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What is resilience and how do you develop it?

Lounge talks to therapists about what resilience means and how one can inculcate it as a life skill

Resilience is a life skill that can be cultivated
Resilience is a life skill that can be cultivated (Unsplash)

Resilience has become the buzzword in the face of Covid-19. We’ve all heard people talk about how everyone has become resilient in the face of pay cuts, layoffs and physical distress and emotional upheavals. Resilience in terms of mental health implies cognitive resilience and involves three important components, namely, adaptation, collaboration and contemplation. The goal is to manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable. What the three components mean are: 

  • Adaptation: To live the axiom that change is the only constant and to be non-demanding of absolute certainty, absolute control and absolute comfort. It also means keeping things in perspective without catastrophically evaluating situations, and having a well developed psychological muscle of discomfort tolerance.
  • Collaboration: Staying connected with your humane side and being willing to extend and stretch yourself for cooperative living and service to society.
  • Contemplation: Creating ‘meaning’ in life and having a well-developed relationship with reality which could manifest in meditation, prayer, sitting still and quietly or having time for reflection.

Being resilient doesn’t mean that a person won’t experience difficulty or distress. The road to being resilient is likely to involve considerable emotional distress as it involves not only overcoming adversity but also learning how to deal with it more effectively in the future.  Resilience is a dynamic concept and all of us are resilient in varying degrees to be able to combat the day-to-day stressors of life.  

Also read: How Wodehouse inspired me to lose weight

There are many variables that influence one’s capacity for resilience, including the severity of direct stress that they experience, previous history of trauma in their lives which make them more vulnerable and the presence or absence of resilient role models around them. However, resilience is a life skill that one learns and develops through constant practice, training and therapy. 

Six well-known therapists share tips on how one can build resilience in their day-to-day life in the face of adversities: 

Dr Minnu Bhonsle Ph.D.

Consulting Psychotherapist, Counselling Educator & Relationship Counsellor

Dr Bhonsle believes that our culture of instant gratification has become a roadblock for building resilience these days, “There is a low threshold for tolerating discomfort or frustrations in day-to-day life and hence, in turn, there is the unwillingness and inability to deny or delay any form of gratification.” According to her, resilience can be built through the following practices: 

  •  Structure the day: Have a routine that is a healthy mix of work, home chores and leisure e.g. reading, music, art, poetry etc.
  • Enhance your playfulness quotient: Surround yourself with laughter, do some fun activities, and flesh out happy memories.
  • Stay fit: Ensure that you have a fitness regime with some form of regular exercise and nutrition that enhances health, as well as sleep hygiene and calming rituals like yoga, meditation, prayer etc.

Have a regular exercise regime
Have a regular exercise regime (Unsplash)

  • Collaborate: Have a collaborative approach for division of roles at home, as well as stretching your humane muscle to serve those in need.
  • Find meaning and purpose: Create meaning and purpose in life and always keep hope alive. Some reading material in this regard would be to go through the book Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl where he recounts his experiences in the concentration camp and shares how hope was kept alive by him and his fellow captives even in the face of death.

Dr Pallav Bonerjee

Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist based in Delhi

Dr Bonerjee shares, “Interdisciplinary studies support the view that both genetics and environment contribute to an individual’s capacity for resilience.” He mentions that there are a lot of professions where one can see resilience in action which include doctors, soldiers and athletes. A few tips for building resilience from him include: 

  • Find positive reinforcement: According to Martin Seligman, the founding father of the Positive Psychology movement, instead of obsessively following and subsequently getting overwhelmed with the bad news around, find time to look out for fun stuff - things that bring cheer and joy to your life.Find ways of increasing positive emotions both within and around you.
  • Be hopeful: Hope is a very important variable in our lives, without which even existence becomes a challenge. Learn to be hopeful for a better future.
  • Restructure & reframe narratives: Sometimes we are too ‘zoomed in’ within a particular life experience which prevents us from a more objective perspective. A little ‘zooming out’ may bring in the desired impact and help us disengage from the event.
  • Share the burden: Resilience does not mean that one has to absorb the shocks of life all alone. Instead, sharing one’s emotional burden with others fosters mutual well-being and allows one to gather strength again to face another day.
  • Seek professional help:  In spite of all attempts at regaining composure, if one continues to find the going tough and overwhelming, then it’s always a good idea to reach out for professional help from clinical psychologists and psychotherapists. Sometimes the presence of clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression might be particularly debilitating and require diagnosis and intervention

Seek therapy if you need it
Seek therapy if you need it (Unsplash)

Tanu Choksi
Associate Fellow and Supervisor in RE- CBT from The Albert Ellis Institute, New York.

Choski believes that being resilient is not a personality trait, but behaviours, thoughts, and actions. “They are things we can learn and develop, but they are also dynamic,” she states. She outlines some practices for becoming resilient: 

  • Identify what you can control: Tough times make it feel like everything that goes wrong is outside our control, and this could lead to feelings of helplessness and lack of belief in oneself. To reduce the anxiety that comes with this, it is important to observe the aspects that might be in your control, and then take action on them. Identifying what you can control is a way of reminding yourself that while many things seem unsolvable, some can be solved.
  • Set goals: Setting goals for the day is a way of establishing purpose in your daily life. Give yourself a sense of purpose by achieving something for the day, or the week.
  • Socialise: It is important to check-in and make the time to talk to your friends and family. This makes it feel less like you are the only person in the world, reminds you of the community you have and the people who are there to support you and each other.

    Meet other people; you will feel better
    Meet other people; you will feel better (Unsplash)

    • Take a reset day/mind vacation: Take a day off. Being resilient does not necessarily mean working your mind till it burns out. It is important, especially during difficult times, to give your mind a break and rest from the crises of the world. That is one way to remind your mind that not all the world’s problems are yours.
    • Mindful journaling/ cognitive restructuring: Many people might journal regularly, but being mindful about it- for example, trying to identify thoughts and situations that trigger you, along with your behaviour as a consequence of that trigger- will give you the structure you need to not only identify how problems affect you but also how to deal with them.

    Kritika Saxena
    Lead Psychological Services, Clinical Psychologist, Sukoon Health 

    Saxena looks at resilience as an inherent attribute or a trait that people possess or a skill that some people build over time. “Of course, there will be problems in everyone’s life but resilience is all about having a solution-focused approach rather than a problem-focused one,” she explains. She gives an example of a day when it rains heavily and one needs to reach work. Her tips for building resilience are as follows: 

    • Find time for self-reflectionBefore you go to bed, take five to ten minutes to go over the day and recall everything that happened. Think about what you can do better the next day. Also, every morning, once you wake up, ask yourself how you want to do things differently that day. How can you make today better than yesterday? Reflection on a day to day basis helps you to self evaluate.
    • Write down your ideas: An idea that occurred to you six hours ago may well be forgotten by the time you thought of implementing it. Make sure that you write down ideas/thoughts that occur to you so that you have something to go back to for reflection.

    Write down your ideas and thoughts
    Write down your ideas and thoughts (Unsplash)

    • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is a way of life that comes only through practice. It is about being more mindful about each movement, action and thought that occurs on a daily basis. It is being more aware of your surroundings, your own body and the present moment. You can go for a mindful walk by walking barefoot. Eat mindfully by feeling the texture of the food and its taste. You need to awaken your senses and be in touch with your environment to practice mindfulness.
    • Be rational: While fear is inherent and all of us are experiencing it in this pandemic, try to rationalize your fears and other negative emotions as much as possible. Staying cooped up at home and not stepping out at all won’t help you emotionally. Try to find safe spaces, sanitize and space out your outings so that you get a breather as well.
    • Go for a walk: Break away from the routine and step out for some time, even if it is for five to ten minutes. You need to awaken your body, break out of the humdrum of life, and see some green.

    Dr Rizwana Nulwala
    Psychotherapist, Counselling Services, based in Mumbai 

    Nulwala urges everyone to look at resilience in a positive light by saying, “We only look at resilience as a skill or a quality that manifests when one is faced with an adversity but at the same time, we need to realize that it empowers us and helps us grow.” She shares the following tips for building resilience: 

    • Build meaningful relationships: Build relationships with people who are empathetic, compassionate and trustworthy. It won’t be helpful to talk to someone who won’t understand you, hence it is better to be part of groups where you feel connected and where you think you belong.
    • Indulge in self-care: Take care of your mind and body, both. Do things that make you feel better, physically and emotionally.

    Practice self-care
    Practice self-care (Unsplash)

    • Focus on what is possible: Human tendency is to focus on what isn’t possible instead of what is possible. This leads to a loop of negative thinking which isn’t helpful at all. Do what you can and don’t magnify your problems.
    • Avoid escapist behaviour: Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol or binge eating and replace those behaviours with healthier coping strategies such as exercising or gymming.
    • Do something altruistic: This helps with finding meaning in life. We spend most of our time doing something for ourselves and our family but involving oneself in a social cause, however small, will boost your morale.

    Pooja Nair
    Consultant Therapist, Mariwala Health Initiative and QACP faculty

    Nair believes that people are aware of resilience these days because there has been an awakening in terms of mental health. “There is a relentless onslaught of crises from environmental and socio-political factors. Our mind prepares us to be resilient as there is a sense of the crises being temporary. But we no longer have a sense of how long we are supposed to power through as it seems endless.” Considering this uncertainty, Nair shares a few handy practices that one can implement to build resilience: 

    • Bite-sized time & tasks: Do only as much as you can manage as an individual. If the entire days’ planning is not possible then keep your tasks limited only to the morning and see how that works out. Break down bigger tasks into smaller ones.
    • Ask for help: A lot of us feel that reaching out for help is a sign of weakness but that is a myth and misconception. Reaching out to others is a great way to gather support, resources and a sense of connection.
    • Practice grounding: Practicing some form of grounding during the day is important. This can be anything that helps you connect with your body. Do that activity with deliberate intent.
    • Be kind to yourself: Tell yourself that feeling sad, unhappy and low is a part of the response to the crises. It does not mean that you are incapable or ill-prepared to deal with it. It actually means that you are dealing with it and it is a legitimate and valid response. Be kind to yourself and don’t think that feeling distressed is a terrible thing, it is quite normal.
    • Leave yourself be: Emotions and feelings will come and go. At times, you need to go with the flow and experience those emotions in order to move on.

    Also read: How to stop eating your emotions





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