19 October 2020
Unprecedented. Uncertain. Unknown. Words like these have come to define recent months for many of us. We’re living through difficult times and, to help us get through them, we need to reach for our resilience.
Resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity and bounce back. It’s what you use to get to the other side of hard experiences with your wellbeing intact. Fittingly, the word resilience comes from the Latin verb resilire, meaning to rebound or recoil.
Mental resilience is a huge part of the Army ethos and the Army Cadet Force. It’s a trait we actively build in our cadets and our adult volunteers. Here are some of our key points to help you on your journey to more resilience.
1. Understand why resilience is important
Life throws many challenges our way – job loss, grief, illness, trauma, financial difficulty, relationship struggles etc. All of these are major stressors. Any one can send us on a downward spiral. We begin to feel helpless and negative; we get anxious and sad. We struggle to cope with our emotions and this impacts our decision-making, relationships, work and overall mental state.
Getting stuck in this downward spiral can be hard to avoid. Resilience is what helps us through. When we can manage our emotions, use healthy coping strategies and change our thought patterns, we can move forward in positive ways. Resilient people aren’t immune to emotional distress or the negative effects of life’s traumas. However, they’re better able to cope with and grow from them.
2. Know that you can build resilience
Decades of research has shown that you can become more resilient. Resilience can be developed through intentionally practicing specific behaviours and thoughts. Of course, some people have personality traits that make resilience come more easily. There is a genetic element, as well as the impact of previous life experience. But everyone can improve their resilience if they know how.
3. Reframe your experience
Have you ever found yourself thinking really negatively about a bad experience? Feeling trapped, stuck, upset and sure it will never change. It’s common, and it’s the kind of thinking that hinders resilience.
Psychologists often refer to these thought patterns as thinking traps, where we either ruminate (relive the event over and over) or catastrophise (focus on how terrible it is). Thinking traps give us one narrative of trauma – it’s permanent, set in stone and all-encompassing. This narrative of our experiences makes it very difficult to adapt or bounce back.
A more resilient approach to thinking about traumatic events is interpreting them as temporary, changeable and specific.
From permanent and fixed to temporary and changeable
Permanent and fixed: “This will be this way forever and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Temporary and changeable: “Things can change and I can do something to change them.”
In life, things are changing all the time. Change is a part of life, and when we accept that, it becomes easier to deal with it. This also gives you agency in how you respond and react to challenges long-term. Figure out the things you can’t change and the things you can. Then focus on the latter.
From general to specific
General: “This shows that everything is wrong with my life.”
Specific: “This is one bad situation or one aspect of my life that isn’t going well.”
In difficult times, it can feel like everything is going badly. Positive things can be easy to miss, so we need to make extra efforts to focus on them. Writing a daily or weekly gratitude journal can help. This practice reminds you of what things are going well and helps you to appreciate those.
These changes in how you think about your experiences will have tangible effects on how you handle them. You’ll increase your self-awareness and be more open to the positives in your situation. You’ll be better able to understand, express and regulate your emotions about what’s happening. You’ll improve your self-belief and feel stronger in the face of challenges. In effect, you’ll become more resilient.
It’s trendy for a reason – mindfulness has loads of benefits. Developing mindfulness correlates to reduced anxiety, clearer thinking, better judgment, and improved problem solving. All of these aid in resilience. A mindfulness practice centres on being in the present moment, gaining awareness of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, and considering these without judgment. You can work on your mindfulness at home through meditation, online courses and simply taking quiet moments for yourself each day.
5.Ask for help
Resilience is often thought of as a solo act, but, in reality, getting through hard times requires help. If you’re able to lean on your social support system – friends, family, colleagues, neighbours – you’ll be able to get through things more easily. Bottling up your feelings and hiding the challenges you’re facing will only isolate you and make you feel worse. To grow, you need the kind of support, love and perspective your community can offer.
It’s also important to realise when you need more help than your usual support system can provide. You may be experiencing intensifying anxiety, anger, depression or other extreme emotions and really struggling to cope on an ongoing basis. In these instances, seek out qualified help. Speak to your GP or a mental health professional.
6.Maintain your physical health
Physical health impacts mental resilience, so make sure you’re caring for your body during tough times too.
Stress can make it hard for us to eat properly – binge eating unhealthy foods, skipping meals or always eating in a rush. Try to focus on getting enough good nutrients, drinking lots of water and making time to enjoy your food.
The benefits of physical activity are countless. Sneak in an extra few trips up and down the stairs, do a home workout, play football with the family, or go for a run outside. Your body and your mind will thank you for it.
Insomnia often coincides with challenging periods. Speak to your GP if it’s an ongoing problem, and try to get a good night’s sleep as often as you can.
7. Find a purpose
A sense of purpose can help build resilience by giving us the motivation we need to move on. In challenging times, purpose pushes us forward when we’re getting stuck. Purpose comes in many forms – work, hobbies, faith, cultural traditions, family etc. Volunteering can be a great way to give your life more purpose. If it’s more appropriate for you right now, you can volunteer from home in many ways.
When it’s safe to do so, why not think about helping out at the Army Cadet Force? We’re always looking for adult volunteers. You could be trained as an Officer or work behind the scenes in admin, all while building a community, learning new skills and making a positive impact on others. When the time is right, please get in touch with your nearest detachment to find out more.