You’ve probably heard it before – stress is on the rise. Recent research by YouGov has revealed that in the past year alone, 74% of people have felt so stressed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope (1). In fact it’s so widespread that the World Health Organisation dubbed stress ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century’.
There’s no single cause of stress. People have cited to feel stressed because of a demanding job, the pressure to succeed, housing worries, relationship issues, debt or their own or a friend/relative's long-term health condition, to name a few. The truth is, sooner or later we will all experience times or situations that are difficult to deal with, no matter how smart, healthy, savvy or strong we are.
It’s assumed that some people have a built-in, natural ability to deal with life’s curveballs and challenges more than others – resilience being a character trait that you either have or you don’t. Fortunately, that’s not true.
Resilience, in fact, is something we can learn. In other words, we can learn how to remain flexible in thought, behaviour and emotion during difficult times or situations, so that we can bounce back stronger. Reminding ourselves that we’re not defined by what happens to us, but by how we respond to it, is a great way to build our resilience effectively. Whatever happens, whatever curveball we’re being thrown, we always have a choice on how to respond to it.
The problem? That’s a lot easier said than done.
Why is resilience important for mental wellbeing?
This is where a great metaphor, first shared by Professor Patrick Pietroni, comes in. This metaphor describes a surprisingly simple way to raise our resilience:
Pietroni paints the picture of a boat floating along on the waterline of the sea. Under the water, on the sea floor, you’ll find rocks, coral and maybe even shipwrecks. If the waterline is low, the boat will bump into these, but if the waterline is high, it won’t be affected by them.
How does this relate back to resilience? Well, the rocks, coral and shipwrecks represent life’s challenges and difficulties. The waterline represents your general level of wellbeing. If your waterline is low, in other words if you’re depleted, you’re more likely to bump into the rocks, coral and shipwrecks. You’re more easily affected by life’s challenges and difficulties.
If on the other hand your waterline is high, this means you’re well resourced and you may find yourself floating over situations that you would otherwise crash into.
Building personal resilience
So how does our waterline lower, and more importantly, how can we raise it again? That’s a very personal question and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer to it. Everyone’s energy and wellbeing is affected by different things.
Having said that, here are a few examples of things that tend to lower people’s waterline:
• Poor sleep
• Not getting enough exercise or movement
• Drinking too much
• Toxic relationships or arguments
• Being criticised by others
• Comparing yourself with others
• Watching too much TV
Things that tend to raise people’s waterline are:
• Getting enough sleep
• Exercise or moving your body
• Talking with loved ones
• Spending time in nature
• Taking enough me-time
• Making time for a hobby
So ask yourself, “What depletes or drains me?” and “What energises me and helps with my physical and mental wellbeing?”
The crux of this resilience strategy lies in becoming aware of these negative and positive forces. It’s not necessarily about doing less of the things that drain or deplete you, and more of the things that energise you. Rather, you may find that some things that deplete or drain you are outside of your control – there’s not much you can do to stop them from happening. In a situation like that, the real power lies in being aware of the level of your waterline. If it’s being pushed down and getting critically low, choose to do more things that raise your waterline to a level that will allow you to more easily float past those rocks, coral and shipwrecks.
After all, rocks, coral and shipwrecks will always be there, so let’s aim at doing what we can to be less affected or bothered by them.