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Mental resilience

After what we’ve been through it’s OK to feel differently, and as we enter a ‘new normal’ it is more important than ever to look after our physical and mental wellbeing.

This week, consultant clinical psychologist Dr Mark Skelding, talks about mental resilience.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, is a much used idiom for describing our struggles with adversity; however, few have pondered the resilience of the frying pan. Most modern frying pans have a Teflon coating; frying pans without this coating, have a much shorter lifespan, as they fail to repel the elements thrown at them, which linger and cause damage. Those with a Teflon coating, are able to withstand the heat of the fire and repel our food, leading to a long life.

Resilience is the psychological equivalent of the Teflon coating for the mind, which enables us to let adverse life events slide off us, rather than sticking to us and getting under our skin. All of us face difficulties at some time in our lives; this may be learning a new skill or facing a new situation, dealing with conflicts at work or at home, physical ill heath, experiencing grief or loss and most recently experiencing the emotional, financial and/or practical uncertainty of a global pandemic.

Resilience allows people to thrive in adversity, while those less resilient around them may be struggling. However, it would be wrong to conclude that those with positive mental health must have ‘high’ resilience, while those struggling conversely have ‘low’ resilience. Some people are presented with more challenges than others, through disability, bullying, abuse, unemployment, poverty, lack of education or poor physical health. The relationship between mental health and resilience is cyclical. Good mental health and wellbeing promotes resilience, and resilience allows us to more successfully manage our mental health.

Thankfully there are easy ways in which we can build and reinforce our Teflon coating; the resilience that will enable us to manage tough times ahead.

  • Look after our physical health: with proper nutrition, hydration, ample sleep and regular exercise.
  • Set aside time for relaxation and breathing; or simply relaxing activities.
  • Practice assertiveness: if people make unreasonable requests or demands, we need to be prepared to be transparent and say no.
  • Make time for seeing friends, family and social groups: prioritising connections with empathetic and understanding people, reduces feelings of isolation and provides an opportunity for others to validate our feelings and offer support.
  • Be kind to those around you: it is easy to be judgemental of others, when we don’t know the facts. If we are open to others and express kindness and support, we will notice that we will receive it in return. 
  • Try to find a balance: don’t spend too much of your time involved in a single activity such as work or social media.
  • Be kind to yourself: reward yourself for your achievements, give yourself a change of scenery, resolve conflicts and forgive yourself when you make mistakes. 
  • Build support networks: invest in friends, family and colleagues.
  • Find a purpose: help others, move towards your goals and look for opportunities for self-discovery. Doing so can increase our sense of self-worth and heighten our appreciation for life.
  • If you need it, seek help: the important thing to remember is that we are not alone. While we cannot protect ourselves from all eventualities, we can manage with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.