Resilience - Coping in the eye of the storm

"Being resilient" written over a picture of a woman facing away from the camera, paddling in the sea under a blue sky.

Resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. The ability to be resilient is often a lifelong aim for many people. Looking after yourself and being resilient might be more important in your life now, than ever. Dr Russ Hargreaves is a Counsellor and Clinical Supervisor here at Macmillan. Russ is here to talk you through finding your personal resilience, and what helps him stay resilient.

As I write this blog, we are in the midst of yet another Covid-19 lockdown.  For some, this has been a huge inconvenience. For others, possibly the most worrying time of their lives.  Others still have appeared to breeze through it, taking each new challenge in their stride.  I don’t know which camp you are in, but I dare say you have had your moments over the past year.  I certainly have.

So, what’s different about people in the way they deal with adversity?  I guess resilience is one feature that defines us at unprecedented times such as these.  I once saw a wonderful quote attempting to define resilience:  it’s “the quality that enables us to withstand the tidal surge of suffering we dare to confront.”  And my goodness, are we confronting a tidal surge of suffering today!  Another way to put it is the ability to bounce back during difficult times.

 “I once saw a wonderful quote attempting to define resilience:  it’s “the quality that enables us to withstand the tidal surge of suffering we dare to confront.”

We can see on the news on a daily basis the doctors and nurses whose resilience is being sorely tested.  We will all know relatives and friends whose resilience has bent out of shape over this past year.  You might have found yourself searching for your own resilience, faced with treatment delays and cancelled hospital appointments.

So, what can you do to become more resilient?  Well, some psychologists will tell you we are either born resilient or we’re not.  Researchers have tried to define the characteristics that make people resilient, including a positive attitude to life, a desire to question and having strong, loving relationships with others.  All of these can help.  However, it’s more complicated than this.  Resilience bends and buckles, it is not static, and just because you are less resilient one day does not mean you will not pick yourself up and dust yourself off tomorrow.

“Just because you are less resilient one day does not mean you will not pick yourself up and dust yourself off tomorrow.”

Some of the things I have found useful in building my resilience include:

Aiming for ‘good enough’

I am not perfect and I never will be.  So, I’ve stopped aiming for perfection and instead, set the bar a little lower.  This helps to stop me being quite so hard on myself and cuts me a bit of slack when I’m finding things difficult to cope with.

Mindfulness

 I know it’s a bit of a buzzword, but it really has helped me, especially during the pandemic.  Finding ways to focus on the immediate here-and-now really helps us to worry a bit less about what happened in the past and what may happen in the future.  An easy way to do this is to use all of your 5 senses and concentrating on each one whilst doing a task.  Try it when you’re next making a cup of tea!

Self-compassion

Again, this is a bit on-trend at the moment.  This is about trying to be a little less critical about ourselves and silencing our inner ‘drill sergeant’.  It’s enormously helpful if you try to talk to yourself in the sort of tone you would use when soothing a dear friend.

Admitting when we need help

Many of us are far too proud to ask for help, but I have been astonished by people who have stepped forward when I’ve dared to ask.

Savouring the small things in life

This year has taught me not to yearn quite so hard and instead, to focus on little things like a home-cooked meal or a dog walk.  Perhaps it sounds corny, but it has helped me to bounce back when I’ve felt oppressed by rules and regulations around leaving my home.

Try to be inspired

Consider listening to one of the thousands of podcasts or discussion groups (preferably not about Covid).  Not only does it stretch your mind, it may help you to feel less alone and isolated.

If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with cancer and you have made it to this site, I dare say you have already discovered some of your resilience.  It takes enormous courage to hear the news that you have cancer. The fact that you have made it this far, during one of the most challenging times since the World War II, suggests to me that your shoulders may be slightly broader than you imagined. 

“The fact that we are here is testament to the fact that humans really are resilient, in spite of what life throws our way.”

If I’d have told you last Christmas that we would be shielding ourselves in our houses for months on end, I can’t imagine where you would have told me to go.  The fact that we are here is testament to the fact that humans really are resilient, in spite of what life throws our way.

That said, if you are not feeling particularly resilient, please don’t worry.  You are dealing with the most enormous amount just now and we can’t all expect to carry on regardless.  I can’t tell you how important it is to reach out at times like these.  You simply cannot be expected to cope with everything on your many spinning plates.  Find friends.  Call family.  Speak to a friendly neighbour.  Whatever it takes, try to communicate with others about how you are feeling.  I guarantee you are not the only one.

One of the most consistent features of resilient people is that they often surround themselves with social networks and by doing so, share their burdens with others.  Please use this online community in the same way.  If we can’t see each other in person at the moment, we can at least surround ourselves with dozens of others who understand what we’re dealing with.

The Online Community is here for you, however you’re feeling. Why not reach out in the “Emotional support” forum, or offer some support and kind words to someone on the Online Community today?

Anonymous
  • Fantastic blog. Thank you. I automatically think of myself as resilient, but it is actually just boxing up emotions and pretending they're not there or valid which I don't think is very healthy. I am going to try and do the things you suggest more frequently and see where it gets me. Thank you!