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What can I do to build resilience?
There may be times or situations in your life that are more difficult than others. The capacity to stay mentally well during those times is called ‘resilience’. This section suggests some ways you might be able to develop and strengthen your resilience, so that you can deal with everyday life and face difficult situations without becoming unwell.
Talk about the way you feel
If you are facing a difficult time, talking about the way you feel with someone you know and trust can often help.
At first this may be hard because, when you're going through a difficult time in your life, your immediate response might be to keep your feelings to yourself rather than share them with others. However, the best thing you can do to build resilience is to talk to someone about the way you feel.
I tend to feel better the more I can talk about it. And it's surprising once you start talking about it how many people are similar.
Your colleagues, friends or family may be able to offer you practical help or advice and give you another perspective on what is causing your problems. Even if they can’t help, often just talking something through and feeling that there is someone to listen and understand you can make you feel much better.
Build healthy relationships with people
My true friends have stuck by me through thick and thin, never judged me and, when I was at my lowest, stayed with me through my darkest hours.
Building and maintaining constructive relationships with people is an important part of staying mentally well. If you spend time around positive and supportive people, you are more likely to have a better self-image, be more confident and feel able to face difficult times. In return, if you are caring and supportive to other people, you are more likely to get a positive response from them. You are then more likely to feel better about yourself and your ability to play an active part in society.
If you do not have the social contact you feel you need, or experience feelings of loneliness because of your work patterns or for any other reason, this can also have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing. For information and advice about how to increase your social contact, see How to cope with loneliness.
Look after your physical health
If you have good physical health, you are more likely to have good mental health. Sleep patterns, diet and physical activity all have an impact on your mental wellbeing.
Sometimes it can be difficult, or even impossible, to maintain regular sleep, diet and exercise patterns because of work. If this is the case, try to establish as much regularity as you can, or set time aside to look after your physical health after busy or stressful periods.
If you have trouble sleeping, this can have a serious impact on your mental wellbeing. Negative feelings are likely to be exaggerated and you might find you are more irritable and less confident. (See How to cope with sleep problems for help with establishing a good sleep routine.)
I see a significant improvement in my mood when I eat right.
Eating healthily has a positive impact on your physical and mental health. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of water and vegetables will help you to feel more healthy and happy. Stopping or reducing your alcohol intake, and avoiding tobacco and recreational drugs can also help improve your general wellbeing.
Find out more about how food can affect your mood.
Physical activity is good for mental health, particularly if you exercise outdoors. Being active can help reduce depression and anxiety and boost your self-confidence. It also releases endorphins – ‘feel-good’ hormones that can help improve your mood. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer gardening, gentle walking or something more active – you will almost always feel better for having done some physical activity. See our information on physical activity and exercise.
Do something you enjoy
Doing something you enjoy can improve your confidence and help you stay well. Make time to do things you like, whether it’s cooking, seeing your friends or doing DIY. Some people find that doing something creative, such as drama, drawing or sewing, helps them to express themselves positively and deal with any difficult emotions in a positive way.
Composing and playing music helps me express feelings that are difficult to explain in words.
Learning something new, or taking up a new hobby, can also boost your confidence and occupies your mind in a positive and active way. If you want to try a new hobby, think about what you are good at, or things that you have always wanted to try. You can find information about volunteering organisations and local groups, clubs or classes at your local library, in local newspapers or magazines, or online.
Set yourself a challenge
Set yourself a challenge that you can realistically achieve. This doesn’t have to be anything particularly large but should have meaning for you. For example, you might decide you are going to write a letter to your local paper or start going to a regular exercise class. You will feel satisfied and proud of yourself when you achieve your goal, and feel more positive about yourself as a result.
I find that crafting not only helps me relax, but it also improves my confidence when I finish a project and I am happy with the results, especially if it's a gift for someone or something that improves the appearance of my home.
It’s important to make time to relax, even if you don’t feel under stress. This may mean going away for the weekend, spending an evening doing something you like, or even just taking a five-minute break to look out of the window. Learning a relaxation technique, such as breathing exercises, yoga or meditation, can also help you relax and reduce stress levels.
Regularly attending a yoga class has taught me ways to relax and clear my head. This helps me feel more in control of my mental health, which in turn makes me feel more positive about the future.
Some people also find that alternative and complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture and reflexology, can help them relax and help them maintain their mental wellbeing. See the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council for a list of accredited practitioners.
Remember – relaxation is not the same as recreation. Hobbies and other activities can become stressful if they become excessive. See our information on how to manage stress.
Identify mood triggers
Knowing what affects your moods can help you take steps to avoid or change the situations that have a negative impact on you. Even if you can’t change the situation, knowing your triggers can help you remember to take extra care of yourself during difficult times.
For example, you may realise that eating certain foods or seeing a certain person has an effect on your mood. Or you may tend to experience a particular mood at a particular time, such as in winter.
Keeping track of your moods in a mood diary can help you work out what affects your mental wellbeing and recognise changes in your mood that would be difficult to spot otherwise. You can create your own mood diary, or there are lots to choose from on the internet. Some examples include moodpanda.com, moodscope.com, medhelp.org/land/mood-tracker and mappiness.org.uk.
Look after yourself during difficult times
What helps me is being honest with how well I’m coping and getting support when I need it.
Everyone has times when they face challenging situations and find it difficult to cope. If you are experiencing a difficult time, or are unwell, it’s important to look after yourself and try and get through.
Be careful not to put too much pressure on yourself to carry on as normal. You may need to take a break from your usual responsibilities, for example reducing your social activities or workload. Take small steps and don’t expect too much of yourself. Try to get enough sleep and eat regularly. If you are finding it difficult to cope on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help. For example, you may need time off work or help with day-to-day tasks, such as cleaning or childcare.
Stay safe. If your feelings become overwhelming, and you have suicidal thoughts or you think you may self harm, remember that you can pick up the phone at any time of night or day and talk to the Samaritans. You might also find that our information on How to cope with suicidal feelings is helpful.
Learn to accept yourself
The more I am at peace with myself and who I am, the more I am likely to be at peace with others and who they are.
One of the most important steps in maintaining mental wellbeing is to learn to accept yourself. If you value yourself, you are more likely to have positive relationships with other people and find it easier to cope with difficult times in your life.
Here are some tips to help you increase your self-esteem (also see How to increase your self-esteem):
- Try not to compare yourself to other people.
- Don’t strive for perfection.
- Acknowledge your positive qualities and things you are good at.
- Learn to identify and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns.
- Use self-help books and websites to help you change your beliefs.
- Spend time with supportive people.
- Be assertive – don’t allow people to treat you with a lack of respect.
- Engage in hobbies that you enjoy.
What helped me was the realisation that this is who I am, to stop fighting it and realise that life may not be what you expected it to be… Then, just start living again.
Learning to accept who you are can be very difficult, particularly if you are trying to do it on your own. If you feel that low self-esteem is having a significant impact on your mental health, you may find it helpful to talk your feelings through with a therapist. (See Talking treatments for more details.)
Make a resilience plan
You can make a plan for yourself by firstly writing down:
- things that have a positive effect on your wellbeing
- things that have a negative effect on your wellbeing
Then create a plan for how you might be able to change this, by writing down:
- things you could try to improve your situation
- who you might ask for help
This information was published in May 2015. We will revise it in 2018.