Mental resilience is going to be vital in the months ahead in this prolonged pandemic. We are truly in adverse conditions, with some affected much more than others. It is our ability to bounce back which will see us through. The human species has faced adversity in the past through war, plague, ethnic cleansing, financial disasters; and yet we continue to thrive.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
Steve Maraboli: Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Defining Mental Resilience
An individual’s ability to successfully adapt to life tasks in the face of social disadvantage or other highly adverse conditions.
Our brains are wired to thrive; not just survive. There is an innate capacity to overcome the dangers and stresses of existing; otherwise as a species, we would have been extinct a long time ago. We may have been born with the trait of resilience, but it is a state of being and can fluctuate depending on our circumstances at any given time. It is important to know your current level of resilience, so if it starts to drop you can give it extra attention. There are a number of organisations you can call on, including your doctor or Mind, if you need more in-depth help.
Mental resilience is like a battery, which provides the energy we have to bounce back. If the battery runs down too far, it becomes extremely difficult to recharge. When your energy is low, then your decision making deteriorates and you may make poor choices. This can become a vicious circle. You need to give yourself the time and means to refresh, recharge and restore.
Signs of Low Mental Resilience
Do you recognise any of the following traits in yourself? According to Beth Payne, typical signs are:
- Irritability or anger – being more combative or impatient.
- Persistent illness – lower immunity.
- Becoming isolated or clingy – difficult with self-isolation/shielding.
- Mood swings – less control of emotions.
- Overreaction to normal stress – poorer coping mechanisms.
- Easily depressed/crying.
- Poor sleep patterns – lowered energy levels.
- Memory loss – difficulty remembering things.
- Risky behaviour – overindulging in drinking, spending or recklessness.
- Lack of hope – greater sense of despair.
Case Study of Mental Resilience in a Pandemic
At the start of lockdown, a senior executive and his wife, a key worker, were required to work from their home, whilst caring for their toddler. They could not find any local nurseries available, despite having the right to access. All three developed Coronovirus to varying degrees in March with their child becoming critically ill with a temperature of 40 degrees, shortness of breath and being very weak. It was a highly anxious period compounded by little sleep and the likelihood of a visit to A&E at any time. Fortunately, everyone eventually recovered from the virus, but the mental impact continued.
“How were we supposed to cope, we were both working and somehow needing to look after a child at home? I also couldn’t buy milk for my daughter from anywhere! It was overwhelming, there was a huge feeling of anxiety, combining at the same time with struggling to breathe. I just broke into tears in the middle of the street, which I later realised and acknowledged was a panic attack. It felt like I had all these issues weighing me down and causing stress. I couldn’t compartmentalise them because they were all connected.
This was still March and it was clear that no-one really knew what we were dealing with. The lack or misinformation that was being provided frustrated me and made me angry. Children this young, especially with no underlying conditions, were not meant to suffer. I had no control over the situation.
In the next set of weeks, I would wake up and not know what type of mood I would be in: depressed, unmotivated, angry, or moods I still don’t know how to describe. These feelings would spill into work or my home life or both; considering they were now in the same location. I tried dealing with this through a number of varying tactics with differing success including cutting my own hair, exercise, alcohol, cooking. My focus was on not stopping and thinking about the situation we’re in, because when I did I would go through these feelings and emotions again.
I didn’t really share with anyone what I was feeling over those weeks; thinking it would pass, that it was connected to lockdown.”
The situation worsens as pressures at work mount whilst communicating with a virtual team.
“Lockdown was easing and had given me this false hope that you could do stuff, when in reality you couldn’t. I had anxiety about work on Monday, I was stressed about how to entertain my daughter for the day and I wanted to be busy, with no plan on how to actually be busy. I recently read an article about how we put pressure on ourselves as parents to spend quality time with our children and yet not focus on being present. This was certainly the case on this occasion as I had this opportunity to spend the whole day with her and couldn’t think of anything to do.
On top of this, I was really tired! It was then that I finally felt like I broke down. I just couldn’t cope with it; I’d had enough of everything. I just uncontrollably started crying and I couldn’t see a solution to any of these problems. It wasn’t until that point, sitting on my kitchen floor crying, that I realised I was not OK. On reflection now, I was overwhelmed with all these different pressures and expectations I was placing on myself, but at the time I could not explain why I felt like that.
I needed someone to talk to. I called a friend I knew I could turn to, but it turned out I wasn’t in a particularly good state to actually talk and when he asked how I was, I just about managed to say “Not Good!” He said he and his family would come over.
Since then, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on these events, talking them through with different people. When people ask me how I am doing, I have tended to be more honest and to say it has been hard at times and that I have struggled. The number of people who have also then shared similar stories has given me more strength and confidence in the way I have felt and the past week I have felt in a much healthier position than I have done during the whole of lockdown.
I think this has come from realising how important it is to have someone to talk to, to have someone who is willing to listen and to find someone who can share their experiences, similar or not, because knowing that I am not alone in feeling like this has really helped me. But for me the number one thing has been to acknowledge how I feel, and to own it, because once I do that I am able to break it down and work through what is causing me to feel like that. I now feel a lot more in control. When I have ignored or dismissed it, I have usually ended up feeling much worse later on.
I also acknowledge that this is not over yet, and I am anxious about what will happen going forward, that I am very fortunate compared to others at this time, that the easing of lockdown will bring new challenges that we will have to deal with, and that we still don’t have all the answers. However, to finish on a positive note. I am fitter than I have been for a long time, eating healthier (generally speaking!), saving a load of money; and I have spent so much more time with my daughter who would have otherwise been in nursery and my cooking has become a lot more adventurous.”
This brave person shared these experiences with his work colleagues, which was not an easy thing to do. However, it encouraged others to admit they were suffering too and has led to the company developing a mental health policy and offering mental resilience coaching. He made a difference by speaking out.
Learning from this case study:
- Be aware of how you are feeling and analyse the cause.
- Know that it is normal not to be OK all the time.
- Use positive activities to improve your state.
- Try and get the rest you need.
- Avoid unhelpful behaviours.
- Seek the right help – talk about how you are feeling.
- Know that you are not alone.
- You have more mental resilience than you may realise.
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it” Maya Angelou
Actions to Take
Self-care is critical in these difficult times and is not self-indulgence, but self-preservation. If you take notice of how you are and what changes are occurring, then you can take steps to do something about it. Better still is to have a regime that ensures the right energy levels and embraces the four dimensions of mental resilience. These are not separate but interact. You may like to think about how much balance you have in these aspects and where you could make improvements.
What do you need to work on to improve your resilience? What action will you take?
|1. Physical||Fitness and stamina. Healthy nutrition and hydration for energy. Rest and recovery.|
|2. Emotional||Calming and focusing. Impulse control – avoiding addictions. Emotional intelligence. Positive emotion. Realistic optimism.|
|3. Mental||Self-Belief. Outlook and perspective. Thinking traps – avoiding them. Sustained focus – prioritise. Causal analysis -problem solve what is within your control.|
|4. Spiritual||Values and beliefs to know and live by. Empathy for self and others. Reaching out to others. TALK ABOUT IT|