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Resilience and Mental Capacity

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

It's a well-known fact that resilience and mental health are closely connected.

Good resilience helps promote good mental health and poor mental health can affect our resilience. In this article I explore the relationship between the two and look at ways that we, as adults, can boost our resilience to improve our mental well-being.

So, what is resilience?

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress - such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It's more than just financial resilience.

Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Some people equate resilience with mental toughness, but demonstrating resilience includes working through emotional pain and suffering.

People who lack resilience are more likely to feel overwhelmed or helpless and rely on unhealthy coping strategies such as avoiding situations and increased use of drugs and alcohol. In more severe cases, it can manifest itself as OCD and self-harm.

It’s important to note that resilience isn't about putting up with something difficult, being stoic or figuring it out on your own. Being able to reach out for support is also a key part of being resilient.

How do we build resilience in adulthood?

The reality is that many of our building blocks around resilience are created (or not created, as the case maybe) when we are growing up and as adults, we need to work hard to change the way we respond to adversity and stress - however, it is not impossible. Here are just some of the things you can do to build greater resilience;

  • Take control and be proactive - the fear of something is usually greater than the act of actually doing it. This fear is often accompanied by a feeling of a lack of control.

  • Don't ignore your problems – take control and face them head on (scary as it may seem sometimes). Figure out what needs to be done, make a plan, and take action. Although it can take time to recover from a traumatic event, loss or adverse situation know that your situation can improve if you work at it.

  • Build relationships - strong, positive relationships with friends and family and work colleagues can provide you with much needed support and acceptance in both the good and bad times. Think about creating other important connections by volunteering or joining different groups in and around your community.

  • Make every day meaningful - try and do something on a daily basis that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Setting goals can also help you look toward the future with meaning.

  • Learn from experience - a person much wiser than me once said “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up that’s important”. Reflect on how you've coped with difficulties in the past. Think about the skills and strategies that helped – as well as the ones that didn’t. Some people find it useful to write about past experiences to help identify positive and negative behaviour patterns.

  • Take care of yourself - this is often the most difficult of all but also one of the most important. Don’t forget to tend to your own needs and feelings. Find time to participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Include physical activity in your daily routine – half an hours walk at lunch time is all you need. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet.

And, if you can, practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing or prayer. Anything you can do to take some time out for yourself will help you build a greater resilience and ability to recover quickly from difficulties.

And finally,

  • Be hopeful - I remember being told as a child “You can’t change the past but you can influence the future”. By taking control and learning from your mistakes, you can create better outcomes. Remember that and be hopeful (and less fearful) about the future.

One of my favourite scenes from Neil Gaimon’s ‘The Sandman’ is when Morpheus descends to Hell and plays a game whereby they name a creature or concept to destroy the opponent's manifestation. The creature Morpheus is battling against says, “I am anti-life, the Beast of Judgement. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?". To which Morpheus replies, "I am Hope."

Whilst factors that are often linked to a person’s resilience, such as life experiences, genetics or simply luck can’t be engineered, resilience building skills can be learnt and improved on over time.

We all know that tough times, stress and anxiety are inescapable aspects of life but by learning to be more in tune with ourselves and our mental health, we can be better prepared to cope with these and come out the other side intact.

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