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By Fiona Martin 16 October 2020 6 min read

Earlier this year we talked about building resilience. Our mental health and wellbeing specialist, Fiona Martin, provided us with some practical ways to start. But how do we stay resilient when we feel depleted?

She explains the role of resilience and provides some practical tips for building our resilience muscle.

Over to Fiona.

We've been running on adrenalin for a while now, particularly in Victoria, and we are depleted. It's hard for some of us to remember what it feels like to go out for a coffee with mates. We are tired. Many of us have not had a proper break and time out of the workplace to focus on ourselves, our families, or to explore new places.

Mental health experts advocate holistic wellbeing as a way of improving our lives. Good wellbeing helps us stay resilient, build social support and self-efficacy, and helps us cope with adversity. But what exactly is resilience?

Resilience is defined as the capacity to cope with change and continue to evolve in positive ways. It's not always possible to prevent stressful, adverse or uncertain situations and 2020 has most certainly shown us all that. But you can strengthen your capacity to deal with these challenges.

Understanding the role of resilience

As much as resilience involves 'bouncing back' from difficult situations, it can also involve profound personal growth. While adverse events can certainly be painful and difficult, they don't have to determine the outcome of your life.

There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify and grow with. That's the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.

Being resilient doesn't mean you won't experience difficulty or distress in your life, but it may change the way you are able to deal with it. People who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives commonly experience emotional pain and stress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

What makes up resilience?

While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn't necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. On the contrary, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop.

The ability to learn resilience is one reason research has shown that it’s an ordinary not extraordinary trait. A good example of this is how many Australians responded positively to the recent bushfires.

But like building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes proper intention and time. Focusing on four core components can empower you to withstand and learn from difficult and traumatic experiences. The American Psychological Society notes these to be connection, wellness, healthy thinking and meaning.

Build your connections

  • Prioritise relationships. Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you're not alone in the midst of difficulties. The pain of traumatic experiences can lead people to isolate themselves. But it's important to accept help and support from those who care about you – whether that's a family member, a friend or a professional.
  • Join a group. Along with one-on-one relationships, some people find that being active in a book club, faith-based communities or other local organisations provides social support and a sense of community. Or why not join an online group.

Foster wellness

  • Take care of your body. Self-care may seem like a popular buzz word, but it's also a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. That's because the feeling of stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like proper nutrition, ample sleep, hydration and regular exercise can strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of emotions that are associated with conditions like anxiety and depression.
  • Practice mindfulness. Journaling, yoga, and other mindful activities (have you seen our colouring-in sheets?) can help people build connections and restore hope. This helps prime us to deal with situations that require resilience. When you do these things, try to ruminate on the positive aspects of your life and recall things you are grateful for – even during personal trials.
  • Avoid negative outlets. It might be tempting to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs or other substances, but that’s like putting a bandage on a deep wound. And it's only temporary. Instead, focus on giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether.

Find purpose

  • Help others. You can gain a sense of purpose, foster self-worth and connect with other people when you tangibly help others. This can empower you to grow in resilience.
  • Be proactive. It's helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during hard times, but it's also important to help foster self-discovery by asking yourself: what can I do about this problem in my life? If the problems seems too big to tackle, break it down into manageable pieces or enlist help from a professional.
  • Move towards your goals. Develop some realistic goals and do something regularly – even if it seems like a small accomplishment – that helps you move towards the things you want to accomplish. For example, if you are struggling with the loss of a loved one and you want to move forward, you could consider joining a grief support group.

Embrace healthy thoughts

  • Keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant role in how you feel, and how resilient you are when faced with challenges or obstacles in life. If you find that you are experiencing concerns with challenging or difficult thoughts – it would be useful to work alongside a trained professional to try and identify any areas of irrational or unhelpful thinking such as a tendency to catastrophise difficulties. You can develop strategies to adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you may change how you interpret and respond to it.
  • Accept change. Change is part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable as a result of negative situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter. This can be really tough, and you may need help from a professional to support you with this.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook. It's hard to be positive when life isn't going your way. An optimistic outlook empowers you to expect that good things will happen to you. Try visualising what you want rather than worrying about what you fear.

Sometimes we can find ourselves struggling to handle the challenges that come our way, especially when they seem to be never ending or protracted like COVID-19. Small steps towards building your resilience will help.

Available support services

The current situation can be challenging. There is support available:

  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Discuss your concerns with your GP, friends or family.

Beyond Blue recognises and understands the feelings of anxiety, distress and concern many people may be experiencing in relation to self-isolating and coronavirus (COVID-19) and offers a range of wellbeing advice. The Department of Health's Head to Health website provides links to trusted Australian online and phone supports, resources and treatment options.

Keen to share what works for you? Share your tip to build resilience below.

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