“Resilience is more of a process, rather than a particular trait or behaviour,” explains Dr Justine Gatt, a Senior Research Scientist and Group Leader at NeuRA and Senior Lecturer at UNSW who has conducted a study on twins, finding that mental wellbeing is 48 per cent genetic. The rest is due to environment and so can be improved. “We predict that resilience to stress can also be built,” Gatt says. “It’s malleable and so you can learn to build your resources over a lifetime.”
So it may not be the quick fix we like to think it is when we see those bubbly bouncers who seem to take it on the chin every time, but you can put together a tool box that will make it all a bit easier.
PRACTISE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
You know those times when someone has said no or you didn’t get the job you wanted? Well, it may have hurt at the time but look closer at how you felt and the next steps you took – examining those things is all part of the resilience process.
“We don’t always get what we want but the times we get that ‘No’ or we don’t get the answer we want is an opportunity to build our resilience,” explains life coach and author of The Gift of Asking, Kemi Nekvapil. “There’s resilience in allowing yourself to look back and say, ‘Well, actually I’ve had a no before and I’m still standing. So maybe I can take another one.’
Nekvapil suggests that when you’re in a difficult situation, allow yourself to feel it first. “There’s resilience in allowing yourself to go to all your places and knowing that you will come back,” she says. Undertaking that process means there’s possibility of coming back with more clarity or hindsight.
You then make the choices you need to bounce back up. “That’s what being malleable is all about, adapting to your environment,” explains Gatt. “Picking and choosing what is right for you – this includes sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone to learn something new and promote growth.”
THE GOOD MOMENTS COUNT
It’s not the easiest thing to do when you are in the midst of a relationship breakdown but research shows that being positive can help get you out the other side. We’re not talking rose-coloured glasses, more a sense of gratitude. And this process starts in the good times. “I appreciate when things are really, really good. It’s that moment of gratitude: right now, everything’s working. Right now I’m surrounded by great people, my kids are happy and my marriage is thriving,” Nekvapil says. It’s those times when you stop, take a deep breath and say “Wow”, because literally an hour later nothing could be working at all!
So take the time to stop and acknowledge the good things and squirrel those moments away – write them down or share them with a friend. You can then return to those good moments and the good feelings associated with them when the tough times hit. It has been good – it will be good again.
Being in the moment and practising mindfulness is another powerful tool. “The easiest way to remember is the five senses: eat, smell, taste, hear and touch. When you’re out for a meal for instance, you look at the food, smell it, taste it – don’t worry about yesterday and tomorrow but be there at that moment,” Gatt explains.
We all like a happy ending, especially when it comes to our own lives. But ticking all the boxes necessarily happen as we think it should – that’s when we need to take ourselves back to the basics.“I’m a big advocate of self-care,” Nekvapil says. “When change comes, one of the biggest things we can turn to is our self-care, creating a foundation under ourselves.”
In practical terms Nekvapil suggests going for more walks in nature, making yourself another cup of tea, or speaking to your best friend one more time that day. “None of these things are going to be bad in those transition moments of change,” she says.
On another level, this could also mean having a purpose in life – a meaning that’s a foundation you can return to again and again in difficult times and basically reminds you of the big picture.
“It takes a bit of practise to be conscious of these things: what you value; your goals,” Gatt says. But having your own purpose can help guide you in times when you feel lost.
“The main thing to remember is that there’s always a period you need to deal with the stress at hand,” explains Gatt.
“So, if for example someone you love passes away, you need to grieve. You’re not going to be bouncy and happy during that process and the time you need to process your grief varies.
“The important thing is that you use the most optimal coping strategies that you can at the time and that once you have dealt with the issue, you try and achieve higher levels of wellbeing again.”
Just like that bouncing ball – we need to go down and hit the low point to hit those highs.
LET IT GO
We all play the blame game and often it’s ourselves who take the brunt of it, especially when things don’t go as planned. It’s very easy, and a common reaction, to keep on thinking about what you did to cause the dent in your car, ego or bank balance. The experts call it ‘ruminating’, when we repetitively go over a problem, rather a like a hole in your tooth you can’t help running your tongue over or an itch you can’t help keep scratching.
“When you’re dealing with something stressful you need to not ruminate,” Gatt explains. “It doesn’t help the situation.”
Children can be a pretty good example to follow in this instance.
“The thing with children is they forget within five seconds. It’s the adults who struggle with their own memories or experiences of being upset,” Nekvapil says. “Children can be our best teachers in just letting stuff go – I didn’t get the present, oh look, there’s a cupcake! And away they go."
Another way to let go is to look at what you can do for others. “One of my tools is to question how I can be of service to someone else. I take the focus away from me,” Nekvapil says. “It doesn’t work all the time but it’s one of the tools in my tool box.” It could be as simple as helping a neighbour by babysitting or baking a cake for a friend.
TAKE A BREAK
In all that goes on in the world, even the mundane everyday tasks our lives are made up of, we tend to forget to take time out for ourselves. But it’s those moments of respite that help build the stores of energy we need for the stressful times.
Gatt advises that we schedule time for fun. “The thing we forget about is thinking about things we actually like doing and putting them in your diary. It gives you something to look forward to and being present in the moment when you are enjoying what you are doing.”
Gatt actually colour codes her own diary, yellow is for the fun things like hanging out with her daughter sans phone and TV, while red is for the all-important to-do list.
When stress comes into play you can return to your list of fun things and take yourself out of the situation where ruminating won’t achieve anything and do something for yourself.
Ask yourself, “What can I do now to make me feel better?” You’re not going to resolve the issue then and there, but you can make yourself feel better in that moment.