Resilience is broadly: the ability to keep going in face of adversity and to get back to normal functioning afterwards. It can mean different things in different situations and might not always be wholly positive. For example, one study looked at at-risk youths for whom self-reported resilience meant disconnection and the ability to go-it-alone – not necessarily something to foster.
Both papers talked predominantly about quite extreme situations: children whose schools were close to the twin towers on 9/11, and nurses who work in high-pressure and traumatic environments. In both a lot of the conclusions seem to be based on self-report, for example how people say that they coped under extreme stress.
There are lots of traits, attitudes, and techniques mentioned as helpful for resilience and most of these are thought to be things which can be learned or developed. They include:
- social support, especially nurturing relationships (including mentoring)
- faith, spirituality, sense of purpose
- positive outlook, optimism, humour, seeking the positive
- emotional insight, for example through reflective journaling
- life balance
There are several programmes seeking to develop these traits in school children through mindfulness, sometimes mixed with other techniques. These programmes include: Mindfulness in Schools Project (UK), Inner Resilience Programme (US), Penn Resiliency Training (US). The nursing paper does not mention mindfulness, focusing more on hardiness, optimism, repressive coping, and journaling (more stereotypical activities for middle-aged women, perhaps?).
Both papers touch on the idea that you can’t help others to be calm and resilient if you are not resilient yourself, and so on the importance of promoting resilience in those with caring responsibilities (nurses, teachers).
There are no magic bullets though and nobody claiming large or long-lasting effects for any intervention (once it’s finished). What we have is a bag of techniques and ideas.