Resilience – nature or nurture?

bamboo-in-the-wind-sid-solomonPhew! While there have been plenty of man-made ‘disasters’ of one sort or another this week at least there have been no major natural disasters and so I take leisure this Friday to delve a little deeper into the topic of ‘resilience’ as is one of the aims of this blog.

You might remember some of the main points I mentioned that play an important role in resilience: self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, character strengths, connections (read previous post).

You probably read through their descriptions and thought that it makes a lot of intuitive sense. In the context of the recent UK floods I then briefly discussed some aspects of optimism and I hope that if you personally were affected you did find some silver lining in it all. Before I pick upon the next strand however, one important question comes to mind. How can you tell that you are or will be resilient? To what extent is resilience innate? To what extent is resilience learnt? Let me begin by telling you a story.

Michael and Mary (a true resilience story)

… were born in the same place at the same time: 1955, the tropical island of Kauai, a paradise with lush rain forests, glorious mountains and pristine beaches at the northwest end of the Hawaiian Islands. Michael, a premature baby, spent his first three weeks in hospital, separated from his teenage mother. His father was absent with the military until Michael was two. By his eight birthday Michael had three younger siblings, his parents were divorced and his mother had left the island, breaking all family ties. Then there is the story of another child. Mary was born into poverty. Her father was an unskilled farm worker and her mother suffered from mental illness. Mary’s life between the ages of five and ten was one of repeated physical and emotional abuse, punctuated by her mother’s several hospitalisations.

Two children with the odds stacked against them.

And yet, by their eighteenth birthday both Michael and Mary were popular at school, possessed solid moral values and were optimistic about their futures.

Michael and Mary’s story is true although their names have been altered to protect their privacy. It is part of one of the first landmark studies into resilience by Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith who, a long time ago in 1955, began tracking 698 children from their pre-natal months to beyond their thirtieth birthday. Of course, a tremendous amount of research has taken place since. Importantly also, several ways of measuring and predicting resilience have emerged.

Now, before you rush off to measure your own resilience please note that it is a highly complex concept and no single measure is ever perfect. At best it can give an indication – a start, a baseline from where you can begin to explore resilience for yourself. It all begins with self-awareness – and a look at the ‘Resilience Scale’ website (Wagnild and Young) is one way of checking this out, free of charge. On their navigation bar look for ‘Test your Resilience’ and have a go. And in case you’d like to read more about Werner and Smith’s work, check out their book “Overcoming the Odds: High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood“(1992)

Have a great weekend!


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More Extreme Weather – heatwave at Australia Open, arctic deep freeze in the US, continued floods in the UK

Dancevic is treated in the extreme heat of Melbourne Park / source

Dancevic is treated in the extreme heat of Melbourne Park; source

There I thought I was done talking about crazy weather for a while – not so! Extreme weather events seem to come hard and fast as we head into this new year.

While the UK flooded and the US froze, Argentina baked but ‘heat’ seemed to have slipped the limelight until the Australian Open was disrupted by record breaking temperatures.

On Monday, the average maximum temperature across the country reached a new record of 40.33C. Forecasting that temperatures might reach 54C the Bureau of Meteorology added two new shades of purple to the top of their temperature scale map, New Scientist reported. Thankfully, those predictions were not borne out; else the country would have had to deal with a lot worse than ‘just’ thousands of tennis fans suffering heat exhaustion, as a local newspaper said. As it was, it was bad enough: large numbers of EMS had to be mobilized to respond to heat-related injuries (see heatstroke info i.e. SJA). Heart attacks surged by 300%. Authorities expected an increase of 50% in mortalities caused by the extreme heat mainly affecting the vulnerable (the elderly, infirm and children). The Guardian reported: ‘Australian heat waves are getting hotter and longer says the Climate Council’.

Not a great start to 2014… however, we cannot take these events to simply predict what this summer might bring for us in the UK. We can only remember our own heat waves, how they have affected us in the past and prepare to stay cool. So, here is some context:

– the highest recorded UK temperature was 38.5C on 10/08/2003 Faversham Kent (METoffice); this is only marginally different from Australia’s record last week. Somehow I don’t think here in the UK we’re as adapted and resilient (yet) to heat as the Aussies are, although that is of course a matter of personal tolerance.

– the most recent heat wave (19 days) was last year in July 2013, 33.5C recorded in west London. On 18 July, the Telegraph reports London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine figures that the first 9 days of the heat wave had caused up to an additional 760 deaths. The heat wave ended on 23 July with heavy thunderstorms, bringing flooding and lightning strikes that caused transport disruption, power cuts and fires. One week later temperatures rose again, recording the warmest August temperature since 2003.

Let us hope for a perfectly ‘average’ spring.

Find out more about how to be prepared for a heatwave.

And of interest might be the standardised physiological heat tolerance test (HTT) which evaluates athletes’ tolerance to exercising in the heat. It differentiates between a temporary and permanent state of heat susceptibility (Journal Sport Rehabil. 2007 Aug;16(3):215-21.) HTT is also used by some armed forces to test the heat tolerance of their personnel.


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Resilience – what it is and how it connects to crazy weather

Resilience - thriving despite difficulties; Resilient Self - Resilienct Relationships - Resilient Problem Solving

Resilience – thriving despite difficulties; Resilient Self – Resilienct Relationships – Resilient Problem Solving

Another crazy weather week! Amazing pictures from the US throughout the week, especially the frozen Niagara Falls and headlines of – literally – Hell freezing over; Hell Michigan that is. Meanwhile more flood misery with heavy rains and violent tidal surges affected thousands here in the UK, causing widespread damage and much personal pain… and more is yet to come we’re being told.

With all this gloom and controversies around flood prevention measures running high it is interesting to note that the Guardian ran an article on how floods are not all uniformly bad, how there is a silver lining (even if somewhat thin) to be had in all of this. I’d like to pick up on this at the close of this week.

Finding the positive side in any situation, no matter how grim and hopeless it might at first appear, is a huge skill and a massively important part of what resilience means. And that, increasingly, is what it’s all about. But what exactly does ‘resilience’ mean? One definition holds that ‘resilience’ is the capacity to cope effectively in stressful situations or adversity. There are a number of core capacities that play role and these are, according to the APA1:

  • (a) self-awareness: identifying one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, and patterns in each that are counterproductive
  • (b) self-regulation: the ability to regulate impulses, thinking, emotions, and behaviours to achieve goals, as well as the willingness and ability to express emotions;
  • (c) optimism: noticing the goodness in self and others, identifying what is controllable, remaining wedded to reality, and challenging counterproductive beliefs
  • (d) mental agility: thinking flexibly and accurately, perspective taking, and willingness to try new strategies
  • (e) character strengths: identifying the top strengths in oneself and others, relying on one’s strengths to overcome challenges and meet goals, and cultivating a strength approach in one’s group; and
  • (f) connection: building strong relationships through positive and effective communication, empathy, willingness to ask for help, and willingness to offer help

That’s a lot – complex and interesting stuff! Plenty of material there for me to write about in small doses as we go into this near year talking about Emergency Preparedness and Resilience.
You will have noticed that I’ve highlighted ‘OPTIMISM’ in the above list and will have read its description – a very far cry from the rose-tinted and rather blind optimism you might have come across elsewhere. The aim here is not to gloss over reality but rather a bit of a case of thorough #SherlockLives -style analysis and a much wider appraisal that eventually will help towards finding new strength and direction.

So, back to the Guardian and the good side of our #UKFloods. I encourage you read the full article but in a nutshell, here it is:

  • UK wind industry had its best-ever period, setting daily, weekly and monthly records
  • heavy rains across Britain have left the water supply industry smiling, reservoirs are full
  • environment: floods and storms are important natural phenomena that help the natural environment, i.e. clear clean river gravels of silt, encouraging fish migration; some plants depend on strong winds to spread their seeds further afield…
  • wildlife: burrowing animals breed best when soggy ground makes their holes easy to dig; record numbers of wading birds..

And for us? The wild weather has been an excellent stick for environment groups and scientists to beat government with as well as raise awareness generally. Charles Tucker, chair of the National Flood Forum, nicely summed it up: “With joined-up thinking, you invest in communities to develop resilience and prepare for future flooding. You invest in a national effort, requiring the agencies responsible for flood risk management to work with local people, equipping them to tackle local flooding problems. You give local communities the tools to find solutions themselves.” Highlights by me.

In the end, it’s also all up to us – individually as well as part of a community! Have a great weekend.


1APA – American Psychological Association

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Welcome to the new EVAQ8 blog!

Winging it is not a plan! Make your Emergency Plan TODAY!Brilliant! Finally – this blog page is actually happening. It’s perhaps not as flashy as some other fancy places out there but it’s a start. And that, after all is what New Year’s resolutions are all about. One of ours was to be more ‘out there’ with you, not just on facebook and twitter. After all, not everybody is a fan or a tweep, apparently.

So, here it is. Our very own small and humble place. Pull your chair up and join us – you’re most welcome! At the very least there’s always (thankfully back in stock just today!!) hot chocolate, coffee (cappucino if you prefer) and tea (old fashioned kettle in our staff kitchen) on offer even some tasty – or LUSH as some of our customers have it – MRE’s if you fancy a bite. More of that later. For today, we’ll stay with New Year’s resolutions – yours, and your friend’s and family’s. Perhaps it’s not new to you but it can always do with a review – so, do have a go, before the new year really takes over.

Oh – and before I forget. Let me introduce myself. My name is Monika (@MonikaAlMufti) with a ‘K’ – yes it’s odd I know but when I tell you that I’m originally Swiss it might make sense. It has the additional advantage of serving as an ‘explanation’ for funny typos or odd turns of phrases you may encounter. I’ll be running this blog for a while and I hope you’ll find it useful as well as entertaining. Comments are always welcome, as are guest contributions. Get in touch: I would love to hear from you!
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