Resilience: The ability to pick yourself up after a fall

Resilience is defined as “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; or toughness”. But what exactly is resilience and why is this word so important today? In today’s post, let’s try to unpack what it means to be resilient and what you can do to cultivate this trait yourself and inculcate it in the young people in your lives.

Life is not a smooth path that you coast through without any setbacks. Life will thow you curveballs from time to time, some more serious than others from everyday challenges to perhaps a serious life-threatening illness or the death of a loved one. Every such change affetcs people in different ways, with each incident bringing with itself a unique set of thoughts, emotions and uncertainties. But in most cases, most of us generally adapt to these twists and turns in our lives, some better than others, in most part because we are resilient.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth. While these adverse events, much like rough river waters, are certainly painful and difficult, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify and grow with. That’s the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.

Being resilient doesn’t mean that someone won’t experience difficulty or distress. People who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives commonly experience emotional pain and stress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn resilience is one reason research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality.

Nowhere else but in the workplace is resilience needed more than ever. Our fast-paced work culture results in people working hard, meeting tight deadlines, managing work relationships and staying constantly connected through mobile devices. But this pace can lead to stress and burnout and navigating through these challenges requires skills and strategies that can be developed. Resilience is a key strategy that helps employees tackle stress, a competitive job market, workplace conflicts, and address challenges on the job. Improving resilience is important because employees identify work as the number one stressor in their lives.

When employees are resilient, they are able to handle work stress better, have greater job satisfaction, work happiness, organisational commitment and employee engagement. Increased resilience also contributes to improved self-esteem, a sense of control over life events, a sense of purpose in life and improved employee interpersonal relationships and increased productivity.

For employers, to foster resilience amongst your employees, allow autonomy whenever possible and let individuals do their jobs. Reward employees for good work and allow them to have flexible schedules so they can work at a pace and time that work best for them. Also, employers need to be more reasonable about work expectationsand be more vigilent about policies on work expectations and work hours. Lastly, employers need to provide access to services and support needed to maintain good physical and mental health.

So how can you learn to be more resilient. By focusing on core components, which include connections, wellness, healthy thinking and meaning, you can empower yourself to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences. To increase your capacity for resilience to weather and grow from the difficulties, use these strategies.

Build your connections and prioritise relationships. Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate individuals who validate your feelings, which will support the skill of resilience. Do not isolate yourself when you are in a situation which causes you pain or trauma, instead accept the help and support of those who love and care for you and connect with them in a genuine way. Along with one-to-one connections, some people find that being active in groups provides them with a sense of support, purpose and joy.

Foster wellness and take care of your body. Self-care is not just a popular buzzword, but is also a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. I say this because stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration and regular exercise can strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions like anxiety or depression.

Practice mindfulness. I can’t stress this strategy enough. Mindful journaling, yoga, meditation and prayer can help people build connections and restore hope, which can then prime you to deal with situations that require resilience. When you journal, meditate, or pray, ruminate on the positive aspects of your life and recall the things you’re grateful for, even during personal trials. At the same time, avoid negative outlets. It may be tempting to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs or other substances, but that’s like putting a bandage on a deep wound. Focus instead on giving your body the resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether.

Find some purpose in life and help others. When you help others by volunteering, you gather a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people and tangibly help others, all of which can empower you to grow in resilience. During these hard times, learn to be proactive and know that it is helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions, but it’s also important to help you foster self-discovery by asking yourself, “What can I do about a problem in my life?” If the problems seem too big to tackle, break them down into manageable pieces. Move toward your goals and develop some realistic goals and do something regularly, even if it seems like a small accomplishment, that enables you to move toward the things you want to accomplish. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often find that they have grown in some respect as a result of a struggle. It is seen that after a tragedy or hardship, people have reported better relationships and a greater sense of strength, even while feeling vulnerable which can increase their sense of self-worth and heighten their appreciation for life.

Compartmentalise your cognitive load. We receive more than 11 million bits of information every second, but our brains can only effectively process about 40 bits of information. So though we can’t decrease what we receive, we can compartmenalise our tasks to optimise how we can process this information. We should be more deliberate about how and what we compartmentalise and this is useful when you consider that switching from one type of task to another reduces productivity by as much as 40%. Creating dedicated times of the day to do specific types of work may create the best set of conditions to process information and make quality decisions while decreasing cognitive load and strain.

Take detachment breaks. Throughout the workday, it’s important to pay attention to the peaks and valleys of energy and productivity that we all experience, what health psychologists call our ultradian or hourly as opposed to our circadian or daily rhythms. Mental focus, clarity and energy cycles are typically 90-120 minutes long, so it is useful to step away from our work for even a few minutes to reset energy and attention. Research suggests that balancing work activity with even a brief time for detaching from those activities can promote greater energy, mental clarity, creativity and focus, ultimately growing our capacity for resilience throughout the course of the workday. The long-term payoff is that we preserve energy and prevent burnout over the course of days, weeks and months.

Embrace healthy thoughts and keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant part in how you feel, and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. I feel that those with a positive mindset overcome obstacles faster and better than those who see a glass as half empty. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophise difficulties or assume the world is out to get you, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it. Accept change and also accept that change is a part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter. You should also maintain a hopeful outlook in life. I know it’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way, but an optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that good things will happen to you. Visualisation is a good way to to see what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Along the way, note any subtle ways in which you start to feel better as you deal with difficult situations. And most important in this step is to learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may discover how you can respond effectively to new difficult situations. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences.

Cultivate compassion. One of the most overlooked aspects of the resilience skill set is the ability to cultivate compassion; both self-compassion and compassion for others. According to some research, compassion increases positive emotions, creates positive work relationships, and increases cooperation and collaboration and such practices increase happiness and well-being and decrease stress.

Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resilience. For most people, using their own resources and the strategies mentioned above may be enough to build their resilience, but there at times and individuals for whom and when this may not be enough. In such cases, reach out to a licensed mental health professional who can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward in life. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function as well as you would like or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful life experience.

The important thing is to remember you’re not alone on the journey. While you may not be able to control all of your circumstances, you can grow by focusing on the aspects of life’s challenges you can manage with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.

Here are some interesting Ted Talks about resilience and how we can learn from some super resilient people!


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