Making resiliency your super power

by Dr. Anna Courie - Director, Responder Wellness, FirstNet® Program at AT&T

I remember entering 2021 with all the hope that it would be different than 2020. I had a sinking feeling I knew we would be facing many of the same challenges of 2020, but I am a "glass half full" person. So, I forged ahead with my usual optimism. It is my resilience super-power I try to cultivate.

But 2021 continued to throw barriers, heartbreak, and frustration. It was not better than 2020.  Some days felt worse. Other days felt like more of the same. And many days I wondered if this was the new norm.

Regardless, the challenges of 2020 built a resilience in all of us that we likely take for granted. Time will show how much we have grown over the last two years to face difficult things and come out of them stronger, more resilient, and more prepared to cope with whatever happens in the future.

I would be shocked if you haven’t heard about resilience. The academic, military and first responder communities have been diving into resilience at lightning speed. We started out trying to identify what was different about those who experience similar traumas, but have vastly differing outcomes from the experience.

For example, negative versus positive outcomes to traumatic events. Researchers identified the characteristics of resilience and then began to explore if resilience could be taught.

The answer was yes. We can teach the habits that enable resilience. But first, let’s discuss in more depth the definition of resilience.

So, what is resilience?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”  

When we face adversity, we adapt, learn and grow from the experience. We adopt the learned principles into our new behaviors. And then use the capabilities derived from the adverse experience face new threats. Other scientists define resilience as grit, growth mind set, optimism, a science of hope, the ability to bounce back from adversity, the ability to develop meaning and insight from difficult events.

None of these definitions are incorrect. Defining resilience is a deeply personal thing. You may find that some of your perspectives of resilience resonate with you, and you may also have experiences that color your own definition.

I believe resilience is like I described above – how do we face tough things and come out of them stronger.  I like that it doesn’t sugar coat that tough things happen – that’s life.  I also like that it hints that there are things that can threaten our personal resilience and there are things we can do about it.  

Facing difficult situations

We all experience difficult times. However, first responders face threats at a rate that far exceeds the general population. Too often, we see these experiences like a broken appendage that never repairs itself. In fact, the nomenclature of “post-traumatic stress disorder” emphasizes something is “out of order” rather than an event that can stimulate growth and development.

You are asked to face the evils of society on a regular basis. Threats, crises, and trauma happen; and they are incredibly painful to endure. Threats are deeply and personally damaging at times. Experiencing trauma doesn’t make you “less than” a person. And being hurt by trauma does not mean you are irreparably broken. You are tougher than you think and stronger
than you know.

If we look at traumatic events as something we can grow from, we are developing our personal resilience.  Everything we experience as individuals is an opportunity to learn and grow.  We may get knocked down, but it’s the act of getting up and forging forward that helps develop personal resilience.   

Nevertheless, it would be naïve not to acknowledge there are threats to your resilience. Threats can be such things as a traumatic event, or the accumulation of multiple events that have never been addressed. They can also come in the form of negative behaviors or “disabling habits.” For example, an individual can turn to drugs and alcohol abuse, risk-taking behavior, or fatalistic thinking. Personal issues like unresolved relationship issues, escalating domestic problems, financial difficulties, or significant losses of a loved one can threaten one’s personal resilience.

Threats to resilience can come from both inside and outside a person. 

Overcoming threats to resilience

So how do we overcome threats to resilience, especially when it feels like the threats are not something we can control?

We can minimize threats to resilience through healthy habits we incorporate to ensure we are ready to do the jobs we are committed to do. These activities are habits of personal readiness.

FirstNet®, Built with AT&T is proud to sponsor several organizations that provide training to public safety to address resiliency, post-traumatic growth, and readiness in the first responder population.

One of those organizations is All Clear Foundation.  All Clear Foundation’s mission is to improve the overall well-being and longevity of those who serve our communities in times of need. That’s why they established the “ResponderStrong” program. ResponderStrong is a mental health initiative to help responders develop critical skills to enhance their personal resiliency. The program offers responder-informed crisis and clinical services, as well as easily accessible educational content and tools for responders, families, leaders, and the clinicians who work with them.

The All Clear Foundation is offering ResponderStrong Train the Trainer Training December 14, 2021 at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office at 28982 Thin Blue Line Lane, Adel, Iowa 50003.  Interested responders can register for this free training at:

Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, Director of Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T, is a nurse, Army wife, former university faculty, and author. Dr. Courie has worked for over 20 years in the health care profession including bone marrow transplant, intensive care, public health, and health promotion practice. Dr. Courie holds a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Clemson University; a Master’s in Nursing Education from the University of Wyoming; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Ohio State University. Dr. Courie’s area of expertise is integration of public health strategy across disparate organizations to achieve health improvement goals.