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Six mental skills to boost resilience.


Illustration by Bridget Daulby

Your resilience partly comes from fixed or slow-changing features, like a strong social support network and being well-off, physically healthy and not predisposed to mental health challenges like depression.

People with these advantages have an easier time accessing resources (like mentors or therapy) and doing activities (like exercising) that support resilience.

But no matter what your situation is, you can learn skills to boost your capacity to cope with challenges. Here are a few to get you started.

1. Creative problem-solving

There are two types of coping – coping with problems and coping with the emotions that problems create.

The more you generate inventive solutions and workarounds to cope with the problem itself, the less you’ll need to cope with the stress emanating from problems.

Creative problem-solving involves learning to see problems from new angles and using analogies to see solutions.

Think about your problem from at least two angles, then think of analogies. How have others solved similar problems, or how have you in the past?

2. Manage rumination

Rumination is when you overthink, like when you mentally replay an event.

You need to notice quickly when you’re ruminating and interrupt it.

The simplest way to do that is an absorbing activity that will engage your concentration. For example, following a YouTube tutorial on how to solve a Rubik’s cube or do origami.

3. Compassionate self-talk

The other effective antidote to rumination is compassionate self-talk.

Remind yourself you’re not alone in the emotions you’re having and talk to yourself kindly, whilst still taking the most effective action you can manage.

For example, if you failed a test, remind yourself that everyone has times they’re disappointed with their performance.

It’s understandable and common to feel regret, embarrassment, or anxiety.

When you treat yourself with kindness first, you’ll come up with better plans to move forward.

4. Know which emotions you’re feeling

You’ll be better at compassionate self-talk, soothing yourself and asking for help if you know what you’re feeling.

Research has shown that even just acknowledging your specific emotions will diffuse and soften them.

5. The courage to be vulnerable 

When US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson failed a drug test and lost her chance to compete at the Olympics, she tweeted “I am human”.

This was an incredibly emotionally intelligent response.

The tweet conveyed that she accepted what she’d done and the consequences – and everyone who read it probably thought about opportunities they’d stuffed up.

Your skill at being vulnerable will determine how others respond to your struggles.

Stress and failure can disrupt our support structures, but you can react in ways that elicit empathy from others.

6. The capacity to derive meaning from struggles

Grow through what you go through.

Stress, failure and grief are tough but can help you develop.

You might gain empathy, learn about your strengths or diversify your coping skills and support network.

If you can see this, you’ll recover quicker and stronger.

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