How Resiliency Impacts Anxiety Levels

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Resiliency is the ability to adapt to stressful or traumatic situations and bounce back. Being resilient doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotional pain or experience sadness. It doesn’t mean you go through life without experiencing trauma, tragedy, health or relationship problems or other difficulties. It does mean that you have developed the ability to plug through the situation and make it through to the other side.


    Resiliency and Anxiety

    Why do some people make it through traumatic events and situations and seem to bounce back while others seem to fall apart?


    In an interview conducted by Psychiatry Weekly, Dr. Charney, Dean of Academic and Scientific Affairs at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained his research in resiliency and how it influences people who have experienced major trauma in their life. Dr. Charney and his colleagues studied the brain’s chemistry of those suffering from PTSD and noticed a number of physical and chemical changes, although it wasn’t clear whether these changes occurred prior to the trauma, giving a higher risk of developing PTSD or if they occurred as a result of the PTSD.

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    Dr. Charney also studied individuals who had experienced severe trauma but not developed PTSD. He interviewed and studied Vietnam POWs who had been isolated and tortured but came through the experience “functioning well” and “in many cases even stronger than before.” [1] Charney was interested in what made these individuals able to handle such a horrific situation – both psychologically and biologically. He wanted to know what made them resilient and what traits helped to build that resiliency.  


    Ingredients of Resiliency

    Dr. Charney found a number of characteristics common to those with high resiliency:

    • Optimism
    • A moral compass
    • Faith or spirituality
    • Using the situation as a growth experience

    Close social support was also an important factor in resiliency.  The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that “Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.” [2]  The POWs Dr. Charney interviewed told of tapping messages through code on cell walls as a way of communicating with one another while imprisoned, even in solitary confinement. This communication helped to keep their spirits up.

    Other skills that increase resiliency:

    • Making realistic plans and following through
    • Positive view of yourself
    • Communication and problem solving
    • Managing strong feelings and impulses

    A combination of the above skills and characteristics may determine whether someone has the resiliency to deal with adversity. But you don’t have to be born with them, you can learn the skills necessary to develop resiliency.


    Next week we will discuss steps you can take to help increase your resiliency and your ability to adapt to stressful situations.

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    [1] “Bending, not Breaking: A Prescription for Resilience to Anxiety,” 2006, March 8, Interview conducted by Norman Sussman, M.D., Psychiatry Weekly


    [2] “The Road to Resiliency,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Psychiatric Association

Published On: November 26, 2012