How do you respond when life doesn’t go according to the plans you’ve laid out for yourself? So much in life is beyond our control. People get sick, lose their jobs, loved ones die. The world is an unpredictable and unfair place at times. How is it that some people seem to have a capacity to face life’s difficulties while others become overwhelmed and stuck in overwhelming feelings of loss and pain? One possible factor may be an individual’s level of resilience. Resilience is described as the ability to adapt to stressful situations and is often referred to as the capacity to ‘bounce back.’ It’s possible that we are born with a certain amount of resilience so some people may just be fortunate enough to possess naturally high levels of resilience. But it goes without question that resilience is something that can be learned and developed similar to any other skill – and this is great news for those who experience life as a real uphill battle.
Resilience can be seen even in the earliest stages of life. When a young baby stands for the first time and attempts to walk he/she shows signs of resilience. The baby will certainly fall many times – but resilience means that the baby does not get discouraged and keeps trying until those steps become a reality. Usually watching from the side line is a caring adult who encourages the child’s attempts and this helps to foster resilience and helps the baby to believe in his or her own abilities Okay, so we’re not babies anymore but we will always need the support of our families and friends. Resilience is about finding and using the resources that we need to get us through a tough time. Good relationships are essential to promoting resilience and truly resilient people know that asking for help is not a weakness – it’s a strength.
Surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart. Countless times I have heard people say ‘I just can’t say no when others ask me for help.’ But the truth is these people will say no to themselves and neglect their own needs, so that helping others often comes at the expense of their own mental health. When you take care of yourself first you are much better resourced to be able to help others. There are many things we can do to help increase our own levels of resilience and you can start by becoming your own best friend. Low resilience is often accompanied by low self-worth and we can be our own harshest critic. Next time that internal voice starts becoming critical, just imagine that the voice is speaking to a close friend of yours. I’m pretty sure that if your good friend told you that they had been described as ‘useless’ or ‘a failure’ (or whatever it is your inner critic says) you would dispute this and remind your friend of his/her positive characteristics. Start doing the same for yourself. Be kind to yourself. Do the things that you enjoy – have fun! If you have a hobby, make more time for it because it is a resource that will relax you, make you feel more connected and refreshed. Do something that makes you happy: swimming, dancing, reading, listening to music – whatever works for you… and if you don’t have any hobbies, take up a new one. Try out as many as you can until you find the one that is right for you. Invest in yourself. Mental health and physical health do not exist in isolation – they impact on each other. If you don’t get enough sleep or exercise you mental health is more likely to suffer. Your body looks after you, so look after your body by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
When you want to increase your physical fitness you undertake an exercise regime. In much the same way, if you want to increase your mental health, there are steps you can take to build, develop and promote resilience that require commitment and practice. Just like going to the gym, you might start off great and then lose motivation. When this happens, just notice it and start again without criticising yourself – you’re doing the best you can. You may choose to undertake this new regime alone, or you may seek the support of a counsellor/psychotherapist to help you along you way. Either way, it’s about finding the right way for you and once you make that commitment to yourself you will hopefully soon see changes that enrich your life and help you to cope better when difficulties arise.