Resilience -- bounce, bend, don't break

  • Published
  • By Maj. Matthew Stratton
  • 335th Training Squadron
There's a well-known saying, sometimes attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, that says, "The only thing that is constant is change." Many of us who have been in the Air Force for more than a few years could echo that sentiment. Whether it's a new assignment or a new computer system, updated physical training tests or promotion rates, change is a part of life in the Air Force. And while that change can be exciting, it can also be a source of stress.

So what happens when an Airman's stress goes beyond a normal day-to-day level and starts to really build? Suppose there's a financial emergency or a failed relationship. Maybe there's a personal loss or some other life-changing event. How will an Airman deal with that level of stress? The answer to that question largely depends on the individual, the resources they draw upon and their resilience.

Resilience is a term that's being used more frequently in discussions about stress. As defined by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health, resilience is "the ability to withstand, recover and/or grow in the face of stressors and changing demands." That's a very thorough definition, but it might be a little too clinical-sounding for use by some of us front-line supervisors. As it applies to my work center and my own life, I prefer to think of resiliency as the ability to bounce back, and not break, after encountering stress.

While everyone is resilient to some degree, some people are more resilient and others are less so. Fortunately, there are ways that resilience can be enhanced. Just like physical training will improve our physical fitness, strengthening key areas of our lives will improve our resilience and better equip us to deal with stress. Those key areas are the four components of our personal wellbeing: our mental, social, physical, and spiritual wellness. With some initiative and some occasional assistance, we can develop these areas of our lives and increase our ability to bounce back after stressful events.

Even the most resilient among us, though, has a breaking point when too much stress becomes distress.

If that point is reached and our coping skills are overwhelmed by the stress, there's no telling how we'll react. One person might shut down and withdraw, while another might lash out in frustration. That's when a good wingman is needed to recognize the warning signs and then care enough to act. An Airman who is situationally aware and resilient may be able to guide a hurting co-worker, friend or wingman to assistance and possibly help save a life.

To help get Airmen thinking about becoming more resilient, the Air Force chief of staff has directed that each unit hold a resilience-focused Wingman Day by the end of February. Wednesday is the 81st Training Wing's Wingman Day. That day, from 1-4 p.m., most work centers will stand down from technical training, services and non-emergency operations to conduct Wingman Day activities.

For more information, contact your unit representative for unit-specific activities, times and locations.