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Developing Healthy Resilience in Young People

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in personal growth, originally published in issue 290 - November 2023


School Stress

Children and young people today have to cope with a great deal of pressure in their lives –particularly at school and in further education. They are pressured to achieve specific academic goals through curriculum and testing, there are demands on their time with large amounts of homework and often they are pressured by parents pushing them to do well. Currently in England between the ages of five and 16, children will sit four rounds of compulsory exams, not including the 11+ and Common Entrance exams that those applying for grammar or private schools will take. Primary school pupils take Key Stage 1 and 2 exams for English, Maths and Science, while some GCSE pupils can sit down to as many as 25 individual tests.[1] Furthermore there are often peer pressure issues at school particularly bullying associated with social media platforms. Younger children may refuse to attend school, older children can struggle and withdraw into anxiety and depression.

To cope with the pressure and stress in schools young people are encouraged to share feelings and accept support . Speaking openly about issues such as anxiety or low mood helps break down the stigma that used to be associated with mental health issues. Furthermore after school clubs offer activities such as art, yoga, football to help promote good mental and physical health. Social media platforms tend to have a negative impact on mental health and schools now help young people to manage these. Children and teenagers can also go on the internet for help and support – for example the Anna Freud Centre is a good resource.[2]


Flower has grown in arid cracked barren soil

Flower has grown in arid cracked barren soil


All of these resources aim to help young people adjust better to their environments as they grow up and that is a great step forward from the past when mental health issues were stigmatised and people of all ages suffered in silence. However research suggests that in spite of all the support that is available, many young people still struggle to cope with pressure at school and in further education. Findings from a 2018 survey by the UK Mental Health Foundation tell us that 60% of young people (aged 18 to 24) felt so affected by pressure to succeed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.[3] This is a worrying figure revealing as it does a large section of the population finding life a struggle in spite of all the psychological support available. Dan Jones, former director of the counselling centre at Appalachian State University relates research from the USA that shows that many students who had community support in the shape of therapy and or were on medication were still troubled. He says that students seem less resilient today than in the past. “They haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles....They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”[4]

Daoism Cultivates Resilience

Webster’s dictionary defines resilience thus; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. In today's society children and young people are pressured to achieve and succeed more than ever before. And they are monitored and supported more closely than ever but in spite of this they seem to lack resilience. Resilience, the ability to adjust to change is an important aspect of Daoist teachings and could help young people navigate their way through the challenges and pressures of life.

Daoism cultivates resilience by looking to Nature as the best teacher – constant at a deep level yet full of change at the surface. Young people need to be supported in a consistently stable environment but encouraged to understand the unpredictable and changing reality of life. Too often young people are pressured to always succeed and failure is seen as a negative experience. This is unrealistic and the stress this way of thinking can cause is a waste of precious energy. Instead failure needs to be seen as part of the unpredictable changing reality of life, something we can learn from – a positive experience. Failure then becomes an opportunity to build resilience. The Daoist sage Chuang Tsu said

"The true man of old did not fight against poverty nor did he look for fulfilment through riches– for he had no grand plans. Therefore he never regretted any failure, nor exulted in success."

Furthermore through school and at home young people look to others to solve their problems and an overly protective school and family environment means that they can lose touch with their own independent internal guidance – their intuition. This is a source of inner support that will give them the resilience and confidence to handle the challenges of life, the ups and downs, successes and failures. The Daoist sage Lao Tsu said

“the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees. He lets go of that and chooses this.”

Being guided by inner promptings, trusting intuitive, gut feelings encourages young people to have confidence in themselves whatever challenges life brings.”

Young people could benefit from being taught to go with the flow of life's ups and downs, accepting the changes with equanimity rather than being pressured to see life as a battle to be overcome. Education in schools and colleges could be more flexible with their curriculums and timetables and teach mindfulness meditation, encourage independent thinking by setting personal goals and challenges and adapt learning to a child's interests and abilities. Encouraging young people to trust their intuition, embrace change, and learn to bounce back from failure – these are all Daoist concepts that can help young people build resilience and manage the pressure, stress and trauma that life inevitably will bring. In these ways young people can adapt and develop confidence to deal with all life's changes. In this way they grow into strong, mentally healthy adults who understand that to fail is part of life and builds resilience. They come to rely on their intuition and independent thinking to access solutions to the challenges they might face, and so connect with their true potential.





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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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