By: David Lee Sexton, Jr.
What is Resilience?
Waugh, Thompson, and Gotlib (2011) define resilience as one’s capability of maintaining mental health during difficult times. Think of it like balancing a scale; everyone possesses a limited amount of resources to deal with life’s demands. In dealing with these demands, Waugh (2017) states that people can react in one of three ways. First, one may commit too many of their resources to deal with the demands they encounter. In contrast, they may not dedicate enough resources to handle their current demands. Finally, individuals may find a balance between the two to match their demands with just enough resources to deal with them. This is known as adaptive responsiveness. Similarly, Waugh et al. (2011) refer to the capability of finding this golden ratio for one’s emotional reactions to the environment as flexible emotional responsiveness.
Personally, I sometimes find it difficult to enjoy the simple things in life during times of stress. It can be very easy to become so consumed with daily hassles, looming deadlines, and other stressors that we forget to enjoy the simple pleasures. Somehow, when I’m deep in the trenches of a stressful situation, I find myself limiting my own access to little things that could brighten my day, like an overpriced coffee or a leisurely (rather than frantic) walk to my destination, to avoid “distractions”.
However, Waugh (2017) suggests that it is one’s ability to allow themselves to feel appropriate levels of positive emotion during times of stress that leads to resilience. Waugh et al. (2011) found that individuals displaying the most resilience were more easily able to match their emotional responses to appropriate stimuli. In other words, they reacted in an appropriately positive manner to a positive stimulus and in an appropriately negative manner to a negative stimulus. Furthermore, those with higher levels of resilience could adapt their emotional responses more quickly to environmental changes. Waugh et al. (2011) provided the example of reacting to a loved one undergoing surgery. Those with higher levels of resilience are likely to be able to more quickly experience relief over a good outcome despite immediately preceding stress and anxiety. These findings emphasize the importance of not allowing oneself to experience tunnel vision during stressful times. Allowing yourself to experience positive emotional reactions to daily positive stimuli, as well as embracing positive emotions once a stressor has ended, is not a distraction.
Want to Learn More?
To learn more about the effect of positive emotion on resilience and its effects, please take some time to watch the MFLN Family Development Team’s free, recorded Virtual Conference session presented by Christian Waugh, Ph.D. Dr. Waugh is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Wake Forest University. His research and publications focus on resilience and the temporal dynamics of emotion and resilience and positive emotions in times of stress.
Waugh, C. E. (2017). Bending, not breaking: Resilience and the role of positive emotions during times of stress. MFLN Family Development. Retrieved from: /2017virtualconference/waugh/
Waugh, C. E., Thompson, R. J., & Gotlib, I. H. (2011). Flexible emotional responsiveness in trait resilience. Emotion, 11(5), 1059-1067.
This post was written by David Lee Sexton, Jr. of the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.