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Family members can be a common source of support during tough times.

Pandemic may help to improve resilience, says K-State expert

Learning from tough times builds more hardy individuals, families

May 4, 2020

MANHATTAN, Kan. – It is probably natural for humans to wonder how life will be different as communities begin to emerge from the recent surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That notion causes Kansas State University youth development specialist Elaine Johannes to think of ... a rubber band.

“When we think about resilience,” she said, “a lot of us use the analogy of a rubber band. It’s stretched, it’s functional and it holds things in place. But, it also has the ability to bounce back to regain its original size and shape.”

Listen to Elaine Johannes on the radio podcast, Sound Living with Jeff Wichman

It is, in a word, resilient. And Johannes said she believes the hardships that many people are facing – whether they be financial, emotional or otherwise – could help make them more hardy as they, too, return to some form of their pre-pandemic lives.

“Adversity, stress or strain are just some things we live with and we anticipate in life,” said Johannes, who is also an associate professor in K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences. “We can’t really avoid those things. But resilience is that approach or style or mental mindset that allows us to buffer the bad effects of adversity and stress.”

Just a few years ago, Johannes conducted research with families who were struggling with the effects of poverty.

“We were able to interview those families to ask how they were coping with their situation and the resiliency skills they used to persist,” she said.

The K-State researchers talked to the mothers in the family about how they were communicating with their children about the family’s hardships. They talked to teenagers in the family about what they were learning from the experience.

The research focused on hardiness, which Johannes said is “a quality of being resilient. Being hardy means knowing that things can be tough and there are challenges we will face in our life, yet being committed to moving past them.”

The results? “The moms showed hardiness,” Johannes said. “When the family had a challenge, they talked openly with their teens about it. They also talked about the control they felt they had when they were budgeting and deciding what to pay for and what they couldn’t afford.

“But mostly what we learned was that their hardiness came out of the commitment they had to their child and the family, and the commitment that things would improve.”

Johannes added the teenagers said they became hardier because they learned from their parents, who talked about tough times and who showed commitment to getting through them.

“Being resilient isn’t about taking away tough times, but it is going through them and learning from them that really counts,” Johannes said. “That’s what helps us move into adulthood and to thrive.”

The same lessons can be learned and growth achieved from living during a global pandemic. Johannes cites work from George Everly, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, who defines resilience as a result of three factors:

  • Resistance, or finding ways to withstand stressors that are part of our lives. “The question we should ask ourselves is what are we doing now, individually, to build resilience knowing that things may get rough during our lifespan,” Johannes said, adding that our resistance to stress can be a result of being connected to family, friends, services and resources that help us maintain a positive mindset through tough times.
  • Resilience, which relates to having the ability to rebound from adversity or crisis. “That requires us to be physically and mentally healthy,” Johannes said. “We need to be eating well, sleeping well and staying mentally engaged.”
  • Recovery, or a feeling of regaining some sense of the control we thought we had before a crisis occurred. This may include using available resources, such as family, friends or professional help.

“We don’t really know what lies ahead of us,” Johannes said. “But when we think about getting through the COVID-19 response now … the more that adults can demonstrate how to be resilient, the better it will be for them individually and for their families.”

Johannes said more information on building resilience is available online through the University of Wisconsin extension system. She also encouraged interested persons to look at online materials relating to resilience from the American Psychological Association.

At a glance

Recent hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether they are financial, emotional or otherwise, can help to make people more resilient over time.


American Psychological Association

Notable quote

“We don’t really know what lies ahead of us. But when we think about getting through the COVID-19 response now … the more that adults can demonstrate how to be resilient, the better it will be for them individually and for their families.”

-- Elaine Johannes, youth development specialist, K-State Research and Extension


Elaine Johannes

Written by

Pat Melgares


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.