The ABC of building resilience
Updated: Jul 25
Do you know why tyres are made as they are - with that flexibility? The original tyre was made to "withstand" the surface of the road - it was ripped to shreds. Now tyres (yes need to be maintained, and are certainly not "unbreakable") are made to flex with the various surfaces they meet. That is the same as resilience. It is not about resisting, but about adapting and flexing with whatever comes your way. If you can bend, you are likely to win through, if you are too rigid, you may break.
However, buffering and withstanding the stressors of daily life is not the only benefit of building resilience. When we are faced with adversity, we can often rely on our survival instinct to "kick in". It is when the crisis has passed that the hard work begins. Coping and buffering may help you take less of a beating, but you then need to rebuild...at a time when you are exhausted.
And resilience doesn't stop there because surely living isn't about "getting by"...it's about growing, flourishing, thriving. Do you have enough energy in the tank to push that little bit more?
Resilience is about being able to navigate three dips:
Crisis (unexpected and sudden); Exhaustion (when you need to keep going); and finally the psychological pressures of competition as you grow beyond "normal".
Many people build resilience over time. They learn the tools to pick up after failure, they know who to turn to for support - and that they CAN turn to others for support. But, if you do not have that foundation, it's ok, you too can learn at any point:
Self awareness - an honest assessment of your goals, resources, and your strengths and weaknesses is an essential starting point. Why? Because fundamentally YOU need to do the job. Yes, you may find help, but YOU need to survive, you need to take those steps, you need to keep going.
Try the SWOT analysis to think about your areas of strength and weakness, the opportunities that are open to you, or the threats you might face (such as self-sabotaging tendencies for example). Being aware of possible obstacles or barriers is the first step to overcoming them...if you know what you are coming up against, you are better equipped to deal!
The process of self discovery is ongoing. You will continue to find strengths you never knew you had - and perhaps areas of weakness that you didn't realise were there. Embrace the process along with the opportunity to recalibrate your approaches. Many people find it helpful to keep a journal to write down insights or reflection questions - that way, while the ideas are there, you do not need to devote your valuable time and energy remembering them - after all, life doesn't stop when self-improvement work starts.
Balance body mind and spirit
Our emotions can be affected by the chemical balances in our brain - which is why prescriptions are sometimes offered to manage psychological issues. I am not an advocate of medication, but I am aware that sometimes you need that extra intervention before you are able to better utilise other forms of emotional and mental support such as talking therapies.
Not to be used as a substitute, but in compliment to whatever traditional therapy you are undergoing - or simply as a commitment to regularly building emotional and mental strength (in the same way as you might commit to physical fitness) - we can take advantage of the neuroplasticity of the brain naturally:
- Exercise produces endorphins (natural pain killers) as well as boosts dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter) and serotonin (which regulates our body functions eg appetite and sleep).
- Meditation or deep breathing stimulates GABA which gives us a sense of calm - this in turn has benefits for better dealing with difficult situations.
- Healthy relationships generate oxytocin - feelings of love, warmth and comfort.
(You might even want to try making time for all 3 simultaneously!)
Research has even shown greater improvements for those suffering from depression when they exercised regularly, compared to those taking somatic (drug) therapy alone.
Commitment to 5 areas of wellness: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Appreciation of accomplishment/achievement
Positive psychology talks about "PERMA" as the five key pillars essential to mental and emotional wellness. (And when they talk about wellness, they don't mean just "not suffering", but rather - THRIVING!) Because all 5 areas can contribute, you do not need to focus on all of them all of the time, but the more you can commit to recognising achievements in each, the more likely you will reap the rewards in "happiness". (And, achievements stimulate dopamine, so a positive dopamine feedback loop is beneficial to create...rather than the "ready made" ones given to us eg: the notifications on our phone can stimulate dopamine so we keep checking them - which can waste time; how about instead you recognise when you've achieved a little health goal eg: I drank 4 glasses of water today - and let your commitment to wellness create the achievement loop instead?).
Wellness is not just about "needing to be happy" - but it's about finding fundamental, healthy, long lasting ways to experience a natural, long lasting state of fulfilment.
Although the world is set up with "quick fixes" to generate short term "hits" of faux happiness, by committing to healthy mental and emotional practices we are able to create something much deeper and lasting.
Try the following:
Rather than a quick fix of something to eat - savour whatever food you choose.
Rather than focusing on what you don't have and what you're aiming for - appreciate for a moment, the little wins or achievements you already manifested in your life.
Rather than feeling the lack of good friends - work to BE the friend you want to attract in your life.
Rather than check your phone for notifications from people you don't know - choose instead to call or message one person who means a lot to you and see where that conversation takes you.
Rather than "going through the motions" of your daily routine - see if you can notice one thing that really engages you or is meaningful to you about what you are doing (and if you can't find one, create one!)
Resilience is much more about letting go than holding on - it's not about massive change, but learning little calibrations here and there to make your journey more pleasant - a bit like having road-worthy tyres on your car.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For coaching tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt