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Resilience: five ways to refresh your reserves

Resilience – the ability to recover from setbacks and keep going in the face of adversity – has rarely been a more vital quality than during this period of intense and relentless challenges.

It’s a resource we have all needed to draw heavily on. But it’s also one we must not take for granted. An unquestioning confidence in the planet’s resilience led to the sustained and reckless consumption of its resources. Climate science has now exposed the devastating flaws in this thinking and confronted us with the reality that a number of environmental tipping points are approaching, from which no natural resilience can help us bounce back.

This global dynamic may be more applicable to our individual lives than we might think. We’ve all faced significant hurdles since the pandemic hit. Perhaps you rose to the challenge of making swift and comprehensive changes at very short notice, such as radically restructuring your research or taking your teaching online. But instead of transitioning from this intense surge response into a much-needed rest period, the stresses only continued – and intensified. This may have involved an ever-heavier workload or, conversely, the shock of an early end to a contract – all in a period of extended isolation from normal support networks.

Just like the planet, our resilience may become so weakened by constant pressures that we find ourselves close to burnout or breakdown. At the end of this turbulent year, this is an experience with which many in HE are only too familiar.

Now’s the time, then, to take stock, check your resilience reserves and invest in refreshing them. How can you best do this? Here are five suggestions.

  1. Be realistic. Acknowledge that, although it’s often portrayed as such, resilience isn’t just a quick bounce-back. In her article Eight tips to help you become more resilient, clinical psychologist Meg Jay, associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, argues that being resilient is,‘…really a battle, not a bounce.’ It’s worth remembering that resilience is not so much an instant response or innate characteristic as a process that takes effort and time. Acknowledging this honestly is helpful, and will hopefully prevent you from feeling like a failure if you conclude that you need to take time out or ask for help.
  1. Look out for warning signs and take action when you spot them. What are the signals that suggest you’re approaching the end of your reserves? Irritability? Poor eating or sleeping habits? Chronic procrastination or perfectionism? If you’re aware of unhealthy coping mechanisms creeping in, address them now before they deplete you further.
  1. Value the positive opportunities for growth that some setbacks offer. The careful capturing of learning from failures may be a key practice in your research. But it’s easy to forget to apply this principle in your wider life. Changing the way you view personal challenges can help release the energy you need to adapt or innovate.
  1. Connect. If you excel at solo problem-solving you may assume you can survive shocks and stresses on your own. But your network of family, friends, colleagues and community members can be an invaluable source of additional strength and perspective. Communicating early and clearly with those around you can help you to articulate and better understand the issues you’re facing, mobilise resources and take timely action.
  1. Simplify. Simpler living is championed by many as a way to mitigate the threats facing the planet. It can also be beneficial for your own resilience. However high-functioning, every one of us has only a limited amount of time, energy and resource. In a season as draining as this one, it may be wise to simplify your goals to ensure you’re successful in achieving those that matter.

The difficulties we’re experiencing look set to continue for some time. As the holiday season begins for many, taking time to switch off and refuel now may well prove a strategic and welcome boost to your resilience in the months ahead.   


Further reading

The Global Academy Jobs guides to:

Recovering from rejection

Tackling fault lines and conflict in virtual teams

Finding #HEhappiness

Jo Mitchell is an experienced writer and editor. After studying Modern Languages at the University of Oxford she worked in fundraising at Oxfam GB and Viva, where she specialised in writing communications for major donors. She now provides freelance editing and copywriting services at Nightingale Ink in the firm belief that sometimes words can sing.

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