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A Professional Psychologist's Tips for Building Resilience

Building and maintaining resilience is important in all areas of our lives, from work and home, to managing family relationships and keeping ourselves healthy. Dr Maggi Evans suggests some ideas to boost your resilience.

Emotional resilience isn’t just about the ability to bounce back from difficult situations; it’s also about how you adapt to challenges in the moment and navigate to the best outcome.

When people are more emotionally resilient, they can manage stress better, and are more able to embrace the fun things in life without pressures weighing them down.

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Creating Habits

Implementing any change in life, including building our resilience, revolves around creating new habits. Habits are key to changing our behaviour, but often they are deeply ingrained and difficult to break, especially in midlife.

For example, perhaps your phone makes a noise and you pick it up, getting distracted from whatever else you are currently doing. If you want to change this, try putting your phone in a different room, turning off notifications that you know will distract you, or proving to yourself that you can exercise control by not picking your phone up straight away when it pings.

Doing this a few times will help you find it easier to keep doing it – and you can apply the same logic to other areas of your life.

The best way to form a habit is to make it easy, and slot it into something you already do in your life. Let’s take a look at physical and mental health, and some examples of habits you can introduce to help you feel better and build emotional resilience in midlife:

Physical Health

When evaluating your physical health, ask yourself questions like:

  • How much do you move?
  • How much exercise do you do?
  • How well are you eating, and when do you eat well?
  • Are there particular situations where you eat unhealthily?

Over the past 20 years, I have taught a lot of my patients to do what I do: a five-minute strength workout every morning. I do it while I brew my first coffee of the day!

If you are working from home, keep a dumbbell or kettlebell in your kitchen and every time you make a cup of tea, do five bicep curls on each arm. If you make three cups of tea per day, you will lift the weight 30 times: that’s 200 times in a week, but in the moment, it will feel like nothing.

Five minutes is ideal because if we make it too challenging, we are just setting ourselves up for failure when we have a busy, stressful day. If weights aren’t your thing, try five minutes of yoga or even dancing (it’s almost impossible to feel anxious when dancing for a few minutes to your favourite tunes!).

Emotional Health

The rule of easy, five-minute exercises we can do every day applies to our mental health, too, to work on building that emotional resilience.

You could start by tackling the racing thoughts many of us struggle with first thing in the morning; just putting them down on paper can help them to seem more manageable and help you to identify what’s really on your mind, which could be the key to resolving your worry.

Alternatively, you could try mindful breathing for a minute or two, like my “three, four, five” method – this is where you breathe in for three seconds, hold for four and breathe out for five. By making your out-breath longer than your in-breath, you are activating the relaxation part of your nervous system.

Doing this exercise five times helps you to take a step back from your day, feel calmer and feel more ready for whatever you’re doing next. I often do it before I see a patient or if I feel my workload mounting up. It’s also the kind of thing you can do in between your third and fourth meetings of the day!

Of course, you may find that if work is causing you to feel continually stressed, the job may not be the right fit for you. You can read some of our careers advice to find guidance around continuing to advance your career and grow as a professional as you enter midlife.

Written by Dr Maggi Evans, psychologist, author, talent strategist and coach