Resilience is at the core of the World Health Organisation’s European policy framework for health and wellbeing. We have been teaching people the skills to be resilient for many years. And we have seen first-hand the benefits of successfully navigating challenge and change can bring to people’s health and wellbeing. The importance of strengthening resilience at an individual and a societal level has been highlighted in the World Health Organisation’s report Now, with the pandemic fully upon us, the tools we need to build and maintain resilience are more important than ever. Here, we go back to basics and ask: ‘What is resilience and why is it important in a pandemic?’
What is resilience?
We often hear the term ‘bouncing back’ in relation to resilience. A useful analogy here is that of resilient metals, which have the capacity to bend under pressure rather than break. And when the pressure is released, they spring back into their original shape. Resilient people have a similar quality. They are able to adapt under pressure and recover quickly after the challenge has passed.
However, bouncing back is not the whole story. Resilience is much more. It involves a complex set of skills and processes that allow us to survive overwhelming demands and challenges. These skills and qualities help us to respond flexibly, to bend but not break under pressure. And in the process, we rediscover old talents or learn new skills to be even stronger than we were before.
The process of resilience is dynamic, strengthening us as we successfully grow through experiences of adversity. We build confidence that having coped once, we can cope again in the future. We become more aware of what helps us pull through and bounce back, and we understand what we need to do when we encounter similar challenges again.
So, the skills and strategies of resilience can not only help us in the moment to manage the immediate threats that we face but also over the longer term, future-proofing us against stress.
Why is resilience so important in a pandemic?
The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened us all. It has given rise to anxieties about our health, our relationships and our livelihoods. It has created uncertainty and necessitated change on a societal as well as an individual level. Developing the skills to survive the challenges the pandemic poses is essential if we are to bounce back, adjust and maintain our health and wellbeing.
Resilient people experience all the same physiological and emotional reactions to stress as the rest of us. But they are able to calm themselves quickly. They think flexibly and problem-solve, finding ways to survive and adapt to the challenges they are facing.
When dealing with the multiple threats linked to the pandemic, we are likely to experience the signs and symptoms of stress – physiological arousal and negative emotions. We may also become increasingly vigilant for signs of threat. This awareness of potential threats is helpful to us when we are in immediate danger.
However, persistent stress can cause us to become hyper vigilant, which is less helpful and can undermine coping. When we are hyper vigilant we tend to over-focus on the negative and perceive threat even when there is none. In turn, the stress response becomes overstimulated, undermining our ability to think clearly and find solutions to the problems we are facing.
By building a set of skills that helps to calm the physiological responses to threat, manage negative emotions and regain the ability to think clearly, we can take a more accurate measure of the situation and work out what action we need to take to get through and survive.
Recovery is an active part of resilience and is about giving ourselves time to rest and recuperate from challenges. The importance of recovery is often underestimated and can be dismissed as something that occurs naturally when a threat or challenge has passed. As such, many of us risk burnout as we push ourselves beyond our capacity.
The analogy of exercising to get fitter is useful here. If we try to train 24/7, rather than becoming fitter, we just exhaust ourselves. Allowing ourselves recovery time away from the gym to take in nourishment, to rest and repair, leads to growth and strength. The same is true for resilience.
People who put effort into recovery bounce back faster and stronger. Taking a recovery break, even just switching activities for 5 minutes helps to revive our ability to focus and concentrate. Putting boundaries around work and home life is also essential for creating time to recover.
Activities such as seeing friends, taking part in hobbies or recreational activities or just taking time in nature and stepping back from the pressures, all allow us to rest and recover.
Resilience is about drawing on skills we didn’t realise we had as well as developing new skills and strategies when faced with challenge and change. In the pandemic world we will all have had to find ways to cope with new challenges and may well have surprised ourselves at what we have been capable of surviving.
Research tells us that people who have successfully navigated some threat or adversity in their lives tend to be more confident and more resilient when facing future challenges. Through understanding our own skills and capabilities we develop self-belief and this confidence helps us to grow and thrive through difficult times.
Recognising and building our skills to deal with the challenges we face through Covid will be key to our survival and recovery. These skills will act as a springboard to our growth and development that will future-proof us against whatever the coming months throws at us. This is why resilience is so important in the current pandemic.
Contact Jo or Felicity to find out more about our training programmes and resilience coaching.