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Resilience – if it was easy, we’d all do it.

Many of us are returning to work this week after the summer holiday break in the Southern Hemisphere. We are relaxed, refreshed and revived – and our levels of resilience are at an all-time high. This got me thinking about how we maintain that through the year, how we handle stress, not only in the workplace, but in life. And about how we can build up resilience to help us navigate our way through life, or at least through 2018.

The modern world is a stressful place for many people – and the workplace is no exception. The global economy is in constant flux and everyone seems to be going through one life-changing transition after another, be it deaths, breakups, financial loss, or career transitions. The old adage reminds us that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But it can also make you more resilient.

Resilience is essentially emotional elasticity, the ability to manage changes and difficulties. It’s the ability to deal with life’s stresses and not to be derailed by every failure, mistake, or shift in circumstances. Why do we need resilience? Emotional flexibility is a useful skill to have in our rapidly-changing world. Resilient people don’t dwell on failures; they observe the facts of the situation, learn from their errors, and march forward. But do resilient people have things in common? Are there traits or skills we can learn to be more resilient in our lives? Research would say yes.

Resilient people;

  1. Can compartmentalise – they understand that they need to draw a boundary between the cause of the current situation and their overall identity. The stress/trauma may be a part of their life but not their overall story.
  2. Have a strong sense of self – Self-awareness helps know what we need and what we don’t need – as well as the times when we may need to raise our hand for some help. No-one is expected to do everything right all the time – the most resilient among us know how to reach out for help. They know who will serve as a listening ear and, let’s be honest, who won’t!
  3. Deal with and accept stress – Resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of living that ebbs and flows and, as hard as it may be in the moment, it’s better to come to terms with it than to ignore it. Acceptance is not about giving upand letting the stress take over, it’s about understanding that you can deal with it and that this too will pass.
  4. Don’t have to have all the answers – Sometimes when we try too hard to find the answers to difficult questions, we can block the answers from arising naturally. We can find strength in knowing that it’s okay to not have it all figured out right now, and trusting that we will gradually find peace and knowing when we are ready.
  5. Keep good company – Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people because supportive people give us the space to work through our emotions. They know how to listen and when to offer just enough encouragement without trying to solve all our problems with their advice.
  6. Take care of themselves – whether it is a time-out bubble bath, regular exercise, an afternoon off to recharge, having a conversation with a supporter, resilient people know what they need to do to retain their resilience.
  7. Consider the options – Resilient people look at which parts of the story could be changed. This helps maintain a realistic understanding that the present situation is being coloured by our current interpretation and that there are other options to consider.

Developing resilience won’t prevent you from experiencing stress but it can help you learn to deal with situations better. This, in turn, will improve your quality of life. You don’t have a choice about getting ill or getting retrenched from your job. But you do have a choice about how you respond to what happens, and this response will influence how far you fall, how fast you get back on your feet, and what you learn through this trying time. Being resilient means you don’t have to fear the failures, mistakes, and changes that you experience. The confidence that comes from knowing you can manage tough circumstances, makes difficult situations easier to handle, and that can only be a good thing.

Nikki Benfield is the Global Lead: Business Development at VentureWeb (and also, the second oldest person).

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