Five Strategies for Building Mental Resilience

Photo by Espen Eichhöfer/Ostkreuz
Human Rights

Eirliani Abdul Rahman is a diplomat turned activist. To raise awareness for survivors of sexual child abuse, she will be setting out for an expedition to the North Pole in April 2019. In this series, Eirliani is documenting her inner and outer struggles as she is preparing for this trip.

This is Part 11 of Eirliani’s personal leadership journey.

I often get asked when I go training in the Arctic, how do I get through the day, skiing half a marathon every day while pulling 87 kg (190 lbs) of supplies on a sled behind me? My reply is, “One hour at a time.” It is a mental game, one that requires perseverance, seeing things through.

Eirliani Abdul RahmanNGO Yakin

Eirliani Abdul Rahman

Eirliani Abdul Rahman is the co-founder of YAKIN (Youth, Adult Survivors & Kin In Need), an NGO working on children’s rights and child protection, and a member of Twitter’s Safety & Trust Council. She serves as director at the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and is a member of the Global Diplomacy Lab.

In 2015, she led a successful campaign of the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“Save the Childhood Movement”) founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi called #FullStop to #childsexualabuse in India, which reached 16 million people over 6 weeks. Eirliani is co-author of the book “Survivors: Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse.” She won the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Award in 2015.

During this holiday season where there may be more stress – financial and emotional – from the pressure of gift giving, office parties, difficult family conversations, and traveling to see loved ones, it may be salient to talk about mental resilience.

We don’t talk enough about it, and how to build it up. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.

It is important to note that being resilient does not mean that a person does not experience difficulty or distress. More often than not, emotional pain and sadness have been experienced by those who have suffered a major adversity or trauma in their lives. They have learnt to develop resilience over time.

“A good half of the art of living is resilience.”
Alain de Botton

How then can we build resilience? It bears remembering that developing resilience is a personal journey: we each have different backgrounds, coming from different cultures which may shape and influence how we respond to stressful situations and/or traumatic life events. Having a good and caring support network is a huge factor in helping bolster one’s resilience. That, and a healthy and positive view of oneself.

Here are five strategies for building mental resilience:

1. Build a strong and caring support network

among family and friends. Spend time on these relationships. Ask for help and do not be afraid to accept offers of support. Consider joining self-help or support groups.

2. Accept that change is a normal part of life.

To paraphrase the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: "May you seek help from the higher powers to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change; courage to change the things you can; and the wisdom to know the difference."

3. Take decisive action.

Try to act rather than wishing that the problem would go away. Seek professional help, if necessary.

4. Remember your goals and do one thing every day to come closer to it.

The key here is doing something regularly, however small. If you would like to appreciate the arts better, join a pottery class or volunteer at a local museum. If you would like to mentor youth in your community, make time to coach your daughter’s football team.

5. Take care of yourself.

Listen to your body and to what your mind is telling you. Nurture time for self-reflection. Journal, spend time on coloring books, exercise regularly, and/or take a hot bath to relax.

Participants of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Forum in Chile reflect and relax during a pottery class. Photo by Marc Beckmann

Learn and build upon past experiences to learn about your possible stressors and recognize trigger points. What has helped you, or continues to help you, overcome difficult situations? Remain flexible: perhaps you may need to hold your deep emotions, however uncomfortable. On other occasions, you may want to move past them and avoid getting triggered.

Are there particular friends and family members whom you tend to reach out to regularly? Perhaps you are now able to help others who have been in a similar situation as yourself. How does that make you feel?

Trust in your ability to navigate and steer your journey as you build your mental resilience. Remember that you are not alone.

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