We have information to help you build resilience and manage adversity and setbacks. Develop your knowledge and skills around self-kindness, managing stress and managing Vicarious Traumatisation.

What is resilience?

'Resilience can be described as the process of adapting and recovering well from adversity, trauma, tragedy or threats. It could also be described as the ability to bend instead of breaking when experiencing pressure, or the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with challenges' (Webb, 2020).

Dr Lucy Hone, expert on well-being says, 'Resilience isn’t some fixed trait. It’s not elusive, that some people have and some people don’t. It actually requires very ordinary processes, just the willingness to give them a go.'

What makes a person resilient?

A resilient person is self-aware. How do you react to unexpected difficulties? The quizzes below will help you to understand and assess how resilient you are. They provide you with advice and guidance you could use to become more resilient.

Resilience is not just about the ability to bounce back but how you adapt and change depending on the circumstance you are faced with. But it is not about trying to carry on regardless of how we feel – it’s not about being superhuman. Resilience is about understanding how and why we feel the way we do and developing strategies to help us deal with situations more effectively.

People react differently to the same circumstances depending on how they view them and the meaning they attach to the circumstance or situation. We can choose our reactions and our viewpoint.

A resilient person has confidence in their own ability. Unblock negative assumptions by trying to challenge your own thoughts. Re-frame a negative thought and look to see a different point of view.

Catastrophising means focusing on parts rather than the whole. Try to focus on the bigger picture, rather than just the elements that are not going well. The fruit bowl is a good analogy for catastrophising – you don’t throw away a whole bowl of fruit because one banana is rotten.

Self-compassion and self-kindness

What is self compassion?

An informal definition of self-compassion is, 'Treating ourselves with the same kindness and care we’d give a good friend when things are difficult.'

Dr Kristin Neff is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research and one of the world’s leading experts in self-compassion. She describes three elements of self-compassion.

Dr Kristen Neff: three elements of self compassion

  1. Self-kindness: understanding not punishment
  2. Sense of common humanity: everybody goes through this
  3. Mindfulness: neither ignoring or exaggerating failure.

How self-compassionate are you?

Try this 5 minute quiz on Dr Kristen Neff’s website to find out how self-compassionate you are.

Self-kindness vs self-judgment

Self-compassion means being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate in some way. This is instead of ignoring our pain or indulging in self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognise that being imperfect, failing and experiencing life difficulties are inevitable. They tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences, rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When we deny or fight against this reality, our suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When we accept this reality with sympathy and kindness, we experience greater emotional composure.

Being kind to ourselves may involve focusing our energy on ways to alleviate the pain and can involve comforting and caring actions. It can provide a helpful perspective on the difficulty or help you to have the strength and courage to take necessary actions to address the problem.

Common humanity vs isolation

Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if ‘I’ were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however, the very definition of being human means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience. It is something that we all go through rather than something that happens to ‘me’ alone.

The fact that we experience pain is not a fault or failing of ours. We are not to blame for our pain and we’re not alone in our pain.

Mindfulness vs over-identification

Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that we don't suppress or exaggerate our feelings. We can find this balance by relating our personal experiences to those of others who are suffering. This helps put our own situation into a larger pespective. It also helps if we are willing to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness.

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness also requires that we do not 'over-identify' with thoughts and feelings, so that we avoid getting caught up and swept away by negative reactions.

Adapted from Dr Kristen Neff.

Developing self-compassion and self-kindness in daily life

Soothing touch

An easy way to soothe and comfort yourself when you’re feeling bad is to give yourself a gentle hug or caress, or simply put your hand on your heart and feel the warmth of your hand. It is hard but vital to be warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate. It is important to practice self-kindness rather than ignoring our pain or self-criticising.

Kindness to self and others

Simply choosing to infuse your daily life with kindness can make a difference to how you feel. The questions below may help with this:

  • How can I nourish myself today?
  • How can I pause and ask myself what I need to help me through my day?
  • How can I slow down during my busy day?
  • How can I make choices that will nourish me?
  • What practices can I use to nourish me in the moment?
  • How can I be kind to myself?

Kindness is contagious

Witnessing acts of kindness produces positive effects in the brain. It improves people's moods and makes them more likely to pass the act of kindness on. This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people.

Vicarious Traumatisation

Supporting people living with cancer and their families, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, may cause Vicarious Traumatisation (VT). If you have repeated empathic connection with someone who is in pain or distress, the ‘mirror’ neurons in your brain can interpret this distress and simulate the trauma in you.

Some of the signs of VT are:

  • feeling useless at your job or powerless to help others
  • feeling a lack of hope or meaning in what you are doing
  • feeling obsessed by someone you are helping or desperately wanting to avoid them
  • having intrusive thoughts or dreams
  • feeling overly anxious about your own loved ones
  • feeling increasingly disconnected and isolating yourself from others
  • feeling a lack of motivation for everyday life and self-care.

More resources

Recognising and managing stress

What is stress?

The Mental Health Foundation define stress as 'the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.'

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Without the ability to feel stress, humankind wouldn’t have survived.

Cavemen used the onset of stress to alert them to potential danger, such as a sabre-toothed tiger. When you are feeling stressed, the last thing you want to be told is that you are ‘stressed’.

This three minute quiz based on the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), one of the most widely used psychological instruments for measuring the perception of stress, shows you your own stress ‘visualised’. It then helps you create a tailored plan of useful tips and suggestions.

Stress is an inevitable part of life. But you can improve the way you respond to stress even when you can’t avoid or change the situations that cause it.

Often when we are faced with a stressful situation, the emotional impact of stress can flood our brain. This prevents us from making logical decisions on how to react. If we can recognise the first signs of stress in our body and have awareness of things that ‘trigger’ a stress response, we can learn to:

  • initiate our coping mechanisms sooner
  • think calmly and logically
  • take control of the situation.

To do this, it helps to write down the things that trigger a stress response in you.

Tips for reducing stress

The Help Guide on Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes has some useful suggestions on improving your ability to handle stress:

  • get moving
  • connect to others
  • engage your senses
  • learn to relax
  • eat a healthy diet
  • get your rest.

Find out more.

You can also access a useful guidance document on the psychosocial response to stress experienced by hospital staff associated with COVID-19. It has a list of recommendations of things likely to be helpful or unhelpful in supporting staff.

Building your own resilience

It's important to build up your resilience, whether you’re going through a tough time now, or you want to be prepared for the next tough time. Below are some techniques that you can focus on to foster your own resilience. Access Very Well Mind's 10 top tips on their website.

The charity Mind suggest different steps to look after your own well-being. These steps can help with pressure and reduce the impact of stress on your life. They have some ideas about general changes you can make to your lifestyle. These include:

  • Use relaxation techniques: relaxation can help you look after yourself when you’re feeling stressed or anxious and help to build up your resilience levels.
  • Develop your interests and hobbies: finding an activity that’s completely different from the things causing you stress. 
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Increase your physical activity.
  • Eat healthily: it’s tempting to skip meals or eat too much of the wrong kind of food. But what you eat can make a big difference to how you feel. 
  • Learn to be kinder to yourself: learning to be kinder to yourself in general can help you control the amount of pressure you feel in different situations.
  • Forgive yourself: when you feel you have made a mistake or don’t achieve something you hoped for, try to remember that nobody’s perfect and putting extra pressure on yourself doesn’t help.
  • Reward yourself for your achievements: celebrate even the small accomplishments like finishing a piece of work or making a decision. Reward yourself with a walk, do a puzzle, read a book for 10 minutes or simply tell yourself “well done”. 
  • Get a change of scenery.

Changing your routine

A change of routine can help to reduce feelings of stress, monotony and burnout. Watch Richard, a Consultant Oncologist discuss how small changes he makes to his journey to work help him to feel refreshed each day.

Watch A change in routine on Vimeo.