Building mental resilience

Carmen BryceBlog posts

“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists” – Japanese Proverb

So here’s a scenario. Person A and Person B have exams looming. Both study hard and are hopeful about their success. However when results come back, they are not quite what they expected and both have failed. Person A decides to take this as a learning experience, acknowledges their disappointment and continues to study hard for repeats. Person B however, takes the failure much worse. Person B feels disappointed and hopeless. They have given up on trying, convinced that they’ll only fail again.

So what is the difference between person A and person B? Why did person A see this as an opportunity for improvement while person B became disheartened? While the answer isn’t simple, it does have a lot to do with resilience.

Resilience is that quality that some people possess to bounce back from adversity. It is a form of defence mechanism that protects us from hurt or distress (Davydov, Bergeman, Biscont & Walker, 2006).

Resilience is not a permanent state, however. While some people are more innately resilient than others, it can be trained and enhanced in all of us. Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, proposes that resilient people view adversity as temporary, changeable and local e.g. “This is not permanent…I can change this…my problem does not extend to everything in my life”. Seligman suggests that this small tweak to your frame of mind is the first step to becoming more resilient.

Once you’ve mastered Seligman’s approach to resilience, below are a couple of other little things you can do everyday to help yourself remain a strong and build positive outlook on life.

Respond to change

Change can be daunting and insight a certain fear within us, an unsettling of the stomach due to the unknown. We like what we can control, and avoid what we cannot. But change can be good! It is easier to ride the waves than to swim against them, so embrace the change and adjust your routine accordingly.

Engage in self reflection

After a period of change, reflect back on how you handled it. This will allow you to identify the good, the bad and the ugly. Consider keeping a journal of events and documenting your thoughts and feelings surrounding certain events.

Set goals

Setting goals will keep you focused on your long term goal rather than short term problems. They should follow the SMART method, and you should take small but frequent steps towards achieving these goals.

Identify strengths

A self reflection journal will help with this! Identify what it is that you do best, and use this to your advantage. This might involve a skill or a talent, it could be a task you did well that might be useful again in a new situation, or it could simply be a conversation or contact you made which could help you out.

Learn from the past

Mistakes will happen, they’re unavoidable. You don’t have to brush these under the carpet. Acknowledge that they occurred, identify why they occurred, and use this as a learning experience to make changes for the future.

Increase positivity

I hate the phrase “stay positive”. It’s so much easier said than done, and quite frankly it’s just not possible some days! This step is more about maintaining your self confidence and increasing your assertiveness.

Embrace challenges

This step is similar to embracing change. Use challenges as opportunities to grow and learn. If you are experiencing difficulty, speak up! A resilient person acknowledges when they need outside support.

Nurture relationships

Our outlook on life is influenced by the groups we involve ourselves with (Levine, 2003), whether we like it or not. When something goes wrong, immerse yourself in the strength and support of your loved ones.

Charge up your batteries!

Recovering from a setback is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Studies have shown that lack of sleep negatively affects your ability to pay attention, make rational decisions and it can even impair your long-term memory formation (Alhola & Polo-Kantola, 2007). These functions are absolutely vital in recovery from adversity. Try your best to get 8 hours sleep a night and put down the caffeinated drinks.

Enlist outside help

Part of being resilient is acknowledging your boundaries. If you ignore the limits of your abilities, you are placing yourself on rocky ground. Asking for help shows strength and determination. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. Here at MyMind there are over 75 mental health professionals who can help you with this. If you’d like some more information, you can call the main office on 076 680 1060.

By MyMind Intern Sarah Walsh.