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Resilience – what is it and how do we get it?

Resilience is often described as the ability to bounce back, being able to cope and be strong through adversity.

Whilst these are attributes related to resilience, these sentiments are also largely reactive. Given the frequency with which we face challenges in life, should resilience not be best practiced on a proactive basis? The better prepared we are for life’s inevitable challenges, the less affected we will be by them.

Resilience is commonly associated with extreme scenarios. Immense displays of heroism on the frontline, in the line of duty or in front of an 80,000 strong partisan crowd. We credit others as being blessed with having the innate gift of resilience. We often long to be as mentally strong as they are. But consider this, resilience is relative. It is very important in our own day-to-day lives, but it isn’t something we are born with. Our lives are big contributors to our resilience and therein lies a key point of difference between those who are resilient and those who are not.

When you are presented with adversity in life, what do you do? Perhaps you actively engage with, try to problem solve, learn from your mistakes or ask for help. Maybe, you shy away and hope that it will all blow over, you might even blame others and find yourself believing that bad things only happen to you and that life seems unfair.

If we are not reflecting on and studying an experience, we are likely bottling up some negative thoughts and feelings. These can begin to inadvertently damage our wellbeing. After all, it is not the case that resilient people do not get sad or angry, they do. They are just better able to recognise and understand their emotions. This allows them to engage with their emotions and try to upregulate themselves to a more positive state.

Why is resilience important?

Resilience plays a key part in shaping our mindset. Our mindset is really a conscious decision, made unconsciously. Our default mindset will either be positive or negative and this autopilot will kick in when we are presented with adversity. If a default negative mindset occurs, then expect negative behaviours to follow suit. This isn’t a life sentence. Once we have identified that we possess a default negative mindset, we can take action. Self-improvement is a good way of actively building resilience.

With a positive mindset, we will display positive behaviours that are going to be critical in forming a response to overcome adversity. In reality, the adversity may well pose some threat to you, but that threat will only manifest if you do nothing about it. When you think positively and actively try to do something productive and constructive, good things tend to happen and threats within the adversity, are reduced.
Being resilient enables us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Resilient people are unperturbed by challenges. This allows them to avoid wasting time, energy and emotion on things outside of their control. This preserves time for them to honour their commitment to regular exercise and good nutrition, social interactions and adequate rest. These lifestyle habits serve as a reminder that they are not defined by their challenges. Creating boundaries helps to avoid burnout. These positive health behaviours also enhance energy levels, which further aids resilience.

Resilience helps us to better manage many of the typical symptoms associated with common mental health conditions. With increased resilience, we are able to assert upon ourselves time for self-care, relaxation and treating ourselves with kindness.

Life can be challenging sometimes. How can we expect to thrive if we are regularly giving ourselves a hard time and putting ourselves down. In doing this, we subconsciously chip away at our self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. We need to learn to love our flaws and idiosyncrasies, knowing that in spite of these, we possess many strengths and wholesome characteristics too. If we want to be the best, most resilient version of ourselves, we can of course try to develop our weaknesses, but we must also be our own cheerleader and champion our strengths.

How can we develop resilience?

  • Mental resilience
  • Physical resilience
  • Social resilience
  • Spiritual resilience

Given the high stress environments that these individuals operate in, it is important for them to harness the four pillars and translate their meanings into their own lives.

The Four Pillars of Resilience

The Mental Pillar

The mental pillar refers to our ability to be flexible in our thinking. To learn to adopt an open and positive mindset where we are curious to let situations unfold and see what we can learn and achieve from then. This pillar also involves developing emotional intelligence. This can be done by spending more time with others, fostering empathy and reflecting on what different emotions really mean, what they are trying to tell us and how to control them.

Having control in other areas of our life can also establish this pillar. By identifying what we are in control of, we can reaffirm to ourselves that there are many things within our control, regardless of changing circumstances.

Whilst the things under our control may appear small and insignificant, they offer stability and reassurance that we are competent and capable. It is important to be aware of the things in life that are of concern, but only so that we know not to waste too much time, energy or emotion on them.

The Physical Pillar

The physical pillar of resilience involves performing behaviours and activities that will enable recovery and promote energy. If we want the brain to perform at its best, we must give it the right fuel. Consuming carbohydrates for energy, as well as for aiding serotonin release and good healthy fats to improve cognitive functioning and processing, is important. Much like a car without or with the wrong fuel, it will splutter its way to a halt and cause us problems. Performing regular exercise helps us to burn off excessive levels of unwanted stress hormone, cortisol. It also causes a release in endorphins, helping to lift our mood and generate optimism. Life is very much a contact sport, so it’s essential that through exercise we also build up a physical capacity to withstand the rigours of life.

Remember to prioritise sleep. When we are tired, our amygdala portion of the brain (responsible for informing you of danger) becomes hyper-reactive. This makes us more likely to interpret situations as threatening and invoking symptoms of anxiety. Stick to a routine so your circadian rhythm works with you. Knowing to give you helpful hormones in the morning to get you up and ready to tackle the day, and essential sleep hormones in the evening to encourage a restful and regenerative sleep, to recover from the demands of the day.

The Social Pillar

The social pillar of resilience involves drawing on support networks. Having a social network in place acts as a safety net. It gives us the confidence to be bold and attempt challenges knowing that we have family, friends and colleagues who love us and who will continue to love us, regardless of any failures we may have. Our network also serves as a way to ensure our deep-rooted psychological survival needs are being met. We need to feel a sense of belonging, security and love. Being around others, gives us that.

Think about how you can diversify your network. Joining more clubs or involving yourself more in your local community are both great ways to establish new connections. Meeting new people helps to develop a more sophisticated emotional intelligence through sharing interactions and experiences. You may find a resilient role model for you to model your behaviour on. You might even find that you give more of yourself to others and gain a wonderful sense of reward and contentedness when you are able to reciprocate or ‘pay forward’ kindness.

The Spiritual Pillar

The spiritual pillar of resilience does not necessarily refer to religion, but for some people religion is a source of strength. It’s more about having faith and belief in a higher purpose. Trying to establish your reason for being. It could be following a particular set of values or principles, fulfilling a vocation or simply wanting to be the best version of yourself. An easy way for us to remain focused on a purpose is to set goals.

A resilient person will set goals and understands that the inevitable challenges along the way are part of the journey. When the goal is completed, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction is ever sweeter, knowing that it is the product of hard work and obstacles overcome. This induces a confidence and self-belief for future tasks, knowing that with the right application and mindset, anything can be achieved.

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