We can all learn good habits that make us more resilient, explains Dr Mel Wynne-Jones
Whether we’re suffering from stress, problem overload, or a short- or long-term mental health problem, it can feel like an uphill struggle just to get through the day. But resilience – learning how to manage our response – can help us to cope, regain control, improve our mood, and make us feel more positive.
The Mental Health Foundation calls it thriving not surviving.
What drags us down?
Some of us are naturally optimistic and/or grow up with strong role models and messages such as ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again’. Supportive relationships and learning from experience can also build resilience.
But few of us get through life without setbacks and disappointments, such as bereavement, abuse or bullying as a child or adult, money, work or relationship worries, mental health problems, or pure bad luck.
Understandably, we may become negative thinkers, blame ourselves, believe we are worthless or helpless, or retreat into ourselves, becoming anxious and/or depressed. We may try to pretend all is well, or seem grumpy, ‘difficult’ and unwilling to accept support or encouragement from others.
We may damage relationships with loved ones or colleagues, turn to alcohol or self-harm, or even feel like giving up – all these reactions, and severe low mood, are signs that we need to speak to our GP about professional help.
Becoming more resilient
We can start off by remembering that no one has a perfect life (despite what they post on Facebook or Instagram!), and it’s unrealistic to expect one. Feeling sorry for ourselves may be justified, but thinking ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ or ‘There’s no solution’ won’t help us.
Try monitoring your ‘internal dialogue’ – how you react – and see if you can change it. For instance, if you tend to become distressed or angry, make snap decisions, catastrophise, or blame yourself when anything goes wrong, try to calm yourself down (see box, right) and analyse the situation objectively.
Draw up a list of all the possible explanations/solutions you can think of, even if they seem ridiculous or unworkable, and all their pros and cons. Even if there’s no perfect solution, you’ll know you’ve done as much as you can, and what you could do to make things work or improve.
If this seems difficult, it may be worth asking someone you trust for help with this process, and if your own ‘rules’ and expectations seem to be obstacles, consider modifying them.
But if you still feel overwhelmed or powerless, ask your GP about talking therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which focuses on links between how we feel and react, or visit mentalhealth.org.uk for information on mindfulness, meditation and other ways to feel stronger.
9 Ways to boost resilience
1. Make a list of the positives in your life, such as people you can rely on or have fun with, things you do well or for others.
2. Look for the positive – write down three at the end of each day, and celebrate your successes, however small.
3. When something negative happens, remind yourself it’s only temporary: ‘This, too, shall pass’.
4. Learn from your mistakes (or even better, from other people’s!).
5. Don’t blame yourself for things outside your control, and forgive yourself for those that are within it (to err is human!).
6. Be flexible and open to suggestions – think ‘Yes, and…’, not ‘Yes, but…’.
7. Choose your supporters carefully – trustworthy, sensible, and willing to tell you home truths, but kindly.
8. Look after yourself – eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and spend time doing things you enjoy, without feeling guilty.
9. Distance yourself from people who habitually complain, criticise or stir up trouble.