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  • Writer's pictureEmma Coyle

Resilience - Rebuilding from Within

“Resilience is the product of agency: knowing that what you do can make a difference” – Bessel Van Der Kolk

What exactly do we mean by ‘resilience?’

Some would say that it is being able to ‘bounce back’ from some kind of adversity. A ‘resilient’ individual is someone who has the ability to cope with life’s setbacks and disappointments and even emerge from them a little stronger than before. A less resilient person may find themselves more easily overcome by traumatic events or failure; whereas a more resilient person can usually find a way to change course, emotionally heal and continue moving towards achieving their goals.

The experience of the past year with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated events has certainly been a test of everyone’s resilience. It is truly awe inspiring to look back at just how well so many have coped in these challenging and often traumatic times.

What determines how resilient someone can be?

Well, many believe that our earliest life experiences and environment play a huge role in resilience building. Certainly there seems to be a tangible link between how resilient someone is and how secure their attachment to their primary caregiver was, an attachment made in the first 12-18 months of a childs’ life.

Those who are more resilient usually have a positive outlook on life and even when things don’t go according to plan, are able to view it as an opportunity for growth and change.

People who have undergone trauma are often highly resilient. However sometimes the trauma can be such that they develop maladaptive coping skills, such as excessive use of alcohol or substance abuse, clearly this negatively impacts them and may reduce their ability to cope with any future challenges.

The good news is that it is possible to learn how to be ‘more’ resilient. A big part of this is learning how to break out of negative thought cycles and catastrophizing, and instead adopt a more optimistic stance when faced with life’s setbacks. Life is unfortunately filled with highs and lows and it is being able to accept that those lows will inevitably come along, that will help to create greater resilience.

So, how do I become more resilient?

Healthy Habits- Adopting healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly, (basically investing in self-care), can certainly help to reduce stress, which may in turn boost resilience. Learn how to practice mindfulness – it teaches you how to be present in the moment; be more flexible; tolerate uncertainty and know yourself better. All of which help to cultivate and build resilience.

Relationship Building- Nurturing close relationships with friends and family can help individuals know that they have the right level of help and emotional support on hand should the situation arise.

Authenticity- Living according to your own values and moral code leads to a higher level of resilience. Learn to love yourself and your freaky ways!

Acceptance – Know that you can’t control everything and sometimes you will fail – you are not infallible, none of us are! However, by focusing on those bits that you can control, you will find you can survive almost anything thrown at you. You become an active participant rather than a passive observer. Learn to be OK with making mistakes and know that one mistake (however big), does not determine the rest of your life’s journey. It’s what you learn from it that counts. How did it make you feel? Why did things go wrong? How can you improve in future?

Healing – Perhaps you are still carrying around some trauma from your early childhood and you have not been properly able to move on. Talking to a professional can really help in reframing and understanding the trauma – for example in accepting that you were not to blame for what happened; helping you to feel empathy for your younger self and recognise how strong you really are.

We’ve all heard this mantra before but it’s worth repeating. If you don’t look after yourself first and take action when exhaustion strikes, you will be no good to anyone. You simply won’t be able to look after anyone else effectively. So focus on YOU – Sleep, Exercise, Nutrition, Mindfulness, Mental Health, Supportive Relationships and Getting Outdoors in Nature. Start by following the ‘ABC’ of Self-Care:

‘A’ is for ‘Awareness’– Check in on your body and emotional state. Take 30 seconds and some deep breaths before entering the room or going online to ask yourself ‘How AM I feeling right now? Do I sense stress anywhere in my body?’ If so, take a deep breath and try to release it. Repeat if necessary

‘B’ is for ‘Balance’ – Look at your division of work life and home life. Accept that you will be most productive when you make time for the 3 R’s (Rest, Relax and Recharge). Put in place reasonable and realistic boundaries around your work and home life. Maintaining balance will also help you manage your stress better

‘C’ is for ‘Connection’ – Build supportive relationships with as many people as you can – whether at work or at home. Make spending time with friends and family a priority. Think of the things you do that bring you joy and make you feel fulfilled and schedule these into your ‘calendar’ so they don’t get pushed to one side. If necessary, use apps or a timer to ensure that you make time for the things that matter to you and the self-care areas mentioned above (e.g. drink more water, go outside for a brisk walk)

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