Resilience: why it’s important and how you can build it

10 November 2020

I’m a survivor

I’m not gon’ give up

I’m not gon’ stop

I’m gon work harder”

Sometime in 2001, Destiny’s Child sang these lyrics in their jungle-themed music video for their hit single, Survivor. Despite many of us being petulant pre-teens at the time, we may remember their words as being part of an understanding of how people bounce back in the face of adversity. It was the first time we were introduced to the concept of resilience, even though we may not have realised it.

In 2020, we found ourselves experiencing a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19. Life changed in ways that we never expected. We were riddled with setbacks, hardships, and tragedies that shifted the way we lived in the world. People experienced retrenchment, the loss of loved ones and other challenging life experiences.

Quarantine had people facing family members that they may not have wanted to spend that much time with. Perhaps you found yourself faced with a version of your partner you weren’t expecting. You might have had to endure comments and criticisms from bothersome in-laws or had to manage children that were struggling with being isolated from their friends. You may have had to endure these trials without your vice of choice (“with immediate effect”). Despite these challenges, you found a way to survive.

Resilience is the process of adapting well and advancing despite adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and other significant sources of stress.

Resilience does not necessarily stop you from experiencing distress or difficulty. Resilience allows you to understand that life has its inevitable ups and downs. Life comes with difficult experiences and setbacks that often feel unfair.

Despite this, a person can cultivate the skills to adapt and even advance in the face of adversity. This involves learning and practicing thoughts, behaviours and actions that can build your resilience.

Here are some strategies to build resilience that you can start practicing:

  • Nurture a positive view of yourself: practice self-compassion and kindness. Remember that you are doing the best you can with the skills you currently have at your disposal AND you can learn new skills to help you manage unpleasant situations
  • Make connections: assist others, seek support and accept help from those who care about you. You’re not as alone as you might think.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook: believe that good things will happen in your life even though things are difficult right now. Failure is normal but not a permanent part of life.
  • Take care of YOU: Self-care is crucial to resilience. Maintain a routine, get enough sleep, exercise and accumulate positive emotions by doing things you enjoy
  • Acknowledge your suffering and reframe how you look at it: It is possible that the crisis can be overcome even if it won’t happen when you want it to. Accept what is and what is not in your control. Allow yourself to feel a wide range of emotions and accept that emotional pain is a part of our contract with this thing called Life.
  • Move towards your goals: set realistic goals and celebrate all your accomplishments, even the smallest ones. Every single win matters no matter what.

Being resilient is one thing that can really impact your mental wellbeing in a positive way. It will help you to face challenges and overcome them, allow you to gain understanding from what you have been through, and help you to find constructive ways to deal with challenges in the future.

If you need help with these things, seeing a professional can help you.

Written by:

Loyiso Maqubela, Clinical Psychologist, Akeso Milnerton