building your resistence

Resilience or building resilience isn’t really about removing the stress and stresses in our lives. In fact, it’s about how we as individuals learn to deal with that stress or stressors effectively. So, what determines our resilience? What are the protective and risk factors involved? As a psychologist, when someone comes into the clinic, I’m very interested in identifying which risk factors they’re exposed to and which protective factors they hold already.

Risk factors to resilience

The risk factors are the things that decrease our ability to be resilient. They also increase the likelihood of negative outcomes occurring. Risk factors include:

  • Loss and grief
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Lack of social skills
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Isolation

Evidently, we know that isolation is just inherently bad for us. For example, things like a changing family structure or changing of school systems can cause instability. Specifically, it removes the individual from support networks or support individuals that they may have. That instability is stressful for any of us, and more so for children.

  • Drug and alcohol use

This reflects poor coping strategies or the absence of positive coping strategies. Hence, it tends to be quite a cyclical problem.

  • Experiencing discrimination and racism
  • Being exposed to witnessing or being exposed to violence

These things increase the amount of stress in an individual’s life and it means that it’s weakening the system. Additionally, it’s reducing their ability to cope with subsequent stressors as well.

  • Fear about or uncertainty of the future

This can often reflect a lack of hope in the future, which can be a big flag for things like depression or suicidal ideation.

  • Issues with body image
  • Search for own self-identity


“These risk factors mean that the individual has less resources to draw on when they face a crisis. And it means they are typically exposed to greater and more chronic stress in the first place to live.”

Protective factors to building resilience


Protective factors for building resilience include:

  • An ability to connect
  • A sense of belonging to a group or groups
  • Good social skills
  • Strong self-awareness

As a result, this allows people to reflect on things that haven’t gone well. Then when you face a challenge you’re able to reflect on that challenge and learn from it and to improve so that similar mistakes don’t happen again. Also, you can gain a sense of:

  • Accomplishment in some form in your life
  • Purpose
  • Mission in life – this reflects that this individual has a sense of hope
  • Self-identity
  • Willingness or a capacity to plan for the future
  • To have goals, reflecting hope in the future, a desire to change or to thrive

Protective factors provide a balance or a buffer for the risk factors. As psychologists, we are really interested in identifying and teasing out what particular factors an individual might hold already. In addition, we take interest in what sorts of protective factors that we can help them build into their life so that we can help them to reduce their vulnerability and to buffer against the risk factors. Many prevention strategies tend to focus on strengthening these protective factors, through things like helping with problem-solving skills or social skills.

Other blogs on Resilience:

If you’re interested in learning more about resilience with Dr Desiree Dickerson, take a look at our online course Mind-Body Medicine.