National Supports Can Increase Resilience

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For any family, adverse circumstances occur from time to time that can add challenges to daily life. While no one can avoid stress entirely, natural supports can offer assistance and guard against adversity. Protective factors, or the positive conditions existing in an individual’s life, go hand in hand with natural supports, and can be built up to increase resilience.

Building protective factors and taking a strengths approach are effective ways to build resilience.

All of us face stress and adversity at different points in our lives. How adverse circumstances affect us, however, is partly determined by our level of resilience.

Resilience is one’s ability to recover from or adjust to hardship or change. Though we all have a baseline level of resilience, it’s not a static or unchangeable quality. Resilience can be increased by building an individual’s protective factors. Protective factors are the positive conditions and personal or social resources that promote resiliency, protect and buffer an individual, and reduce the potential for high-risk behaviors. Examples include a warm family environment, a strong social community, group or activity involvement, a mentor or role model, and a consistent and fair family routine.

Taking a strengths approach is also a very effective way to build resilience and natural supports. Put simply, a strengths approach focuses on an individual’s or a family’s strong points, achievements, and positive qualities, rather than areas of weakness or deficiency. “Resiliency theory” is closely related to a strengths approach, and states that risk factors can be outweighed by protective factors to help build resilience.

Building natural supports is an effective way to cope with challenges. Families who learn how to cope with challenges and meet individual needs are more resilient in the face of stress and crisis.

Natural supports that occur in everyday life enhance a person’s quality of life.

Natural supports can be interpersonal or between an individual and a community. They encompass relationships with immediate and extended family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and other acquaintances, as well as public services available to a community, like the YMCA or a local outreach program. Formal supports, on the other hand, usually involve payment for a service—such as counseling, therapy, etc. Here are some examples of natural supports:

  • Faith-based communities
  • Schools
  • After-school clubs
  • PTA (Parent-Teacher Association)
  • Athletic groups
  • Involvement in hobbies
  • Volunteer activities
  • Scouts
  • 12-step groups or other support programs

Because natural supports are often informal (as opposed to seeing a therapist, for example), some people forget these supports are there or take them for granted. A woman who comes to work and vents to her coworker about her morning commute is taking advantage of the natural support her colleagues provide. An elderly man who volunteers to help serve breakfast at his church is utilizing the natural support of his church community, and of doing a good deed for others. Natural supports can be so small or seemingly insignificant that we forget they exist—but it’s the fact that they are sometimes so small that makes them so easy to build upon. A “little thing” can exponentially benefit a person’s well-being.

It’s also important to remember that natural supports are available to and exist for all people—not just those who are already healthy, active members of a community. In fact, for people with some sort of obstacle or risk factor to overcome, natural supports are even more crucial. No disability (physical or mental) or perceived personal deficiency is an insurmountable barrier when it comes to taking advantage of natural supports.

Click to open interactivity Listing your own natural supports can aid you in helping others list theirs.

Listing your own natural supports can aid you in helping others list theirs.

Please download this template for use in helping families brainstorm their own natural supports.

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