Mental resilience: Strategies for when things get tough

Mental resilience: Strategies for when things get tough

Mental resilience: this is a popular buzzword that you may hear during a job interview or see in a job description for the ideal candidate. What does it mean? And why does it matter?

The good news? Mental resilience can be trained and cultivated!

As an emotional intelligence and mindfulness instructor working with many international companies, I see that mental resilience is seen as one of the predictors of an employee’s success when the pressure is on and when the risk of failure is high.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between people who are hindered by the smallest change or obstacle in their way and those who seem to bounce back like a "yoyo” no matter what?

One of the key differences between the first and the latter group lies in their level of mental resilience. Mental resilience can be defined as the ability to recover after a failure and adapt to the conditions of change. The good news is that it is a trait that can be trained and cultivated through your daily choices, your mindset, and your actions.

I learned what mental resilience really means on the day everything changed in my life. I will never forget that day. It started as a normal day in the office. I was trying to get through my email box and I got a call from my mother, calling from my home country, Ukraine. I knew it was an important call.

When I picked up the phone, I heard her trembling voice saying that she could see military planes flying above our home and could hear explosions nearby. This was the day the war started in my home city of Donetsk, which triggered a long chain of changes for my family, who had to pack everything in two bags and leave their hometown, not knowing when they would return.

This was when I learned what it takes to be mentally resilient. So, here are three strategies that helped me and my family to get through the toughest times in our lives:

1. Facing reality

This means that you need to see things the way they are, without dramatizing or creating unnecessary emotional reactions or pain. As a family, we had to examine the situation and soon realised that leaving was the only solution, focusing on the most important thing then - their safety and lives. It was one of the best decisions we made because soon after, Donetsk airport and the central station did not function anymore.

So, mental resilience is about opening up to reality without amplifying or diminishing it - simply seeing it as it is.

2. Learning from (any) experience

One of the key differences between the human and mammal brain is that we can make a choice regarding how we interpret the situation we are in. We can choose to see it as a learning opportunity and find meaning, even in the terrible times of war when nothing makes sense. And do not get me wrong - this is a tough one.

It took my family a few months to find a new home, to feel safe and to be ready to start their lives again. They chose to see these events as a chance to start a new life, to go back to the basics and discover how little is needed to be happy and content.

Reality can either “break” or “make” you and mental resilience is about making every experience an empowering opportunity for learning and becoming stronger.

3. Connecting with others and asking for help

When we go through tough times, it is easy to isolate ourselves and forget that we are not alone in our struggle. We have all heard about the “fight-flight” autopilot reaction, but we have more choices than that. For example, the “tend-and-befriend” response, which means connecting with others, reaching out for help, building a supportive community. Facing the war brought my family even closer together, building stronger bonds.

Finally, mental resilience is about recognising that we all go through similar struggles and sharing our experience with others can make us so much stronger and so much empathetic towards each other.

My family back in Ukraine settled down in safe and peaceful cities and started a new life. It took us five long years to move on, but it made us realise what was truly important. So, my personal definition of mental resilience is something we choose, develop and practice when tough times come.

How do you cope when things get tough? What are your strategies? Let us know in the comments!

Iryna Ivanova


Iryna Ivanova

Iryna Ivanova is a founder and instructor of IBY with focus on the stress release, energy and motivation boost, productivity and performance increase for the corporate world. Iryna comes from...

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