An image of a human mind looking at nature, to illustrate an article about resilience, on

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Click below to listen to this article:


Psychological resilience is the ability to cope with stress, adversity, and trauma, and to bounce back from difficult experiences. Resilience is not a fixed trait that some people have and others don’t, but rather a dynamic process that can be learned and enhanced through various factors, such as social support, self-care, positive emotions, and cognitive skills (Southwick & Charney, 2012). One useful concept for understanding and developing psychological resilience is the window of tolerance, which was coined by Siegel (1999) and describes the optimal range of emotional arousal in which a person can function effectively and comfortably.

The window of tolerance varies from person to person and from situation to situation, depending on various internal and external factors. Within the window of tolerance, a person can manage stress, experience emotions, think clearly, and engage in productive problem-solving. The person can also regulate their emotions and cope with challenges without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down. The person feels grounded, calm, and capable, and can connect with themselves and others in meaningful ways. This is the state where resilience, adaptability, and emotional wellbeing thrive (Ogden et al., 2006).

However, when the level of emotional arousal exceeds the boundaries of the window of tolerance, the person may experience dysregulation and distress. This can manifest as hyperarousal or hypoarousal.

Sign up for our Newsletter!
We will send you regular updates regarding new articles, as well as hints and tips regarding self-transcendence. We aim to limit this to once per month, though some months we will have additional special editions covering significant articles worthy of being the sole focus of a newsletter. There will be no sales spam or selling your address to third parties.

Hyperarousal is a state of heightened activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body for fight or flight. In hyperarousal, the person may feel anxious, angry, terrified, or overwhelmed by emotions. The person may also exhibit symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, sweating, trembling, or nausea. The person may have difficulty concentrating, remembering, or communicating effectively. The person may act impulsively, aggressively, or defensively (Siegel, 1999).

Hypoarousal is a state of low activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body to freeze or collapse. In hypoarousal, the person may feel numb, detached, depressed, or hopeless. The person may also exhibit symptoms such as decreased heart rate, shallow breathing, muscle weakness, fatigue, or dizziness. The person may have difficulty staying alert, motivated, or engaged. The person may withdraw, dissociate, or avoid (Siegel 1999).

Both hyperarousal and hypoarousal are adaptive responses to extreme stress or trauma that help the person survive in the short term. However, when they become chronic or triggered by non-threatening situations, they can interfere with the person’s functioning and wellbeing in the long term. Therefore, one of the goals of psychological resilience is to expand and stabilize the window of tolerance so that the person can cope with stress and emotions more effectively and comfortably (Ogden et al., 2006).

There are various strategies that can help a person widen their window of tolerance and return to it when they experience dysregulation. Some examples are:

  • Seeking social support from trusted friends, family members, or professionals who can provide empathy, validation, and guidance.
  • Practising self-care activities that promote physical and mental health, such as eating well, sleeping enough, exercising regularly, meditating, relaxing, or engaging in hobbies.
  • Cultivating positive emotions that can buffer against stress and enhance resilience, such as gratitude, joy, humour, or optimism.
  • Developing cognitive skills that can help the person challenge negative thoughts, reframe stressful situations, and focus on solutions rather than problems.
  • Using grounding techniques that can help the person reconnect with their body and present moment,
    such as breathing deeply, noticing sensations, or naming objects in the environment.

By applying these strategies consistently and flexibly, a person can increase their psychological resilience and improve their quality of life.

The need for resilience in children – Titterton & Taylor

Titterton and Taylor (2017) argued for a new perspective on risk and resilience in childhood and child maltreatment, based on the recognition of creative human agency as the key factor in shaping outcomes. They proposed a model that integrates risk, resilience and vulnerability within a life course approach, and that acknowledges the complex and dynamic interplay between individual, interpersonal and environmental factors. They also suggested some implications for policy, practice and research in the field of child protection and welfare.

New article alerts!
We will notify you of new articles as soon as they are published. There will be no sales spam or selling your address to third parties.

According to their model, risk is defined as “the likelihood of an event or situation occurring that has the potential to harm or benefit an individual or group” (Titterton & Taylor, 2017, p. 1543). Resilience is defined as “the capacity of individuals or groups to overcome adversity and achieve positive outcomes” (Titterton & Taylor, 2017, p. 1544). Vulnerability is defined as “the susceptibility of individuals or groups to harm or benefit from risk” (Titterton & Taylor, 2017, p. 1545). These concepts are not fixed or static, but rather change over time and across contexts.

The authors suggested that risk and resilience are mutually constitutive, meaning that they influence each other in both positive and negative ways. For example, exposure to risk can enhance resilience by providing opportunities for learning and coping, but it can also undermine resilience by causing stress and trauma. Similarly, resilience can reduce risk by enabling individuals to avoid or overcome challenges, but it can also increase risk by encouraging overconfidence or risk-seeking behaviour. Therefore, risk and resilience are not opposites, but rather complementary aspects of human development.

The authors also emphasised the role of creative human agency in shaping risk and resilience outcomes. They defined agency as “the ability of individuals or groups to act independently and make their own choices” (Titterton & Taylor, 2017, p. 1546). They argued that agency is not a fixed trait or skill, but rather a dynamic process that is influenced by various factors, such as motivation, self-efficacy, identity, values, emotions, relationships and resources. Furthermore, they suggested that agency can be enhanced or constrained by different factors at different levels of analysis, such as individual, interpersonal, organisational, community and societal.

The authors concluded that their model offers a more nuanced and holistic understanding of risk and resilience in childhood and child maltreatment, and that it has several implications for policy, practice and research. For policy, they recommended that risk and resilience should be considered as interrelated and dynamic concepts that require flexible and responsive interventions that support creative human agency. For practice, they suggested that practitioners should adopt a strengths-based approach that recognises the potential of individuals and groups to overcome adversity and achieve positive outcomes. For research, they advocated for more longitudinal and qualitative studies that explore the processes and mechanisms of risk and resilience across the life course.

Positive education: Penn Resiliency Programme (PRP)

The Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) is a school-based intervention that aims to prevent depression and anxiety in adolescents by teaching them cognitive-behavioural skills to cope with stress and adversity (Gillham, Brunwasser, & Freres, 2008). The PRP is based on the theory that maladaptive attributions and beliefs about the causes and consequences of negative events can increase the risk of developing depressive symptoms and disorders. The PRP teaches adolescents to identify and challenge these negative thoughts and to generate more realistic and optimistic alternatives. The PRP also teaches problem-solving, assertiveness,  relaxation, and social skills to enhance adolescents’ coping resources and resilience (Cutuli et al., 2013).

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 17 studies found that the PRP and its adapted versions had small but significant effects on reducing depressive and anxiety symptoms and improving explanatory style in adolescents, compared to control groups (Bastounis, Callaghan, Banerjee, & Michail, 2016). The effects were stronger for adolescents with elevated baseline symptoms and for interventions that were delivered by researchers or external facilitators rather than teachers. The authors concluded that the PRP is a promising prevention program for adolescent mental health, but more research is needed to examine its long-term outcomes and implementation fidelity.

UK Resiliency programme

The UK Resiliency Programme (UKRP) is an initiative that aims to improve the psychological wellbeing and resilience of children and young people in schools. The programme is based on the principles of positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy, and consists of a series of workshops that teach students how to cope with challenges, manage emotions, develop positive relationships, and achieve their goals. The programme was launched in 2007 by the Department for Education in collaboration with three local authorities, and has been evaluated by several studies (Challen et al., 2011; Clarke et al., 2015; Humphrey et al., 2010).

According to the evaluation reports, the UKRP has shown positive effects on students’ wellbeing, behaviour, attendance, and academic attainment, as well as on teachers’ confidence and satisfaction. The programme has also been found to be cost-effective and feasible to implement at scale. However, some limitations and challenges have also been identified, such as the variability in the quality and fidelity of delivery, the need for more training and support for teachers, and the lack of long-term follow-up data (Challen et al., 2011; Clarke et al., 2015; Humphrey et al., 2010).

The UKRP is one of the examples of how the UK government is committed to strengthening the resilience of its citizens and communities to various risks and uncertainties, such as climate change, natural disasters, terrorism, cyberattacks, and pandemics. The UK Government Resilience Framework (2022) outlines the vision, principles, objectives, and actions that guide the government’s approach to enhancing resilience across different sectors and levels. The framework also highlights the importance of collaboration and coordination among different stakeholders, including researchers, practitioners, policymakers, businesses, civil society, and individuals (Cabinet Office, 2022).

One of the key partners in this endeavour is the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which is a public body that funds and supports research and innovation across different disciplines and domains. One of its flagship programmes is the UK Climate Resilience Programme (UKCRP), which is a four-year interdisciplinary research programme that aims to deliver robust, multi- and interdisciplinary climate risk and adaptation solutions research. The programme is led jointly by UKRI and the Met Office, and involves more than 40 research projects that address various aspects of climate resilience, such as health, infrastructure, agriculture, biodiversity, governance, finance, communication, and education (UKRI, n.d.).

The UKCRP is expected to contribute to the UK’s resilience to climate variability and change by providing evidence-based knowledge, tools, methods, and guidance that can inform decision-making and action at different scales and contexts. The programme also aims to foster collaboration and engagement among researchers, users, stakeholders, and beneficiaries of the research outputs, as well as to enhance the capacity and skills of researchers and practitioners in the field of climate resilience (UKRI, n.d.).

The Galigir Room

The Galigir Room is a resourced provision for young people with social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH) in their first years at secondary school. It is named after a mythical creature that symbolises strength, resilience and transformation (Hill & Smith, 2020). The Galigir Room aims to provide a safe and supportive environment for students who struggle with the transition to secondary school and need additional help to cope with the academic and social demands. The Galigir Room offers a range of interventions, such as individual and group counselling, mentoring, peer support, life skills training, literacy and numeracy support, and access to extracurricular activities. The Galigir Room also works closely with parents, carers, teachers and other professionals to ensure that the students’ needs are met holistically and that they are integrated into the mainstream school as much as possible (Hill & Smith, 2020).

The Galigir Room is based on the principles of attachment theory, trauma-informed practice and positive psychology. It recognises that many students with SEMH have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that affect their brain development, emotional regulation, behaviour and learning (Perry & Szalavitz, 2017). The Galigir Room provides a consistent and nurturing relationship with a key worker who acts as a secure base and a safe haven for the students. The key worker helps the students to build trust, attachment and self-esteem, as well as to develop coping skills and resilience. The Galigir Room also fosters a sense of belonging, optimism and hope among the students by celebrating their strengths, achievements and potential (Hill & Smith, 2020).

The Galigir Room has been evaluated by an external researcher who found that it had a positive impact on the students’ attendance, behaviour, academic progress, social skills and mental health. The students reported feeling happier, calmer, more confident and more motivated at school. They also appreciated the support and care they received from the staff and their peers in the Galigir Room. The parents, carers, teachers and other professionals also expressed satisfaction with the provision and its outcomes. The researcher concluded that the Galigir Room was an effective and innovative model of inclusive education for young people with SEMH (Hill & Smith, 2020).

Can we teach resilience to children?

Can we, and should we teach resilience to children? Research has shown that resilience can be fostered by providing children with supportive relationships, positive learning environments, opportunities for skill development, and meaningful participation in decision-making (Positive Psychology, 2019). Teaching resilience in schools can help children develop a positive self-concept, a growth mindset, a sense of agency, and effective coping strategies that can enhance their academic achievement, mental health, and wellbeing (Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2015). Therefore, teaching resilience to children can be both feasible and beneficial, as long as it is done in a holistic, evidence-based, and culturally sensitive way.


Bastounis, A., Callaghan, P., Banerjee, A., & Michail, M. (2016). The effectiveness of the Penn Resiliency Programme (PRP) and its adapted versions in reducing depression and anxiety and improving explanatory style: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Adolescence, 52, 37-48.

Cabinet Office. (2022). The UK Government Resilience Framework.

Challen A., Noden P., West A., & Machin S. (2011). UK Resilience Programme Evaluation: Final Report. Department for Education.

Center on the Developing Child. (2021). Resilience.

Clarke A.M., Bunting B., & Barry M.M. (2015). Evaluating the implementation of a school-based emotional well-being programme: a cluster randomized controlled trial of Zippy’s Friends for children in disadvantaged primary schools. Health Education Research 30(5), 807–824.

Cutuli, J. J., Gillham, J. E., Chaplin, T. M., Reivich, K. J., Seligman, M. E. P., Gallop, R. J., Abenavoli, R. M., & Freres, D. R. (2013). Preventing adolescents’ externalizing and internalizing symptoms: Effects of the Penn Resiliency Program. The International Journal of Emotional Education, 5(2), 67-79.

Gillham, J. E., Brunwasser, S. M., & Freres, D. R. (2008). Preventing depression in early adolescence: The Penn Resiliency Program. In J. R. Z. Abela & B. L. Hankin (Eds.), Handbook of depression in children and adolescents (pp. 309-322). The Guilford Press.

Harvard Graduate School of Education. (2015). The science of resilience.

Hill, A., & Smith, J. (2020). “The Galigir Room”: a resourced provision for young people with social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH) in their first years at secondary school. Support for learning, 35(4), 443-461.

Humphrey N., Lendrum A., & Wigelsworth M. (2010). Social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) programme in secondary schools: national evaluation. Department for Education.

Ogden, P., Minton, K., & pain, C. (2006). trauma and the body: A sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Perry, B. D., & Szalavitz, M. (2017). The boy who was raised as a dog: And other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook–what traumatized children can teach us about loss, love, and healing. Basic Books.

Positive Psychology. (2019). Resilience in education & how to foster resilient students.

Public Health England. (2014). Building children and young people’s resilience in schools.

Siegel, D.J. (1999). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York: Guilford Press.

Southwick, S.M., & Charney, D.S. (2012). Resilience: The science of mastering life’s greatest challenges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Titterton, M., & Taylor, J. (2017). Rethinking risk and resilience in childhood and child maltreatment. The British Journal of Social Work, 48(6), 1541-1558.

UKRI. (n.d.). UK climate resilience programme.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content