Adverse events are painful and debilitating. However, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are still many aspects of your life you can control and indeed grow from. This is where mental resilience comes in. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through these trying times, it also empowers you and will improve your life along the way. Here’s a curated roadmap to help you master mental resilience and emerge stronger than before.
The road to resilience post Covid-19
Let’s be frank, the global pandemic disrupted lives dramatically and no one was immune to the impact. And while we’re not all in the same boat, we are all in the same ocean. Poor health, death, loss, fear, trauma, anxiety, and stress are just some of the real-life themes that have resulted in millions facing mental health challenges. Some were more mentally resilient along the way than others. So what can we learn from this?
What does it mean to be resilient?
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. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth – APA
Attitude, attitude, attitude
The foundation of emotional resilience (and thus emotional intelligence) is largely a matter of your own attitude and belief.
How people think about themselves and their relationships with others and the world forms the base on which emotional management skills are formed. Negative, defeatist attitudes towards one’s self and others make it more difficult to successfully manage your emotions.
Positive, empowering attitudes, on the other hand, make emotional resilience seem like second nature to mentally resilient people.
What can we learn from mentally resilient people?
The 7 Cs of resilience
Mentally resilient people tend to have certain characteristics. They are named the 7 C’s of resilience
The American Academy of Pediatrics summarizes the 7 Cs as follows:
- Competence This is the ability to know how to handle situations effectively. To build competence, individuals develop a set of skills to help them trust their judgments and make responsible choices.
- Confidence Dr. Ginsburg says that true self-confidence is rooted in incompetence. Individuals gain confidence by demonstrating competence in real-life situations.
- Connection Close ties to family, friends, and community provide a sense of security and belonging.
- Character Individuals need a fundamental sense of right and wrong to make responsible choices, contribute to society, and experience self-worth.
- Contribution Ginsburg says that having a sense of purpose is a powerful motivator. Contributing to one’s community reinforces positive reciprocal relationships.
- Coping When people learn to cope with stress effectively, they are better prepared to handle adversity and setbacks.
- Control Developing an understanding of internal control helps individuals act as problem-solvers instead of victims of circumstance. When individuals learn that they can control the outcomes of their decisions, they are more likely to view themselves as capable and confident.
The 7 Cs of resilience illustrate the interplay between personal strengths and outside resources, regardless of age.
How do they make this happen?
There is a good deal of research that confirms people can live out self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, if you expect disaster, that is what you will find, but if you expect to find solutions, you will do so. Here are some of the characteristics of emotionally resilient people that allow them to bounce back regardless of the level of their stress.
What makes you mentally resilient?
1. Have realistic and attainable expectations and goals.
2. Show good judgment and problem-solving skills.
3. Be persistent and determined.
4. Be responsible and thoughtful rather than impulsive.
5. Be effective communicators with good people skills.
6. Learn from past experience so as not to repeat mistakes.
7. Be empathetic toward other people (caring about how others around them are feeling).
8. Have a social conscience, (caring about the welfare of others).
9. Feel good about yourself as a person.
10. Feel like they are in control of their lives.
11. Be optimistic rather than pessimistic.
If this is not you…yet, then rest assured you can get there. Here are some helpful guidelines to help you master your mental resilience.
10 ways to master mental resilience
Firstly, there is no one size fits all. Whilst one technique may be life-changing for the better for some, it may make things more stressful or just feel fruitless for others. The point is to start somewhere and build until you reach your master’s goal. Here are some ideas to help you get there.
1) Create a routine and plan that fits your lifestyle
Without being rigid, set up some form of daily routine that you can lean on most days for a degree of predictability, efficiency, and order amidst the chaos. Make sure you plan realistically. The ability to make and carry out realistic plans will help you play to your strengths and focus on achievable goals.
Consider a quiet early morning routine to give yourself time to plan and prioritise, to exercise/think/meditate/pray/play/journal/ etc. before the demands of others start to encroach on your day.
2) Place value on your time
If you don’t treat your time as valuable, why do you expect others to do the same? Be clear and definite about what you spend your time on. Cut out anything that does not serve you. This could be toxic relationships, work, or habits that create unnecessary stress or provide limited value in your life. Focus on those activities that boost your confidence, your self-worth, and use your time well.
This is not the same as self-indulgence. In the long term, it serves others better for you to take care of your needs. If you are in a state of well-being you are better able to look after others. So ensure you schedule time for yourself. This means switching off from stress and making yourself happy. It could be a fun hobby, exercise, a quiet walk on your own each day, or a regular massage. Whatever it is, schedule it. Make it happen.
By looking after yourself you will also be able to better cope with life’s daily challenges. Coping and problem-solving skills help empower a person who has to work through adversity and overcome hardship.
Self-care may be a popular buzzword, but it’s also a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. That’s because stress is just as 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 like anxiety or depression. Make sure you are getting enough Magnesium, Vitamin B6 and Omega 3s in your diet.
3) Treat your body as your temple
This brings me to the next point. You only have one body in this lifetime and you need to look after it. Treat your body like your temple.
Being physically active on a daily basis will help you build mental resilience. Exercise releases endorphins into your body so you will naturally feel better. It also builds discipline. There are many studies that link exercise to mental and physical resilience.
Sleep is an essential component of wellness and emotional resilience. If you cannot achieve regular good sleep, then seek help. Left unchecked, unhealthy sleep patterns can damage your emotional resilience. Longevity has been written extensively on the subject, and here is one of many good links to click on: Matthew Walker Neuroscientist explains the importance of sleep.
Eating good wholesome food is a no-brainer. We all know we need to cut the junk, avoid processed foods and eat more naturally. From the earth and nature. Lots of vegetables, fruits and fiber, eggs, nuts, white cheese, beans, white meats, and kefir are also good for your gut and mental acuity. Reducing red meat and cutting refined carbs will ensure that you feel and look better. This will go a long way to supporting your mental resilience.
Improve your body, improve your mind
It goes without saying that sugar must be kept to a minimum. Rather substitute sugar (especially corn syrup-based sugar) with healthier alternatives like honey, Stevia, or Xylitol. Some foods are better for promoting resilience than others. Reducing your alcohol intake is also key to managing your mood.
If you are in poor shape physically then you are going to have a poorer self-image. So taking proactive steps to improve your diet will help you master mental resilience.
If you don’t know how to fix your diet, or what supplements to take, seek professional advice. There’s help out there. Get it!
4) Be social
Humans are social by nature, even introverts. Engaging with others is how we process, make sense of our world and move forward from experiences.
Research published in 2015 in the journal Ecology and Society showed that social systems that provide support in times of crisis or trauma support resilience in the individual. Social support can include immediate or extended family, community, friends, and organizations.
Invest time in your positive energy-giving relationships and avoid those that drain or strain you of energy if possible. If your social support space cannot meet the needs adequately right now, then consider professional help such as counseling.
5) Learn to identify your triggers
When we learn to know what triggers us, we can avoid or manage the outcomes better. Ask yourself. What gets me angry? What gets me despondent? What makes my heart race with anxiety?
Learn to recognise and name these feelings so they do not make decisions for you. And try to adopt behaviours that help you respond from a thinking place, rather than an emotional one.
The capacity to manage potentially overwhelming emotions (or seek assistance to work through them) helps people maintain focus when overcoming a challenge.
Avoid negative outlets
It may be tempting to mask your pain with alcohol, drugs, or other substances, but that’s like putting a bandage on a deep wound. Focus instead on giving your body resources to manage stress, rather than seeking to eliminate the feeling of stress altogether
6) Practice daily affirmations
When you fill your empty and perhaps negative spaces with information/things/people that are encouraging and energizing, then you will be more likely to feel encouraged and energized. It seems obvious, but we forget quickly about this simple insight.
As a result of these difficult times, it is common to think such things as “This is not what I bargained for. This is beyond me and who I am. This is beyond the emotional resources that I have. No one else goes through this type of thing. I just want to die!”
Mindful journaling, yoga, and other spiritual practices like prayer and meditation can also help people build connections and restore hope, which can prime them to deal with situations that require resilience. When you journal, meditate or pray, ruminate on positive aspects of your life and recall the things you’re grateful for, even during personal trials.
7) Have a purpose
When we have a purpose, it is easier to carry the burdens of life. No matter who you are or where you live you can find a purpose on this planet. When you understand what your purpose is and you have something to work towards, you will naturally be more resilient.
We all have to challenges and distressing circumstances. On those days when we feel drained and fragile, the only thing to keep us motivated to persevere is to be clear on our “why”. If you have no idea why anything matters to you, these days are likely to be very difficult.
Whether you volunteer with a local homeless shelter or simply support a friend in their own time of need, you’ll feel a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people, and tangibly help others, all of which can empower you to grow in resilience.
8. Embrace healthy thoughts
Keep things in perspective
How you think can play a significant part in how you feel—and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties or assume the world is out to get you and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. For instance, if you feel overwhelmed by a challenge, remind yourself that what happened to you isn’t an indicator of how your future will go and that you’re not helpless. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.
Accept that change is a part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations in your life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
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 visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Along the way, note any subtle ways in which you start to feel better as you deal with difficult situations.
Learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may discover how you can respond effectively to new difficult situations. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences.
When you are able to communicate clearly and effectively, it helps people seek support, mobilize resources, and take action. Hiding your feelings or not engaging with friends or family will just bottle up emotions and create unmanageable triggers.
You cannot build or master mental resilience if you are unable to change your attitude and psychological state. Sometimes we need help to strengthen our resilience foundations. If you are still not able to switch your way of thinking to a better headspace, then you need to seek professional help. This is nothing to be embarrassed about. We all get stuck sometimes, even the most resilient of us.
10. Seek help
There are beneficial effects of psychotherapy, whether it is psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, group, or many other types. Therapy can teach us a lot about how to live and get the most out of our lives, especially when we are at those moments when we feel blocked, depressed, hopeless, and frustrated. Speak to a medical professional or get recommendations from friends or trusted sources on a therapist best for you. Therapy is a really important tool to support your mental resilience goals.
The bottom line
Experts agree that being mentally resilient doesn’t mean that you won’t experience difficulty or distress. 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.
While certain factors might make some individuals more resilient than others, resilience isn’t necessarily a personality trait that only some people possess. Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. It can be likened to building a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality.
Emotional resilience can be learned, acquired, developed and mastered.
The bottom line is that it all begins and ends with you and your ATTITUDE. You’re the only person who can make the decision to build and master mental resilience. It is absolutely achievable and it will change your life forever.
American Academy of Pediatrics. AA Publications: reaching teens https://ebooks.aappublications.org/content/reaching-teens
Mental Help: https://www.mentalhelp.net/emotional-resilience/underlying-attitudes-and-skills/
Ecology and Society: Mental resilience and social support. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol20/iss4/art10/
APA.org explains resilience. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
Main photo credit: Richard Felix, Unsplash.