23 Jan 2020

Career Development

Why it’s important to develop your resilience

Written by Dennis Stanley

Have you ever wondered why some people are able to dust themselves off and get on with it when faced with a situation that would have others on their knees? Why some people are able to come out of periods of extreme adversity stronger and more determined than before? These people all have one quality in common; they are resilient. But, what is resilience? And, why is it important?

What is resilience? And, why is it important?

With the increased discussion around stress and wellbeing, resilience is becoming a bit of a buzzword. It’s something we all inherently have, though some people have much higher levels of it than others.

People with high levels of resilience experience the same physical and emotional responses to stressful, challenging and scary situations as everyone else. It’s not that they necessarily enjoy having to do a presentation sprung on them at short notice, that they thrive off conflict or that they find organisational restructures easier than other people (though of course there are exceptions to every rule, but sometimes it’s just best to avoid those people!).

You see having a high level of resilience means people are able to face their challenges calmly and confidently, adapt quickly to what is happening even when under pressure, consciously react in ways that benefit themselves and improve the situation, and bounce back quickly once the situation is over. As if that wasn’t enough, people with high levels of resilience are also able to use times of adversity as a stepping stone to personal development and growth.

So, for example, instead of snapping angrily at their colleague for piling on the pressure when they are up against a tight deadline, they’re able to control their emotions and react appropriately. They are able to recognise when they are feeling overwhelmed early on so that they can take action that will stop them from reaching breaking point. They’re even able to brush aside not getting the promotion that they really wanted and use the situation to learn from and formulate a plan that will get them where they want to be.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Well you may be happy to hear that our resilience levels aren’t set. Yes, some people naturally have high levels, but thankfully for everyone else, resilience is something that can be learnt and developed.

How can I become more resilient?

Becoming more resilient requires an understanding of what happens when you are faced with challenging or stressful situations

Get to know your stress response: While there are a number of standard things that happen when people react to stressful situations (think churning stomach, increased heart rate, procrastination, avoidance), each person’s individual stress response is unique to them. 

A big part of being resilient is controlling how you respond to stress and in order to control that response it’s key to intervene as soon as it starts. By getting to know your own stress response and learning to identify the very first signs of your reaction, you will be able to intervene before you act impulsively or feel overwhelmed.

Understand and take control of your thoughts: How stressed you get by something – as well as how you react to the situation – is directly linked to what you think. While that statement may sound like I’m stating the obvious, things aren’t as clear cut as they seem.

Our brains aren’t always our closest allies, preferring to present our beliefs and thoughts as facts regardless of how far from the truth they may be. Recognising this and learning how to quash any thoughts that have the potential to worsen the way you feel about what is happening or cause you to react badly enables you to take control and manage your response.

This will also help you to see the situation for what it is and bounce back from it faster. For example you will reduce the chance of blaming yourself for something that was out of your control or dwelling on a perceived wrongdoing that wasn’t in fact one.

Find healthy coping mechanisms: Have you ever got home from a bad day and reached for the takeaway menus? Or, felt so stressed about a project that you have put off starting it (over and over)? We all have our own default ways that we react to stress, which often we will resort to without a conscious thought. Unfortunately these coping mechanisms aren’t always the healthiest nor the most beneficial. They can make us feel worse (hello takeaway!) and can even make the situation worse (hello procrastination!).

Instead you need to replace these subconscious reactions with healthy coping mechanisms. What works for you will be different than what works for other people, but they may include things like doing some exercise, writing in a journal, talking to a friend or taking a few minutes to calm down.

This is obviously a pretty high-level look at how you can develop your resilience, and it’s something I’m sure I’ll write about again soon as it can have such a powerful impact on both your personal and professional life. If you’d like to find out more in the meantime please get in touch.