Psychological resilience refers to the ability to manage stressors and “bounce back” from challenging life events. It’s important to understand that resilience is not about being strong all the time and never experiencing stress. Rather, resilience is the ability to be aware that stressors are having a psychological impact, and to consciously engage in activities that help you manage and cope with these stressors.
With a difficult year behind us and uncertainties ahead, finding ways to build your resilience is a great way to start the new year. That’s why CDSPI’s Members’ Assistance Program (MAP) provider, Shepell*, has provided their top ten tips for doing just that.
TIP 1: Maintain a social support network
It’s much easier to be resilient in the face of work and life challenges if you have a solid social support network. Talking about your feelings and having strong connections to your partner, family, friends, and co-workers helps you to more effectively face life’s difficulties. It’s important to make time for your friends and loved ones and it’s vital to stay connected even when you’re under pressure and may not feel like being sociable. As the pandemic has changed how we keep in touch, continue to stay in contact by phone call, text message or email, and virtual get-togethers.
TIP 2: Make time to get outside
As we continue to spend more time at home, it’s important to make sure you’re also taking the time to get outside. Changing up your environment and spending time in nature can help to clear your mind. A long walk can help you to relax, and spending more time outdoors might give you the opportunity to pick up a new hobby.
TIP 3: Help others
Research shows that people who help others—doing volunteer work, mentoring, and other acts of giving—are more resilient than those who do not engage in such an activity. Engaging in such worthwhile activities provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and also boosts your well-being. During the pandemic, consider ways to help others from a distance—by checking in on those who are vulnerable by telephone, or running errands for them.
TIP 4: Keep a boundary between your personal and work life
Pressures and problems can come from both your personal and work life. One key strategy to maintain resilience in the face of pressure is to keep a clear boundary between your work and personal life. You need to have techniques for “switching off” from work so that it doesn’t invade your personal life. There are various methods for this, including listening to calming music on your commute home to help you relax and turn off work-related worries or thoughts. Don’t forget, it’s also important to not let personal problems impact work.
TIP 5: Know your early signs of stress
As stated earlier, being resilient is not about being strong all the time and never feeling stress. Resilience is knowing when you are starting to feel stressed and using techniques to help manage your stress. Some examples may include doing deep breathing, getting exercise, and talking to family and friends about how you are feeling. To help with this, it’s useful to be aware of what your early signs of stress are. Early signs tend to occur in four areas:
- Many people experience physical signs when they are starting to feel stressed. These may include headaches, neck and shoulder pain, or stomach problems.
- Anger, irritability, frustration, and low mood can be emotional signs of stress.
- When under pressure, we tend not to think as effectively and may have trouble concentrating, making decisions or being less productive at work.
- When we are stressed, we may have sleep problems, withdraw from loved ones, or abuse drugs or alcohol.
TIP 6: Get exercise
The healthier you are physically, the easier it is to be resilient to stressors. One key to maintaining your resilience is to be active. Cardiovascular exercises and body stretches are particularly helpful. The key is to do some exercise, little and often, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or playing sports. It is very important to maintain an exercise regime when you are feeling stressed, and if possible, do slightly more exercise than usual to help you cope.
TIP 7: Practice deep breathing
Deep breathing is one of the easiest relaxation techniques to master and it is also one of the most effective in helping you remain calm and resilient. Slow, deep (diaphragmatic) breathing slows down your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and reduces tension in the muscles. Here is the simplest method for practicing deep breathing:
- Sit comfortably in a chair with good posture and both feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes and place your left palm on your stomach and your right palm on your chest.
- Breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the nose without holding your breath at any point.
- Try to expand your stomach as you breathe in and contract your stomach as you breathe out.
- Try to breathe so that only your left palm moves and not your right. Your chest and shoulders should not move as you breathe, only your stomach. You should be relaxed and concentrating on breathing slowly the entire time.
TIP 8: Reduce self-criticism
One habit many people have which reduces their resilience is that they are too critical of themselves. Self-criticism often occurs as a voice in our head (sometimes called an internal monologue). We’re critical of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Often linked to self-criticism is our tendency to be too critical of others as well. Practising self-compassion and being less critical of others and ourselves has been shown to boost resilience, as it tends to reduce negative thoughts.
TIP 9: Get organized
Managing the fast pace of modern life and the multitude of activities and tasks that we have to keep track of both at work and in our personal lives can be stressful. It’s important to have an organizational system that helps you stay on top of things and allows you to feel less overwhelmed. To help you maintain your resilience, your organizational system should include two major elements:
- Keep your to-dos outside of your head.In other words, you should not rely on your memory to trigger when you should do your actions. Write it down or put it in your calendar. The less you rely on your memory, the better.
- Prioritize your tasks.It’s helpful to have a clear distinction between tasks that are urgent, time dependent, and must be performed now (such as taking an important call); and those that are important but can be dealt with later.
TIP 10: Practise resilient thinking
A vital element of resilience is perception: how you perceive and think about the challenges life throws your way. Resilient people tend to be good at keeping stressors in perspective, so they aren’t overwhelmed by them. One way they do this is by focusing on how they can solve or tackle problems. To practise resilient thinking, focus on solutions, not problems and the feelings problems generate. Think of it this way: If you fell into a hole, your thinking should be about how to climb out of the hole, not how you fell into it to begin with or how unlucky you are to be in the hole.
A very useful technique for maintaining resilient thinking is to keep a gratitude journal. Use it to write down the things for which you are grateful for in life. By carrying out this activity, you are training your mind to focus on positive things, which in turn helps build resilience.
In your busy life, it may not be realistic to implement all these tips, but try a few to start and combine two or more tips together, such as practising yoga, which would enable you to get exercise, stretch your body and try deep breathing at the same time.
CDSPI is pleased to offer the Members’ Assistance Program (MAP) to help you cope during stressful times. You can talk to a counsellor for support at any time, or access relevant resources. We invite you to access resources by calling 1.844.578.4040 or visiting workhealthlife.com.
*This information is provided by Shepell, the largest Canadian-based Employee and Family Assistance provider in the country and the provider of CDSPI’s Members’ Assistance Program (MAP). In addition to their health and wellness services, Shepell offers many helpful articles for small business owners at workhealthlife.com. We encourage you to visit the website for more information. Available services vary by region. The use of MAP services is completely confidential within the limits of the law.