Building your resilience

Jul 30, 2020

In these challenging times, it is comforting to know that everyone can develop resilience. Dr Eddie Murphy explains how.

Nobody can be protected from adversity all their lives. In fact, over-protection can result in poor problem solving and later, poor coping skills in the face of adversity. Recently, I planted a Tree of Hope in the People’s Park in Limerick as a symbol of how hope and brighter days will come after the storms pass. Indeed, some people are like trees in that, having survived the most challenging weather conditions and been tested by adversity, they will grow and endure.

In reality, bad things happen. We all have periods of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond has a significant impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but in principle, we can choose our attitude to what happens. It isn’t always easy in practice, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.

What is resilience?

Resilience comes from the Latin word resilio, meaning to jump back. It is increasingly used in everyday language to describe our ability to cope with, and bounce back from, adversity. Some define it as the ability to bend instead of break when under pressure or difficulty, or the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with a challenge. The same skills also make us more open to, and willing to take on, new opportunities. In this way, being resilient is more than just survival; it includes letting go, learning and growing, and finding healthy ways to cope.

It’s not rare

Research shows that resilience isn’t a rare quality found in a few extraordinary people. One expert on the subject, Dr Ann Masten, describes it as ‘ordinary magic’, noting that it comes from our everyday capabilities, relationships and resources. She argues that resilience is dynamic and that we can be naturally resilient in some situations, or at some times in our lives, and not others. Each person and each case is different.

We can all work on our resilience. We can’t always predict or control what life throws at us, but we can build a range of skills to help us respond flexibly, deal with challenges effectively, recover more quickly, and even learn and grow as a result. It can also lower our risk of depression and anxiety and enable us to age successfully. What’s more, the same skills can help us manage the fear of taking on new opportunities and help us develop in other ways too.

Areas of influence

Three areas influence our resilience:

  • our development as a child and  teenager;
  • external factors such as our relationships with others or having a faith; and
  • internal factors, such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour.
Parents and those who work with children can do much to help build the resilience of kids and teenagers. While as adults, we can’t change our childhoods, we can do plenty to develop our resilience within the second and third factors. Indeed, research shows that resilience is developable in adults as well as in children.

Building resilience skills

There is saying, ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’. Science has shown that it has some truth: experiencing some adversity during our lives does increase our resilience by enabling us to learn ways of coping and identify and engage our support network. It also gives us a sense of mastery over past adversities, which helps us to feel able to cope in the future. We have probably all experienced things as stressful initially, but later find that similar activities no longer phase us. It is important to learn that, through such struggles, our coping skills and resources can be taxed but not overwhelmed.

Some psychologists argue that most of us aren’t prepared to face adversity. We, therefore, run the risk of giving up or feeling helpless in the face of difficulty. But by changing the way we think about adversity, we can boost how resilient we are. Based on extensive research, they believe that our capacity for resilience is not fixed or in our genes, nor are there limits to how resilient we can be. I like this, as it allows for hope that we can change.

Resilience and relationships

One of the critical external sources of resilience is our network, such as family, friends, neighbours, and work colleagues. Taking time to nurture our relationships is a vital part of building resilience. Knowing when we need help and asking for it is an integral part of resilience. In this era of mental health awareness, reaching out and offering support is critical.

Members and students can contact CA Support on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, by email at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or online at www.charteredaccountants.ie/ca-support

Dr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author.