By Jeremy Godwin.
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast/article about improving your mental health and wellbeing by Australian author and speaker Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on one specific topic and is full of practical advice for improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing.
This week I’m talking about resilience – what resilience is, how it affects your mental health, and how to build your resilience in order to help you deal with setbacks and challenges. Listen to the podcast now in the Spotify player below or continue reading for the article version.
‘Resilience’ has been a bit of a buzzword for a while now – when I worked in the corporate sector, it was bandied about as though it might be the cure-all for everything! However I often found that when you scratched the surface a bit, a lot of people in that world were aware of the concept of resilience but weren’t clear on what actions they could take every day to build and maintain their own strength and resilience – so that’s what this episode is about; simple things you can do to be more resilient.
Now, a quick word of explanation before I go any further: I’ve mentioned in passing in earlier episodes that I’m currently doing postgraduate studies in the field of Positive Psychology (which is an arm of psychology that looks at what makes us thrive/what makes life worth living) and building resilience is a huge part of that subject and overall positive mental health – so expect me to be talking a lot about these types of topics over the coming months.
Let me first define the term and then we’ll explore it in a bit more detail.
Resilience is your ability to recover quickly from challenges and setbacks. It’s strength and toughness and adaptability all rolled into one concept, and there are many different things we can do to build and maintain a resilient mindset so that you can recover from difficulties or crises quickly. It’s about how quickly you can move on from difficult situations or events without having long-term issues following you.
There’s an article by the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/resilience-training/in-depth/resilience/art-20046311) which defines resilience as “being able to adapt to life’s misfortunes and setbacks” – and the reality is that we just cannot completely avoid bad stuff happening, because life is a mixture of good stuff, average stuff, and shitty stuff. At some point in our lives we will all face hardships: losing our jobs, losing a relationship or friendship, the loss of a loved one, getting sick… the list goes on. We can never avoid the horrible stuff, but we can certainly take control of how we respond when it does happen – which is where resilience comes in.
How well do you adapt to the things that happen to you? Do you let them control you, or do you process them and work through them so you can come out the other side wiser for the experience (even if it was a terrible thing that happened)? There are a few things tied up in the notion of resilience: it’s about how you cope with the normal stresses of life, how you deal with higher levels of stress that can occur from time to time, how you realise your own abilities to create a life that is in line with your wants and needs, how productive you are, how you contribute to your community, and how much you have “realistic optimism” (source: https://schools.au.reachout.com/articles/wellbeing-and-resilience).
The idea of ‘resilience’ is not just internal – yes, a big part of it is your inner strength, but it’s also about the support networks in your life that you can lean on in times of crisis or difficulty (source: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/resilience). When I used to work in employment services and switched over to working with people with disabilities, it was quite confronting to discover just how many clients had little to no support from family or friends. It goes to show the importance of nurturing the relationships that we do have (provided those relationships are mutually supportive; in other words, constructive rather than destructive) as well as challenging ourselves to build and maintain connections with our broader community.
According to the UN (2018), 55% of people live in urban areas and that number is expected to reach 68% within the next thirty years (read the article here) and one of the consequences of this rapid urbanisation is that many of us are far less involved in our communities than ever before. So while we’re talking about the subject of resilience, it’s important to keep in mind that just listening to a podcast or reading an article isn’t going to be the answer to everything – it’s important to focus on both internal and external factors (such as connecting with others) to build greater resilience, and I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
I want to take a moment to share a passage from the introduction of a book by Rick Hanson called Resilient: 12 Tools for Transforming Everyday Experiences into Lasting Happiness – the Kindle version of the book is just $15 AUD (so that works out at less than $10 USD or under £8 GBP, but check your local Amazon for prices), and it’s a brilliant book full of practical stuff you can do to increase your resilience (and you all know how much I love anything that focuses on practice rather than just theory!). The passage is:
“There’s a fundamental idea in psychology and medicine that the path your life takes depends on just three causes: how you manage your challenges, protect your vulnerabilities, and increase your resources. These causes are located in three places: your world, your body, and your mind. When you combine the causes and the places, there are nine ways to make your life better.”Rick Hanson
I’m particularly drawn to that paragraph because it talks about making our lives better, and that’s one of the fundamental underpinning philosophies of Let’s Talk About Mental Health – that you always have the power to make your life better, and in fact it is you and only you who has that control.
A lot of resilience is about the choices that you make and whether or not they are in the best interests of your long-term mental health and wellbeing. It’s not something you just do once and be done with it; it’s something that you consciously do every single day, because if you take your focus off it then you can potentially find yourself slipping into unhealthy habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms. And on that note: let’s talk about coping mechanisms, then we’ll get onto techniques for strengthening your resilience.
First let’s talk about coping strategies that you can employ to deal with day to day challenges – ranging all the way from a crappy day at work to a complete and utter meltdown caused by a monumental stuff-up.
- Relaxation – if you have your entire weekend and every weeknight crammed full of activities, you’re missing out on valuable relaxation time. We tend to think that we have to do “more! more! more!”, when the reality is that sometimes less is more. Take time for yourself and relax.
- Regular time off – and that includes taking your holidays. I can’t believe I even have to say this (because you never had to tell me twice to take my annual leave!), but seriously: your leave is there for a reason, and if you don’t take it you will burn out. You don’t necessarily have to go away – a ‘staycation’ at home can be just as refreshing (if not more so) than a long trip… I mean, I love travel but sometimes when you go away you find that you need a holiday to recover from your holiday, so be mindful about getting plenty of regular time to yourself at home balanced with travel if that’s your thing – but do take regular time off.
- Daily focus on your mental and physical health – exercise, mindfulness practice, gratitude practice, healthy diet, meditation… I mean, even switching off your devices an hour before bed and reading a book is going to be far better for your mental and physical health than just coming home and plonking yourself in front of the television!
- Rest and routine – I’ve mentioned in quite a few past episodes that one of the biggest things for me in terms of getting my mental health back under control was implementing a fairly rigorous routine around rest. I go to bed at a set time each night (and I stick to that time, seven days a week), and I get up at a set time every single day – the same time seven days a week, regardless. It has made a monumental difference in terms of regulating my body, and I don’t have the ‘up and down’ that I used to have; I used to find that if I slept in on Saturday or Sunday, then Monday or Tuesday I’d start getting sluggish and really struggling to deal with the days – I don’t have any of that anymore. So, something just to be mindful of.
- Speaking of healthy diet, make wise choices and focus on moderation. I’m always really conscious of trying not to sound like I’m lecturing here, but I’m going to say this anyway: having a glass of wine or two (or three) every night to unwind can very quickly go from indulgence to habit, and I think we forget that when we consume alcohol we are actually willingly putting poison into our bodies. Look, I’m not saying not to drink – that’s your choice, and I’ve been open about the fact that I chose to stop drinking which has made a massive difference for me – but seriously, if you need a glass of wine to recover from your day, that’s a concern. The same goes for anything that’s not good for you physically or mentally: junk food, drugs, reality television, etc. ‘Moderation’ means restrained and controlled, and it comes down to prioritising what’s more important: having these bursts of excessive behaviour, or having consistent mental health and wellbeing. Because using those types of crutches every day or most days is habitual behaviour, not a moderate behaviour – and it will damage your resilience and your mental health.
- Focus on celebrating achievements and choose to learn from mistakes, rather than dwelling on them – this is something I talked about in Episode 2: Mistakes and last week’s episode (Episode 22: Regrets) and it’s certainly a theme I’ve brought up quite a few times; basically, mistakes are an opportunity to learn. I often remind you that the past is the past and cannot be changed, and you’ll find that choosing every day to adopt a positive mindset will enable you to cope better with issues when they arise because you’ll be more conditioned to thinking positively.
- Process challenges when they happen – don’t let things become bigger than they need to be if you can help it; tackle issues as quickly and as objectively as possible. The sooner you confront what is happening and work through it, the quicker you will find yourself being able to move forward.
- If you’re finding a situation challenging to cope with, break it down into smaller steps and if you need help, ask for help – you don’t have to deal with everything on your own and in fact that’s part of what I talked about earlier; the idea that having strong connections with other people is a big part of helping you to overcome hurdles.
- Put challenges into context by looking at the bigger picture – considering if things will really matter in the long run (e.g. By asking yourself “Will this matter in five years?”) can help to put things into context. Sometimes our minds just love a bit of drama and can blow a small thing out of proportion. If you think that’s not the case, let me ask you this: how many upsetting or challenging events do you remember from five years ago? I would wager that some of the bigger-ticket items will stand out in your mind – those that are more life-changing like losing a job or a loved one passing – but the little day-to-day dramas? Those will most likely have been lost to the sands of time by now because we only tend to hang on to the stuff that’s actually important, and most of the crap we get upset about every day really isn’t important in the long run. And for everything else – the big stuff that sends us into a spiral – we adapt. Life always finds a way to go on. I’m not downplaying any of the times you faced a crisis, because it clearly was a crisis at the time (and I’ve been in that position myself many times), but the reality is that you learned how to adapt and you got through it – and you’ve survived 100% of your worst days, which is a pretty outstanding statistic. Know that whatever happens, you will survive it as well; and, over time, you’ll learn how to go from surviving to thriving.
I think I say “Prevention is better than cure” at least 47 times a week, and with good reason. It’s like with all the panic and hysteria going on at the moment with coronavirus – if you’re healthy then you have much less likelihood of getting sick in the first place (even though it appears that a lot of people think stockpiling toilet paper is the only surefire way to prevent getting sick, but anyway… that’s a topic for another time!). So with that in mind, there are a lot of things you can every day to strengthen your resilience.
One of the big ones I focus on is reflection, and I talked about this in Episode 12 of the podcast. Reflection is the act of looking backwards with serious thought and consideration, and without judgement, to consider what’s working well in your life (so you can do more of it) and what might not be working (so you can either stop it or approach it differently). You can do that many different ways – journalling is a technique that works for some, while for others you might like to do some quiet reflection each evening before you go to sleep and consider the wins and challenges of your day objectively. For more ideas, listen to or read Episode 12.
Another way of being resilient is to understand your strengths and focus on making the most out of them. So, instead of beating yourself up over the things you aren’t so good at you can choose to address those gaps or opportunities over time whilst also leaning in to the idea of doing more of the stuff that you’re good at. One way you can use your strengths to your advantage is through finding creative outlets and hobbies that tap into what you’re good at. If you like working with your hands, join a local organisation that makes toys for disadvantaged kids. If you like to perform, join a local theatre group. Find positive and healthy activities that tap into your strengths, make you feel good about yourself and your abilities, and ideally which help to give back to the world outside of yourself.
Further to that is adopting a positive mindset. How you choose to look at things will go a long way to determining how you react if and when the shit hits the fan. If you’re pessimistic about things then you’re more likely to look for the bad, whilst if you’re optimistic then you’re going to be more inclined to look for the good. I mentioned before the notion of “realistic optimism” and I think that’s a good distinction to make – be optimistic but be realistic in your optimism, because if you’re not grounded in realism (in other words, accepting and responding to things as they are rather than what you wish they were) then you’re creating a whole other set of challenges for yourself because the world is what it is and we need to focus on what is within our direct control. I just purchased Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism and I think that even though I’m naturally pretty optimistic, there’s always room for growth so I’m looking forward to exploring that a bit more (and I’ll probably do an episode on optimism at some point over the next few months, so stay tuned!).
Positivity is a lifestyle choice. It’s making the choice to speak, act and think in positive ways and choosing to do things that have a positive effect on yourself and others – like I say in a lot of episodes, do what you want so long as it does no harm (either to yourself or to others). Part of that is choosing to look for the positives in life and to think positively – what did Henry Ford say, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”? Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re shaping what comes next – so focus on the positive and doing the most with what is within your direct control: your words, your actions, and your feelings.
Speaking of control, focus on building and maintaining healthy relationships where there are clear boundaries and each of you respect one another. Since all you have direct control over is yourself – your words, actions and feelings – a healthy relationship is one where you accept people for who they are. If someone is not doing the same for you, or if you can’t accept someone as they are, then the relationship becomes unhealthy and will begin to cause issues. You are responsible for the relationships in your life because each one is a choice: a choice to engage or disengage, so make healthy choices.
Another thing to focus on is proactively managing stress to reduce the chance of burnout. I talked about stress in Episode 8 and burnout in Episode 18, so take some time to revisit those episodes for an in-depth looking at the what, why and how to of dealing with stress and burnout.
Also, find ways to develop your problem solving skills. If you run into the same challenges time and time again, look for ways to learn different techniques to assess and address problems. There are plenty of resources out there – books, videos, courses, articles, counselling, etc. – and you can always find people to help you or mentor you.
And on that note: if you want to build your resilience, ask for help more often (and also take time to help others). No one person is an expert at everything and one of the great joys of working with other people on challenges and problems is that you discover different ways of looking at things, and identify different solutions that you might never have thought of… so ask for help more often, and be willing to offer your help to those who need it.
And finally, a word for parents: focus on building resilience in your children because they will thank you for it later on. You cannot and should not protect them from the world; instead, teach them to cope with the world and their life as it is and help them to identify coping strategies that work for them so that they are stronger. I know you want to protect them, but you also don’t want them to end up as adults who are unable to function because they’re terrified of their own shadow… so you need to find a balance between ‘protecting’ and ‘empowering’.
If you want to do some further reading on the subject of resilience, grab that book by Rick Hanson that I spoke about earlier (‘Resilient’ – find it on Amazon Australia here) – in it, he explores 12 tools in a lot more detail (covering compassion, mindfulness, learning, grit, gratitude, confidence, calm, motivation, intimacy, courage, aspiration and generosity) and many of these will be familiar to regular listeners/readers because I talk about them a lot – when we’re talking about improving our wellbeing and maintaining good mental health, it’s probably no surprise to hear me say that everything is related. What you say and do, your internal world and external world, the choices you make – all of it contributes in some shape or form to your overall mental health.
When it comes to resilience, what it all boils down to is this: resilience is all about how you cope with challenges and how well you adapt to new situations. Life is constant change and if you take time to focus on building healthy coping strategies and proactively looking at ways to strengthen your resilience, you’ll find that you bounce back from adversity much more effectively – and that is true strength, because being strong isn’t about never falling down but instead getting back up, dusting yourself off, learning what you need to learn, and then putting one foot in front of the other… step by step, day by day.
Summary and three main points to consider
To summarise: resilience isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a choice that you make to look for the positive and to proactively improve your overall mental health and wellbeing by making smart decisions that are in your best interests. Resilience is accepting reality, making your peace with the past, being optimistic about the future, and always choosing to live your life to the absolute fullest today.
To wrap up, here are my three main points for you to consider:
- Resilience is how you get through the challenges that come your way, by drawing on both your inner strength and your support networks
- Resilience is built by choosing every day to proactively adopt coping strategies that are healthy and positive, such as managing stress, reflecting on challenges so you can learn from them instead of being upset by them, and asking for help when you need it
- When you do things that build your resilience further (such as learning new skills and techniques for handling problems, and drawing on your strengths), you will find that your focus becomes more on what is working well rather than what isn’t working well; a positive mindset and a realistically-optimistic outlook on life will serve to build your resilience and increase your ability to effectively deal with stress
As always, I’m going to close out with a quote I’d like to encourage you to reflect on and consider what it means for you. This week’s quote is another one from Henry Ford, and it is:
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.“Henry Ford
So, that’s it for this week! For more content, go to:
- Website: Head over to www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for more information about Let’s Talk About Mental Health and to sign up so that new posts/newsletters will land in your inbox, and you can also find all past episodes on the website (click here to jump to the Episodes page)
- Podcast: You can listen to the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast via your preferred platform (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and others) as well as an audio-only version on the LTAMH YouTube channel
- Social Media: Connect with me on social media – you can find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamhofficial (I post extra content daily) – I also do a daily ‘The Simple Truth Is…’ series on my other Instagram account which is @jeremygodwinofficial
Next week I’ll be talking about panic. I debated for a while over whether or not I was going to discuss the whole hysteria that’s been going on about coronavirus, but it’s clearly having an impact on people individually and collectively so I think it’s important to tackle the subject because it’s not the first time this kind of group panic has happened and it certainly won’t be the last! I’ll be talking about why panic happens (both individually and collectively) and how to handle it for the sake of your mental health and wellbeing. I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning in Australia & New Zealand/Sunday evening in the UK & Ireland/Sunday afternoon in the US & Canada.
On Friday I’ll be sending out the next issue of the Mental Health Talk newsletter, which is a weekly round-up of articles and resources focused on good mental health and wellbeing – sign up at the Subscribe page on the website to have the newsletter land in your inbox every week.
If you’re looking to work with an experienced coach who specialises in mental health and wellbeing, I offer coaching services to clients anywhere in the world via video conference – have a look at the ‘coaching’ section of the website for more information and my rates. Visit: www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/coaching
Have an absolutely fantastic week! Until next time, look after yourself and make a conscious choice to put some positive energy out into the world – because you get back what you give out. Take care and talk to you next time.
PS: If you enjoyed this week’s episode/post, please share it with someone you know because word of mouth is a great way to help other people find Let’s Talk About Mental Health (and take a moment to leave a five-star review on your preferred podcast platform). Thanks!
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