In the news and media, we are hearing about how tough and challenging it is for people right now. The pandemic has changed our working patterns, social life, and family life – it has impacted all areas of our lives. This level of disruption and the uncertainty created by the pandemic is creating new stresses and anxieties for many, and people are looking for ways to deal with this new world that we currently inhabit.
Resilience is often described as our ability to deal with and recover from adversity, challenge, or stress. It incorporates the idea of bouncing back after a stressful time. Yet, it is more than our ability to bounce back; it is our ability to come through adversity, challenge, and stress with minimal physical and psychological impact. Resilience can be a protective factor that allows us to cope better with challenges, such as those we are all facing now.
People often think of resilience as something that is fixed, either you have it and are resilient, or you don’t. Resilience does not work like this; resilience is a resource, and like many natural resources, it can become depleted and even exhausted. The good news is that resilience is like a rechargeable battery; our resilience can be recharged and restored.
Resilience is not a fixed thing; it is a resource that we use daily, and as we use it, we need to remember to allow time to recharge and restore it too.
When we experience challenging times, are feeling stressed, worried, or anxious, we are using our resilience reserves to support us to get through those times or to recover afterwards. At the moment, with the levels of disruption and uncertainty that people are facing as they return to work, schools re-open, and we see new local lockdowns it means that our resilience reserves are more in demand than ever. So, what can we do to build, maintain, restore, and boost our resilience?
Key factors of resilience
Let’s start by looking at some of the key factors of resilience – these apply to both life and work.
Some people are naturally more resilient than others, it is a part of their personality and it is influenced by their personal experience and learning. So, some people naturally seem to be more disposed towards being resilient.
A core component of resilience is having people you can rely upon and are willing to rely upon and ask for help when you need it. Resilient people have strong personal and social relationships.
Organisations have systems, policies, procedures, and support structures to help you. The organisational culture encourages openness and a collegiate, supportive environment.
So, does it matter that three different factors make up resilience?
Research has found that if people have two factors present and strong in their life, for example, personal resilience and social resilience, then they will tend to thrive. They will not only survive adversity and challenge, but they will recover, bounce back, and do well overall. However, suppose an individual only has one level of resilience, and they are over-reliant on that single pillar of resilience. In that case, they tend to struggle and deplete their resilience capacity over time and not cope as well. This can mean it can take much longer to recover.
This is important as many courses and workshops on resilience tend to focus on personal resilience and how to build personal resilience. This is only part of the equation as we need to ensure that we are keeping an eye on all three areas of our resilience and thinking about how we manage them and keep each of them working well.
It is important to remember that each of these three factors is connected and work in one area will often reap benefits in another. In particular, building social and organisational resilience can have direct benefits on personal resilience.
In this article, I am going to focus on personal resilience.
Personal resilience or individual factors are a combination of personality, an individual’s unique experiences, and their environment. Even if some people are more resilient than others due to their personality and their lived experiences, their resilience is still a capacity that can be depleted by stress and challenges. It is important that people identify things that they can do to build and sustain their resilience in the long term.
Building Personal Resilience
Two key things that are known to help reduce stress and help build your personal resilience are:
Good quality sleep and rest are vital for your resilience. It recharges your batteries and restores your energy. It is the single most important thing to try to get right. So, ensure that you have good sleep hygiene – keep mobile devices out of your bedroom and remove distractions. Minimise light, in particular, white and blue light as this can lead to sleep disturbances. Keep your bedroom tidy as this helps create a calm and soothing environment. Ensure your bedroom is not too warm. Some tips for good sleep hygiene can be found here. During the day, while you can’t sleep, it is still important to include down periods when you can relax, enjoy, disconnect from work and take a break. Find times in your day to do something that you enjoy - a chat with a friend, a crossword puzzle, just having five minutes peace and quiet while sitting outside in the sun, and just having a few minutes alone with your thoughts – positive thoughts! Allow yourself to daydream about nice and fun things.
Positive emotional experiences
Having positive emotional experiences is the other key thing that is guaranteed to recharge your batteries. When you are having a tough day, it is important to find time to stop, get away from your work for 5 - 10 minutes, and do something you enjoy. Positive emotional experiences release hormones and neurotransmitters that improve our mood and sense of wellbeing. These hormones are also involved in restoring energy and the process of renewing and repairing the body. Ensuring that you have positive emotional experiences is important. Sometimes it is hard to make time to get out and do new things. Even having 5 – 10 minutes of sitting peacefully and recalling a great day out with friends or family and thinking about how great that felt, will reactivate the original feelings you had and give your resilience a boost. Plan time with friends and family and other fun activities that you enjoy and stick to the plan. Research shows that frequent activities such as mindfulness, positive emotional experiences, and thinking positive thoughts bring about lasting changes in our mindset. So, doing it a little and often each day, will have the most profound effect.
Top tips for building your personal resilience
Reflect and accept
We often believe it is wrong to feel upset, sad or stressed. When you are feeling stressed or upset, be aware of the feeling and accept it is a normal response to something that you perceive to be challenging or stressful. It’s OK to feel these things. Be aware of any negative thoughts or where you criticise yourself for being upset or stressed. Quieten these thoughts by taking slow deep breaths and remembering that it is OK to feel sad or upset. Give yourself permission to have these feelings.
Be aware of and manage your thoughts
Our brains are wired to protect us from potential threats. We are constantly scanning for threats, and we will actively find them. When things happen that cause us stress, we perceive them as threats, and so our thoughts will often stay on the stressful incident and replay it. We will worry about it and talk about it. This can keep the stress alive and present. Our perceptions are designed to keep us safe, but sometimes we can get stuck with stressful thoughts which increase our anxiety and stress. It is important to be aware of our thoughts and try to stop focusing on and worrying about past events or possible future events. When we catch ourselves in a negative thought cycle or worrying about something, we should try to shift our thoughts to something pleasant or fun in the present. A good technique is to bring your attention to your heart and to focus on your heart and imagine your breath flowing in and out through your heart. Breathe a little more slowly and deeply than usual. This technique focuses you in the here and now and the breathing helps to calm and soothe. If you systematically catch negative thoughts and switch to being in the present or focusing on renewing emotions, it will significantly reduce the impact of stressful events in your life.
Make connections and invest in friendships
Research repeatedly shows that resilient people are connected, with strong personal, social, and professional networks. They actively invest in these and maintain them. Their connections are with people they can speak to, rely upon for help, and that they feel confident asking for help. When we go through challenging times, we often feel we can’t tell our close friends or our loved ones as we don’t want to burden them. When we most need our friends and families, we tend not to use them. Resilient people can share their worries and stresses and ask for help. They consciously spend time investing in their friendships and relationships - being there for them as well as spending time with them and having fun. This means that they feel comfortable asking for help. This is important on two levels - it builds your personal resilience. So, spending time with friends, enjoying their company, laughing and having fun, or just relaxing and having a calm or peaceful time - these are all positive and renewing emotional experiences and they recharge your resilience capacity. Also, by investing in relationships at home, with friends, and at work, you know you have people to support you and who have your back. It gives you the confidence to continue through adversity - you know that together you are stronger. It builds your social resilience.
Take care of yourself
It is important to take time off from work, to take frequent breaks during the day, and to ensure that you are getting enough sleep. Engage in activities that you find relaxing, fun, and enjoyable - these will fill you with positive and renewing emotions that recharge your batteries. Ensure that you eat well, avoid alcohol, and don't drink too much caffeine. Too much alcohol and caffeine can raise your cortisol levels. Cortisol is your stress hormone. Exercise regularly and maintain good levels of fitness. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or mediation. These have all been shown to be excellent tools that reduce stress and build resilience. Find the approach that works best for you and then develop a routine that you regularly follow - doing things little and often builds your resilience.
Set goals and take action
When working with clients, I have found that it is important for them to focus on something positive, engaging, and motivating. They find this energising, and it initiates their motivation to take action and do something. Meaningful and individual goals are important as they provide a positive focus for the future, while the actions we take to achieve a goal allow us to live and be present in the here and now. Goals without actions are not meaningful. So, being clear about actions and what you are doing now, today is important. It supports us to present, to be mindful of what we are doing, and how it is moving us towards what we want. Another important aspect of setting goals and taking action is that when we complete a step or a series of steps, we get a great sense of satisfaction, achievement, and even appreciation. These are positive and renewing emotions that restore and revitalise us while also providing positive feedback that sustains and builds our motivation to achieve. Goals and actions can create a positive feedback loop that helps us remain positive, focused, and present. Remember, tailor your goals and actions to your situation – if goals and actions feel overwhelming then review them. Break them down into smaller steps that work for you. All big goals have journey goals, the steps you take along the way, and the little things that you do each day. And remember, goals don't have to be all about work, achievement, and transformation – I have a goal to spend more time with friends and have more fun. Each week I plan how I am going to do that. Goals and actions can go across all areas of your life to help ensure that you have the balance that you want. Focus on tailoring your goals and daily actions your situation, and remember to pause, reflect, and appreciate what you achieve each day.
When you've had enough of being busy, doing your actions, keeping pace with life, just pause and breathe. Breathing is an excellent way of just taking a mini-mini-break and resetting your system. Sometimes just recognising that it’s been busy, and you need a little breathing space is a great thing to do. Just taking a breathing space, even if you don’t need one, is a great thing to do as it allows you to reset, reflect, and recharge. There are lots of different breathing techniques out there, but here is one that I like and use daily.
If possible, sit comfortably with your feet flat on the ground and your back in a comfortable upright position, so that you feel stable and supported in your seat. If standing, plant your feet firmly on the ground, your feet shoulder-width apart. This helps you to feel grounded and firm in your stance.
Take three deep comfortable breaths, deeper and slower than usual.
Bring your attention and focus to your heart. Gently sense if you can feel it beating.
Quietly, observe the rising and falling of your chest or stomach as you breathe. Just notice how your chest or stomach rises and falls with your breath and notice any subtle changes in the pace or rhythm of your breathing as you move from breath to breath.
Keep your focus on your heart and now imagine your breath flowing in and out through your heart.
Try to keep your breathing balanced, that is, the same length of time for the in-breath and out-breath. Perhaps, start with a count of five seconds for the in-breath and five seconds for the out-breath. This is optimal for many people, but if this does not feel comfortable, then try breathing a little faster or slower to find a comfortable pace for you. The important thing is to keep your breath balanced - an equal count in and out.
Keep your focus on your heart and imagine your breath flowing in and out through your heart. Breathe in through your heart for a count of five and then out through your heart for a count of five.
Don't worry if your mind wanders or if thoughts and ideas come into your mind. When you find that your mind has wandered, gently bring your attention back to your heart and imagine your breath flowing in and out through your heart.
Try to practice this for around five minutes whenever you want. If you are feeling stress or need a little break, spend five minutes focusing on your heart and breathing in and out for equal counts. Do this as often as you can or want.
An excellent way to try to incorporate breathing time into your day is to identify those transition points in your day. For example, when you get to your desk or work area in the morning, could you spend a few minutes breathing to prepare yourself for the day. When you finish a task or an activity, could you spend one or two minutes in heart-focused breathing then? Or at the end of the day when you finish work, could you spend five minutes doing heart-focused breathing to get some separation from the day and to help you leave work behind as you leave your place of work. Transition times create great natural opportunities to incorporate breathing exercises like this one.
So, think about what you can do to improve your resilience and if you need any help please do get in touch.
Here at the yellowchair we help people find the tools and techniques that will support them to be resilient and to live the life that they want. We want you to live well and work well.
yellowchair provides resilience coaching and training. If you would like to find out more, why not get in touch for a chat. We also run resilience workshops and masterclasses. Keep an eye on the bookings page of the website for courses, workshops, and masterclasses.
Heart-focused breathing is a technique developed by Hearthmath. Jonathan Rennison is a qualified and licensed Heartmath coach and trainer.