You’re definitely not alone if you’ve had a rough time in isolation. Psychologist Briony Leo shares how to flip the switch and build mental resilience.
With restrictions being gradually lifted, it seems like we are all taking a moment to sit back and take stock. The last two months have seen unprecedented disruption, with people needing to adjust in ways that we could never have anticipated. Some people who had prestigious, high paying jobs are now unemployed or out of business, while others that seemed less fortunate are now in privileged positions.
As we consider the past two months, and start to think about how this has changed us, it is useful to think a bit about resilience. This is a term that has been around for some time, but has gained popularity lately in the education sector, as it is a really useful concept to apply to childhood development. The thinking goes that if we can encourage a child to be adaptable, flexible to change, and able to see things from a variety of perspectives, they will likely be able to weather a lot of the things that life might throw their way.
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So, what does resilience mean?
Resilience in adults looks somewhat similar – it doesn’t mean being happy or positive all the time, but rather being able to get up once life has knocked us around. It might refer to the ability to change our lifestyles to accommodate being locked down for two months, or to find comfort and satisfaction in the small parts of the day that are enjoyable, in amongst the chaos of home schooling and working from home.
You’ll need time to bounce back
When thinking about resilience, it is also good to remember that, the more losses we’ve experienced, the harder it is to be resilient and flexible – so while the advice below will be useful, it is also okay to take some time to process losses or change before trying to bounce back!
With this in mind, here are some tips for increasing resilience in the next few months, and also for the future.
1. Growth Mindset
This is a great concept that fits in well with the ‘psychological flexibility’ idea. When we take a growth mindset, we can look at setbacks and challenges as learning experiences. For example, if I ate an entire packet of Tim Tams on the way home from the supermarket, its probably not useful for me to beat myself up about it – i’m not likely to learn that way (and in fact, have not learned in the past). Taking a growth mindset, I can consider what i’ve learned from the situation (don’t go shopping when hungry, don’t buy Tim Tams because you’ll eat them all) and modify my behaviour next time (eg. have lunch before I go shopping, buy a smaller amount of chocolate or something nice for myself).
Growth mindset will be useful for everyone in the next few months, as we adjust to life returning to a new normal – since there will be change and new things, which can bring stress and adjustment. Being able to shift ourselves from blame and recrimination, to a more generous ‘what might I do differently next time?’ is going to make these adjustments a lot more bearable. A big part of resilience is the ability to recognise that we are in charge of our own happiness and reactions to things – so the more we can make sure we are focusing on learning, rather than blaming, the better we will fare.
2. Radical Acceptance
This is another great tool that helps us to foster resilience. Radical acceptance encourages us to accept reality as it is – whatever life has thrown at us. A lot of the time we can get caught up with wondering, talking, complaining, discussing, why something has happened, or blaming others or ourselves for things that have happened. This is a normal human response – we do need to process things that have happened and have a reason for them.
The issue is that many of us become ‘stuck’ in this and it can obscure what is really important – which is how we deal with something. If we can practice radical acceptance, it means we can put aside all of our wondering ‘why’ and ‘how did this happen to me?’, and instead focus all of our energy on figuring out how to deal with it. Radical acceptance is used a lot in chronic disease management, where people who are living with a disease are encouraged to accept the condition and focus on what they can control – what actions they can take to improve the quality of their lives and make their day to day as rich and fulfiling as possible.
Radical acceptance encourages us to be resilient because it focuses all of our attention on what we can do in a situation – and gives us a clear direction to head in.
Hopefully these tips will help to foster resilience in the next few months – but remember, even just getting up each morning and trying to do things better than the day before is a step in the right direction. It is normal to struggle in uncertain times, and everyone is fighting their own battle – the good thing to remember is that finding ways of looking at things a bit differently, and being kind to yourself, is going to make a big difference in your psychological wellbeing over the coming months.
Briony Leo is a Melbourne psychologist who works with couples, individuals and addictions. She is interested in helping people have good relationships and improve their wellbeing through better understanding of psychology, as well as ongoing behavioural changes.