Ecological resilience is the magnitude of the largest perturbation from which a system can still recover to its original state. However, a transition into another state may often be invoked by a series of minor synergistic perturbations rather than a single big one. We show how resilience can be estimated in terms of average life expectancy, accounting for this natural regime of variability. We use time series to fit a model that captures the stochastic as well as the deterministic components. The model is then used to estimate the mean exit time from the basin of attraction. This approach offers a fresh angle to anticipating the chance of a critical transition at a time when high-resolution time series are becoming increasingly available.