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Mental health / The world

Resilience—what is this intangible thing?!

Over the years, as I’ve struggled with my mental health, I’ve been aware of this thing called resilience but not really known exactly what it is. I knew it would help me manage life’s stresses or at least whether the storm but I’ve struggled to describe this intangible thing…until now!

I’ve heard that it’s something they’re teaching in schools and I know this is a good idea but I’ve come to the conclusion, while you can learn the ideas, experience is what really enables you to develop resilience.

An capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

I’ve worked in incredibly challenging roles, with people who’ve needed a lot of my care and attention, in environments that have been extremely emotional and mentally demanding. I’ve found myself giving more than I have and I’ve often been taken advantage of; in third or public sector organisations, this is all too common. At times I’ve been on the verge of becoming ill. If I’d not developed resilience I wouldn’t have survived so I’m going to share what I’ve learnt:

Know what’s yours

This is knowing what’s yours and what isn’t. Not just understanding your job description (at work) or (at home) splitting the family chores. This is about being responsibly for your behaviour and feelings and not for other people’s. I’m naturally a worrier and I take on other people’s problems as though they’re my own but this doesn’t get anyone anywhere. If someone knows that you’ll take their problems on, they’ll keep coming to you and giving you their problems and you’ll get more and more overwhelmed. Being able to say “this is yours, you need to take responsibility for it” will be the healthiest thing you can do for both of you.

Working in health care, I often see people who don’t want to take responsibility for their own health. They want someone else to make the decisions and solve their problems when they could take control themselves if they wanted to!

person holding up letters "n" and "o"

Setting boundaries is important to remain resilient. It can be really hard, when you’re in a caring role, to say “no” but it could be the kindest thing to do. You’re only 1 person and only have so much energy and resources to go around.

Saying “yes” can be just as important, new challenges that stretch you out of your comfort zone will enable you to build resilience you didn’t even know you had!

Be able to let things go, immediately

When something tough or uncomfortable happens, it’s important not to dwell on it. For some people this may look like “thick skin” or “water off a duck’s back” but it’s a little more nuanced than that, especially when working in the caring profession. Often, you have to remain in a difficult situation for a period of time, know you’re doing your best, give yourself credit for what you’ve done, debrief, then move on.

If you find yourself dwelling (or ruminating) on difficult events, mindfulness exercises can help. This isn’t about making your mind go blank, it’s about understanding that thoughts are just thoughts and feelings and just feelings, neither of them can hurt you. Being able to allow thoughts to come into your mind and allow them to float on by is a really helpful technique.

Know when to ask for help

person reaching up a ladder

There is never going to be a point when you know everything, the best people know when to ask for help and support. I feel empowered when I know exactly who to go to for a specific type of support and they respond appropriately.

If you don’t get the help or support you ask for, this doesn’t reflect on you or your level of resilience, just find someone who’ll give you what you need.

Be aware of your emotions

Being self aware of when you’re sad, angry, overwhelmed, frustrated etc is vital for being able to build resilience. Even just saying “that made me feel sad” is much more health than denying the feelings or pushing them away.

Men traditionally don’t show their feelings or are more likely to feel angry whereas women are traditionally expected to be sad, rather than show anger. The only thing that adhering to these stereotypes does is harm your health. As a woman, I feel empowered by my anger, it shows me how passionate I feel about a subject.

Knowing how you feel about something is the first step to being able to let it go. Denying it or stuffing the feelings down means they’re more likely to fester. Festering feelings will only lead to dealing with them in an unhealthy way (eating, drinking, partying hard, insomnia etc) guilt and shame none of which benefit anyone!

Know how to take care of yourself

woman sitting on sofa knitting

Self care isn’t all about bubble baths and candles, unless that’s your thing… A good diet and exercise (especially yoga) are at the top of my list, along with regular knitting sessions and a strict medication regime. My relationship with God is vitally important to me, I pray regularly and being in nature helps me feel close to God. It’s about finding what works for you.

If you like a couple of glasses of wine of an evening but know your sleep will be disturbed the nights you drink, you need to think about what’s more important to you.

Staying connected to the people who matter to you and not letting your stressful situations take over your life are key. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you take energy from being with people or do you recharge when you’re on your own—make sure you get enough of what you need.

Believe in yourself and persevere

Building resilience is challenging but incredibly rewarding. When your self esteem is rock bottom, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to do anything, let alone bounce back when things are looking bleak. When things become tough and you feel completely battered, it may feel easy to give up but being able to keep going (with all the things previously mentioned in place) will build resilience. This last years has been tough for everyone in different ways. No matter what’s happened, even if you’ve been knocked down, getting back up, dusting yourself off and always giving things another go is a great sign that you’re building resilience!

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