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Building Resilience During Tough Times

Focus on Military and their Families

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Background on Resilience:

When tough times strike there are fears which arise including:

Fear of personal ineffectiveness or loss of ability to survive tough times 
Fear of loss of job due to possible failure of one’s personal effectiveness or professional skills
Fear of impact of losing one’s job on one’s self-worth and self-esteem 
Fear about impact on family and marriage if not able to meet financial needs in tough times

The APA Health Center (APA, 2004) defines Resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress - such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.

The APA Health Center (APA, 2004) reports that the following factors are related to Resilience:

The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths & abilities
Skills in communication and problem solving
The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses

Ashe (2006) proposes that people need to build resilience to sustain their emotional health when faced with:

  • wars
  • layoffs
  • life-altering events
  • natural disasters
  • death
  • change
  • divorce
  • health issues
  • financial difficulties, etc.


She went on to state that being resilient doesn’t mean you won’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain, anger, grief and sadness are common when you have troubles in tough times. Developing resilience involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can help you cope with stressful events. It helps restore balance in your life (Ashe, 2006).

Resilience is a personal strength which:

Is the ability to positively adjust to adversity
Can be applied to building personal strengths
Is gained through building positive and nurturing professional relationship
Is the maintaining of positivity
Develops emotional insight
Is the achieving of life balance and spirituality
Results in becoming more reflective (Jackson, Firtko & Edenburough, 2007).


Resilience results in adaptation and adaptation is measured by:

High prevalence in the community of mental and behavioral health
Adequate role functioning at work and home
A high quality of life by all (Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche & Pfefferbaum, 2008).

Additional factors related to resilience according to APA (2004) are:

The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
A positive view of self and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities
Skills in communication and problem solving
The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses

All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.

Coutu (2002) believes that Resilience:

Is a reflex and way of facing or understanding the world
Is deeply etched in a person’s mind and soul
Results in facing reality with staunchness
Makes meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair and improvising solutions out of thin air

Martindale (2007) came up with issues which can lessen or diminish one’s resilience as one grows older which are:

Fear of diminution or loss of one’s personal strength
Fear of displacement in work roles by younger workers or possible failure of effectiveness of one’s professional skills
Fear that one would not be able to cope with unemployment and would lose sense of identity and worth when one lost professional or work role
Fears about the anxieties arising in marital and family relationships if one should lose one’s job or not be able to get a new job should the previous one be lost due to economic hard times

Self-Assessment of Personal Resilience

The following self-assessment survey was developed on materials available on resilience in a variety of journal articles (Ashe, 2006; Harrison, 2002; Ivy, 2003; Lavretsky & Irwin, 2007; and Owen, 2002).

Personal Resilience in Tough Times Self-Assessment


Directions: Rate each item on a scale of 1-10 for each of the following items as it applies to you during tough times.

      1                                 5                                    10

never…………..…occasionally….......….almost always

Rate 1-10

  1. I consider the cup half full and not half empty during these times
  2. I get plenty of rest and sleep
  3. I seek out the ongoing social support of family, friends and others
  4. I accept help from others no matter who they are
  5. I look for opportunities of self-discovery for my personal growth
  6. I work hard to know what role I have played if any in creating this situation
  7. I keep a journal, writing down my thoughts and feelings during these times
  8. I work hard to maintain a positive outlook on my situation
  9. I maintain a balanced nutritious diet
  10. I maintain a program of daily or regular physical exercise
  11. I use stress reducers like meditation, yoga, visualizations, deep breathing
  12. I am an open and empathic listeners to others fears, thoughts and feelings
  13. I continuously assess how well I am handling the stress during these times
  14. I schedule time each week to have fun
  15. I work hard to understand what caused the situation to avoid repeating it
  16. I sustain my commitment to all things I value and believe in
  17. I maintain a daily relaxation training program of 10-15 minutes
  18. I work at networking with other people with similar circumstances
  19. I seek out the people and activities important to me
  20. I get my anger out in healthy ways and not on the people around me
  21. I retain a patient attitude and do not expect things to be fixed over night
  22. I accept that my feeling sad, angry, fear, anxiety are normal in tough times
  23. I set goals to overcome the problems and work on achieving them
  24. I stick to my routines of work, chores, and hobbies for stability in my life
  25. I envision the future to be more productive than the current situation
  26. I seek out coaching on how to survive tough times effectively
  27. I accept that change is a part of living
  28. I talk out my thoughts, fears and feelings with others and not bottle them up
  29. I work hard to be honest with people about the realities I am facing
  30. I maintain my sense of humor in the face of adversity
  31. I do not allow myself to consider crises as insurmountable problems
  32. I draw on my faith and spiritual beliefs to survive and be at peace
  33. I draw on the skills from my past when I survived tough times before
  34. I seek out others who are resilient in tough times to learn how they got there
  35. I volunteer or offer to help out others with their needs
  36. I remind myself I have bounced back before and I will do it again

Interpretation of the Personal Resilience in Tough Times Self-Assessment

If you rated 10 or more items over 8 or if you rated 15-20 over 5, you are most likely to experience some level of resilience in facing tough times

Ways to Build Your Resilience

APA (2004) reports that you can build your resiliency by:

Making connections to develop a strong social network with others
Avoiding seeing crises as insurmountable problems
Accepting that change is a part of living
Moving toward your goals
Taking decisive actions
Looking for opportunities for self-discovery
Nurturing a positive view of yourself
Keeping things in perspective
Maintaining a hopeful outlook
Taking care of yourself

What can be done in the Community for Military Families to Survive Tough Times

Coach the family members about how to build their personal resiliency:

Have the family members assess their own level of resilience during tough times
Teach them about what are the best ways to build their own resilience in tough times
Encourage “resilience building lifestyle” changes in their family and personal lives
Hoge, Austin & Pollack (2007) encourage the following efforts to encourage the development of resilience within the family:
Get the family to be ‘‘task-focused’’ by making plans of action to cope with the tough times experienced by all the family members
Encourage the family to support one another on issues which are ‘‘emotion-focused’’ where each family member gets a chance to let out their feelings
Keep the family members in reality by not allowing them to fall into ‘‘avoidant coping style’’ where they refuse to believe times are tough
Expanded Theory of Resilience
Dr Don Meichenbaum one of the founders of CBT has posited a great deal of information on the concept of resilience. Much of his current thinking on resilience is available with free download articles on To learn more about resilience and how it applies to the military and their families read the following articles from Dr. Meichenbaum.

Articles by Dr. Don Meichenbaum concerning Resiliency available on
1. Important facts about resilience: A consideration of research findings about resilience and implications for assessment and treatment  Click here for article 
2. Understanding Resilience in Children and Adults: Implications for Prevention and Interventions  Click here for article
3. Resilience in the aftermath of trauma: Ways to bolster reilience click here for article
4. Bolstering Resilience: Benefitting from lessons learned click here for article
5. Roadmap to Resilience: A toolkit for returning service members and their family members click here for article
6. Resiliency building as a means to prevent PTSD and related adjustment problems in military personnel click here for article

Additional Research Related to Resilience of Military Veterans and their Families
1. Combat-Related Mental Health Disorders: The Case for Resiliency in the Long War by Col. Daryl J. Callahan Click here for article 
2. Promoting Psychological Resilience in the US Military - A Rand Center for Military Health Policy Research Report Click here for article
3. Programs addressing Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury among US Military Servicemembers and their families - A Rand Center for Military Health Policy Research Report Click here for article

Keep on Building your Resilience to Overcome the Impact of Tough Times

You can survive Tough Times!

You can build your resilience!

Get your Family members to agree to network together to support one another’s efforts to grow in resilience to survive their tough times!

Ashe, L. (2006). In Times of Trouble Build Resilience. Methodist Healthcare Employee Assistance Well Informed Program:3. 

Coutu, D. (2002). How Resilience Works. Harvard Business Review: 80(5):46-51.

Harrison, L.H. (2002). Rolling with the Punches. Business West:19(5):54.

Hoge, E. A., Austin, E. D. & Pollack, M. H. (2007). Resilience: research evidence and conceptual considerations for posttraumatic stress disorder. Depression & Anxiety: 24(2):139-152.

Ivy, A. (2003). Developing Resilience in the Face of Declining Markets.  New Zealand Business,  17(6):10-11.

Jackson, D., Firtko, A. & 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.

Lavretsky, H. & Irwin, M. (2007). Resilience and Aging. Aging Health: 3(3):309-323.

Martindale, B. (2007). Resilience and Vulnerability in Later Life. British Journal of Psychotherapy: 23(2):205-216.

Norris, F. H.; Stevens, S. P.; Pfefferbaum, B.; Wyche, K.F. & Pfefferbaum, R.L. (2008).Community Resilience as a Metaphor, Theory, Set of Capacities, and Strategy for Disas­ter Readiness. American Journal of Community Psychology: 41(1–2): 127–150.

Owen, M. (2002). Psychology at Work: Bouncing Back from Adversity. Enterprise/Salt Lake City: 32(18):11.

Resilience Internet Links
APA. (2004). APA Help Center: The Road to Resilience:


Fetsch, R. J., Managing Stress During Tough Times:

Mayo Clinic. Resilience: Build Skills to Endure Hardships:

O’Reilly, N.D. Get Mentally Tough: Seven Secrets to Resilience During Difficult Times

Project Resilience:

The Resiliency Center: