“Resilience” has emerged as one of the most popular buzzwords since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a catch-all for coping with the turbulence of the past two years. It appears in head lines applauding front-line workers pulling double shifts and presidential speeches rallying people to steel themselves for future crises.
But what does it mean to be truly resilient?
“People need to understand that being resilient means you are experiencing something at a high stress level, and we are not meant to function at such a level for an extended period of time,” Dr. Jessica Jackson, a psychologist and global clinical diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging manager at Modern Healthtells CNBC Make It.
She continues: “When we think about building resilience, we have to acknowledge that resilience doesn’t always mean being hard – resilience can also be rest, it can be vulnerability and processing emotions, so it’s easier to navigate a stressful situation.”
There are a few habits you can adopt to build your mental strength and resilience. Here are four recommendations from Dr. Jackson and psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Boardman.
We’re quick to ask others “How are you?” – but when’s the last time you asked yourself the same question?
It’s easy to block out emotions and operate on autopilot until you’re on the verge of burning out. “Think about a car: You might not notice the oil leaking because it’s always moving, but when it’s parked underneath for a while, and you move it, suddenly you realize there’s a puddle of oil,” Jackson says. “It’s the same thing with our mental health.”
Set a timer for five minutes each morning and take note of how you’re feeling. Dr. Jackson suggests starting with the following questions:
- How do I feel?
- What do I need today?
- How do I want today to go?
Sitting in silence and thinking through these questions can help you process negative emotions and figure out any adjustments you need to make in your schedule to stave off stress, whether it’s going for a run, ordering takeout or a different self-care activity.
Our brains are hard-wired to look for danger, giving weight to negative emotions over positive ones. The antidote for this bad habit is what Boardman calls “micro-moments” of positivity: seeking out the people or things that bring you joy.
“A meaningful connection or an uplifting activity enhances our resilience by acting as a buffer between us and the stress we’ll inevitably encounter in our lives,” she says.
Think about how you can incorporate these moments – calling a friend or listening to your favorite music, for example – into your routine. Boardman suggests reminder settings on your phone for such activities so you don’t let your “well-spring of vitality run dry.”
Social media has been widely linked to anxiety and depression in both adolescents and adults, undermining our well-being and emotional resilience.
While it’s not feasible to quit the internet cold turkey, Boardman recommends evaluating your tech habits to see if there are any pages, or people, you should reduce or eliminate from your consumption.
“Channel [tidying expert] marie condo: If something doesn’t spark joy on some level, if it makes you feel bad, mute it, or limit the time you’re spending on it,” she says, adding that we should aim to spend “less than two hours” online outside of work.
Setting boundaries is a critical skill for becoming resilient as it helps you choose what you allow inside your life.
“Resilience is often confused with independence, like, ‘let me shrink as much as I can to support others,'” Jackson says. “But resilience should be more about prioritizing your needs.”
She continues: “If you have dinner plans with a friend, for example, but you need to stay home and rest, you shouldn’t feel bad about rescheduling – or if you need additional support at work because your brain is scattered, ask a manager or teammate for that.”
Discussing your boundaries might feel intimidating or uncomfortable at first, but gradually sharing your feelings and saying “no” without guilt can mean that you’re not wasting your “finite energy” on things that are bad for your mental health, Jackson says.
“Life feels pretty stressful for most people right now,” she adds. “It’s important to know your threshold, know your boundaries and honor those before you burn out.”