In recent times our world and our community has been exposed to increasing uncertainty and change.

Climate induced disasters, the COVID pandemic, political instability and financial insecurity contribute to a real sense of existential angst. This can create feelings of fear, despair and hopelessness, manifesting as chronic stress, anxiety and depression.

In the face of the unknown – the changing demands on our families and work lives – the response I often hear is: “We just need to be more resilient!”

For a lucky few people, a genetic pre-disposition to positivity with dominant personality traits of self-reliance and equanimity, secure attachment in childhood and fulfiling relationships in adulthood, provide an almost perfect recipe for resilience. For the rest of us, resilience is something that requires cultivation.

What is resilience and how do we cultivate it?

Resilience is a mindset of hope and optimism about the future. It relies on our ability to positively adapt to stress, through modifying our behaviour and thinking processes.

People experience hope and optimism about the future in two key areas of the brain; the amygdala – our emotion processing centre, and the anterior cingulate cortex – the brain area associated with thinking about the self, reflecting on the past, and anticipating the future.

Hope is not just about having a sunny disposition, real hope requires three components: goals, agency, and pathways. It’s not enough to want something to happen, you must have a way to achieve it. A sense of agency is about having both important goals and believing that you can take action towards attaining them.

This is a key component of resilience.

Developing a positive outlook – “realistic optimism” – is about the way we view ourselves in relation to the world around us. Reframing a negative situation to see a threat not as an insurmountable problem but as a challenge to be solved, requires cognitive flexibility. Having stronger control over our thought processes mitigates against the other pandemic of our times – anxiety and depression.

Another resilience strategy is meditation. Training our mind to stay focussed on the present moment. With repeated activation of the brain in this way our neurons wire new connections, making the thought process and positive somatic (body) responses more automatic, thus allowing for greater emotional regulation and equilibrium.

Social support is crucial for resilience strengthening. Seeking out the company of trusted friends and family during difficult times, dampens the activity of stress hormones and strengthens the reward centre of the brain. Human connection is critical in helping us cope with uncertainty.

The nature of the ‘human condition’ means that at crucial points in our life cycle it is more than likely we will need some assistance to cultivate resilience. This is where counselling can be especially helpful. Through nurturing a relationship of therapeutic support, involving deep listening, empathy, cognitive reframing and Socratic questioning we can reconnect to our goals and strengthen our sense of agency. Realising Possibilities, Counselling and Psychotherapy Services, provides a safe and private space in which to take time out to reflect on ways to cultivate resilience and find meaning with purpose in new beginnings.

How can I help?

Please call or email to discuss how I can help or to book an appointment.