It was a grey raining day in London. I forced myself out of my bed, stunning on the window with no motivation to start my day. I then checked my phone. I cried after I saw the picture that was sent by my elder sister. It was a picture of the astonishing rebirth of wildlife in the Australia bush fire in 2020 (see the picture below). I regained hope after a few weeks of depression. Again, I was saved by nature. The first time I was saved by nature was during my healing trip to Perhentian Island, Malaysia, where I stayed with the ocean for three weeks. On the trip, I learned the greatest lesson from mother nature, which is resilience. It is a skill that could be learned and practised. It is a precious lifelong skill that will help us throughout the challenges in our life.
What is mental resilience?
According to the American Psychology Association (2012), resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and even significant sources of stress such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stresses. Meanwhile, my favourite illustration of resilience is the resilience and adaptive cycle by Lance Gunderson and Crawford Stanley Holling. It is an illustration that includes four phases that our ecology going through. They are exploitation, adaptation, conservation and release. We as part of nature go through the same cycle where we are being exploited by challenges, we learn to adapt; then through adaptation, we conserve our knowledge and lessons. Finally, we are ready to restart or even to give with our experience. So, here are some fundamental and achievable methods to be more mentally resilient.
Fear is an emotion. Fear comes from anything that threatens our physical, emotional and psychological well-being. The secret of eradicating fear is to be aware of it and let it go immediately. This method worked perfectly for me. Do not hold the emotion for too long. Long-lasting fear will be enlarged and become an obstacle to move on. The logic behind this method is because emotion links to our memory. Encoded memory will be stored in our brain and trigger our emotions, such as fear. Thus, to prevent fear, we need to overcome the fear immediately when memory is unstable or retrieved and before it is encoded.
In early this year, I did an exercise with my mentor in retrieving my fear. The biggest fear that I had was to return to work. At the same time, to bear my responsibilities as a daughter. I had a traumatic experience in managing expectations and stress. After a long talk with my mentor, retrieving all the memories relate to fear, I cried along the way back home. The painful feeling was so unbearable that I decided to overcome the fear by having a proper talk with my parents about my depression, the causes and all the misunderstandings I had on them immediately. I paused the fear right after retrieving them back. It was the most extraordinary relief for me. I entered a new stage of the lifecycle where I could restart everything – it is because of the power of facing fear.
Be Cognitive and Emotional Flexible
Learning to be flexible cognitively and emotionally means accepting any situation emotionally and finding new ways to adapt. It all begins with acceptance, where we can counter our avoidances and denials. We tend to avoid disasters and deny our mistakes to show the flawless us to the public. That’s me, and I stopped developing my skills and characteristics.
To practice acceptance, we need to practice reappraisal. To ask ourselves, how could this situation be worse? How could this situation be better? By asking ourselves these questions, we would form a prepared mentality for the worse and turn the negative mindset into a neutral perspective. Moving on from reappraisal, I learn to move my attention to problems that I could solve and let those that could not be solved away. Just let them go!
We could never ever live alone. We need support in each part of our life. To get food supply, we need our neighbourhood mini-market; to fix a broken pipe, we need a plumber; to learn a new skill, we need to find a guru. These supports fulfil our basic needs and maintain our daily function. Similarly, to be mentally resilient, we need social support or community.
Research has found that highly resilient people have supportive social support to protect and strengthen them (Southwick & Charney, 2012). A meaningful network and connection could eradicate loneliness with feelings of affiliation and encourage an open mind for change. Social support is definitely the most essential factor that I become more resilient. I started building my social support system when I was in London. I met a group of coursemates who have a similar passion. Yet, each of us was suffering from a different level of mental illness. Their openness to their condition and support made me realized that I could never be alone in the fight. Call for help when I need to. Till now, they are still my significant support. We learn from each other’s despair, courage, passion, and compassion. These are the true measurement of resilience.
I used to believe that some people are born with resilient personalities. The truth that I learned is that resilience needs to be learned and practised. The truest resilience is often born from disruption/exploitation, just like nature. Our mother nature adapts to exploitation and reorganization for billion of years. Meanwhile, she always plays her roles diligently with incredible generosity. Thus, be courageous towards fear and disruptions. With hope and kindness, something astonishing will happen after that.
- Building your resilience. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
- Southwick, S.M., Charney, D.S. (2012). Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. Cambridge University Press.
- Resalliance.org (n.d.) Adaptive Cycle. Retrieved from https://www.resalliance.org/adaptive-cycle
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