Much research on resilience to date has focused on the notion that there must be some sort of ‘significant adversity’ present before resilience can occur. However, with the constant pressures of the modern age, longer working hours and the added pressure social media puts on our desire to ‘have it all’ there is an increasing need for resilience skills in day-to-day life. But what happens if you know these skills but fail to practice them? And how can you improve your resilience once more?
A Personal Story
In May I finished the first year of my MSc feeling triumphant. Not only had I managed to pass year one with better grades that I had anticipated, but, despite the demands on my schedule, I was thriving on the challenges I was facing and thoroughly enjoying myself. I don’t remember being more resilient at any other stage of my life, despite much in my future remaining uncertain. Fast forward a few months, however, and that resilience has dwindled with my health, both mental and physical, suffering as a consequence. Despite being on a break from my academic career between May and September, demands in my personal life have slowly been on the rise and with the added pressure of maintaining a full time job I have not been coping as well as one might expect of someone whose most recent academic paper was a report on her own personal experiences with resilience. During this assignment I learned a great deal about resilience and, using ‘The Resilience Factor’ by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte, I learned to use Cognitive Behavioural Techniques to improve my resilience by reframing situations, focusing on facts rather than emotions and began to experience lives everyday stresses in a more positive light. But, I am out of practice. I have forgotten much of what I have learned and I am no longer in touch with my thoughts and emotions as I was before. It is only now, as I begin to re-learn much of what I read and practiced last semester that I am able to appreciate something about Resilience that I hadn’t fully recognised before: resilience is not something that you have or that can be gained and remembered for eternity (although anyone can learn to be more resilient). It is a skill, a constant practice which must forever be reviewed and adapted depending on the situation.
So, if you, like me, are in need of some reminders in how to boost your resilience then here are a few tips that we can use to help us in those more challenging times.
A good place to start looking at resilience is to review areas of your life where you may be needing a bit of a resilience boost. It’s important to note that areas where you may have been struggling with resilience before may not be the areas where you are struggling now, particularly as circumstances and external pressures will probably have shifted if not changed altogether. One of the best ways to do this is through mindfulness techniques. Taking a few moments to pause and take a break from the many pressures and challenges in life can be a great way to focus the mind and better approach them with a non-judgemental and clear head. Research by Keye and Pidgeon into mindfulness and resilience suggests that mindfulness can be a very effective way of improving resilience and that a regular mindfulness practice can actually be an indicator of a person’s resilience (Keye and Pidgeon, 2013). Self-compassion meditations too are a great way to accept the negative emotions you may have about yourself and to learn to be less judgemental about your own potential failings.
Exercise has also proven to be an excellent mood booster and another way to boost resilience. I have recently begun a regular yoga practice which has helped to combine both mindfulness and exercise in one. More than this though I have discovered that on the days when I have been at my most stressed, yoga has allowed me to take some time to replenish my energies, connect both my body and mind and emerge with a clearer head (and often an action plan!). As one who was once very sceptical of the benefits of yoga, I would now recommend it to everyone.
Review the facts
One of the most beneficial lessons I learned throughout my assignment work on resilience last semester was to review the facts of a situation before making any judgements on how that situation made me feel. Appraising a situation whist removing emotion, expectations and previous events from your mind can be a very positive way to recognise what the facts of the situation really are, and what is simply your own interpretation of events. This involves connecting and being acutely aware of ones thoughts and emotions in a situation, which requires a great deal of practice, but provides a huge boost in resilience when properly executed. ‘The Resilience Factor’ by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte is a very good book for explaining how this can be achieved.
Maintaining social connections and cultivating relationships with others can be one of the best ways of improving resilience. Talking things over with a friend or family member can really help put some clarity on a situation and can be a positive reminder that there are people looking out for and supporting you. It’s also important to know when to ask for help. I have been guilty in the past of trying to do everything by myself, as though I have something to prove, but asking for help isn’t a failure, it can actually be the reason that you succeed.
Resilience can be complex and being resilient in one area of life does not automatically mean that you are resilient in all areas. I am constantly reminding myself to stay self-compassionate and not to push myself too far. I have come to realise that only through constant practice can I stay resilient through the challenges of everyday life. I have come to recognise that resilience is a lifestyle choice and like all lifestyle choices it only works if you keep at it, keep practicing, maintain your support groups and, most importantly, allow yourself the space to fail once in a while.
Keye, M. D., & Pidgeon, A. M. (2013). Investigation of the relationship between resilience, mindfulness, and academic self-efficacy. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 1(06), 1.
Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American psychologist, 56(3), 227.
Neff, Kristin D. “The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion.” Self and identity 2.3 (2003): 223-250.
Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The resilience factor: 7 essential skills for overcoming life’s inevitable obstacles. Broadway Books.
About the Author: Katherine Halliday lives in Dundee in Scotland and works in student support at the University of St Andrews. Katherine is currently undertaking the MAPP course at Bucks New University and is loving every minute of it.