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Pre-crisis Psychological Management: Building Resilience

Difficulties and crises may happen in any work settings. Residential care homes for elderly persons are no exception. If organisations could better equip their staff in coping with critical incidents at ordinary times, they would stand a better chance of cutting down crises-related losses. Crises may even become blessings in disguise, through which organisational staff could develop higher morale and team spirit. Just as you would work out physically to boost your immune system, you also need to cultivate and build up resilience of your staff in order to safeguard their mental health and productivity.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to physically and psychologically cope with, and to recover from, life adversities. It relates to the way people think and behave in response to these events. For instance, when there is a problem, would you face it squarely or would you just avoid it? Resilience is not something people are born with. If you find yourself lacking in resilience, you may develop and strengthen it through learning.

Why do we need resilience?

  • It motivates people to solve problems proactively even in adverse situations, and to recover faster afterwards.
  • In the midst of crises, employees who are trained in resilience have less anxiety, depression and stress related symptoms. Their job satisfaction and morale actually increase in the post-crisis period.
  • For the soon-to-retire and retirees, those who are more resilient require less medical services and rate their health more positively.

How do we build and enhance resilience?

Resilience is characterised by a healthy mindset and a whole host of life skills. You may think of it as a tool box, containing tools that you can count on to survive difficulties. These tools include:

  1. Stay positive
  2. Regulate your emotions
  3. Have a moral compass
  4. Nurture spirituality
  5. Get social support
  6. Find role models of resilience
  7. Stay healthy
  8. Practise lifelong learning and flexibility
  9. Derive meaning from experiences
  10. Be compassionate to yourself

1. Stay positive

Being optimistic means cherishing what you have, whereas focusing on what you do not have makes you pessimistic. While resilient people are not free from negative emotions or thoughts, they are more able to employ appropriate coping skills to navigate through difficult times.

You might be stuck in your circumstances, but you do have a choice as to how you would face it, which in turn affects your mood and behaviours. Pessimists tend to blame themselves and view failures as pervasive and perpetual. As a result, they often find it difficult to let go and move on. On the contrary, optimistic people take setbacks as a part of life, and tend to pick themselves up rather than pick on themselves. They will acknowledge their own efforts instead of ruminating over failures. That is why they can readily find ways to improve and try again, or move forward to work towards new goals.

2. Regulate your emotions

How to handle conflicts? The first thing is to keep calm and avoid getting too emotional. Then communicate skilfully to give the conflict a constructive turn, one that allows collaboration.

  • Be aware of mind-body signals such as racing heart, muscle tension, sweating, and labile emotions
  • Stay calm, practise deep breathing
  • Time out from the scene
  • Change your focus to “What are my goals or expectations at this point of time?” “How can I accomplish these goals?”
  • Resume the conversation once you have calmed down, try to take each other’s perspective in the process, and strive to reach some consensus and solve problems

3. Have a moral compass

With clear principles and moral values, you will be less likely to get lost when facing adversities. Mottos such as no pain no gain, failure teaches success, silence is golden, etc. will allow you to take unwavering steps amidst challenges. Being considerate towards others may also help motivate you to face difficult situations. For instance, the love and commitment for your beloved family gives you strength to take good care of yourself, to persevere even when hardships come your way.

4. Nurture spirituality

Spirituality (including but not limited to religion, finding peace of mind in nature, reflecting on and finding meaning in life) gives people hope, consolation and the ability to face adversities. Try the following and start nurturing your spirituality:

  • Reflect on your life experiences and make meaning from them
  • Practise mindful breathing and immerse yourself in the power of life
  • Dive into nature and have a good period of quiet time for yourself

5. Get social support

Social engagement is one of the pillars of resilience, so it is important to stay connected with family and friends. People with substantial social support live a happier and healthier life than those who are isolated. Do you have family and friends that you can count on? Remember, relationships flourish on two-way roads. So think about how you can go an extra mile in nurturing your current relationships, or in forming new ones.

6. Find role models of resilience

Resilient people tend to have role models who are resilient too. Do you know people whom you have come to respect for their having overcome hardships in lives? If you have problem finding such people around you, read up the biographies of historic or public figures who have made their way through adversities. You may benefit from it.

7. Stay healthy

Healthy lifestyle such as regular physical activities, a balanced diet, adequate sleep and rest, and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol will help keep you physically and emotionally fit. Committed practice of relaxation exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help improve mental health and maintain a sharp mind.

8. Practise lifelong learning and flexibility

Research points out that lifelong learning is positively associated with an individual's health, self-esteem, life meaning and social engagement. It is possible to see difficulties as opportunities for learning how to regulate your emotions, solve problems, communicate well with others, grow your creativity, and other necessary coping skills. Learning such ways of adjusting your mindset when you face different situations can help nurture your resilience.

9. Derive meaning from experiences

In times of significant life adversity, it is perfectly normal to feel confused, frustrated and pain. However, if you do not give up, with time you may gain some insight and personal growth from these difficulties. Someday, you may even realise the actual meaning behind the experience.

10. Be compassionate to yourself

It is a misconception that being harsh and critical towards yourself is the only way to grow and develop. The fact is, you need a little love and compassion for yourself especially when hard pressed by circumstances. Try to find time and sit quietly by yourself, tune in slowly to your bodily sensations and your feelings. You may acknowledge that it is only human to experience ups and downs, and that failures and struggles are an inevitable part of life. Accept yourself as you are and whatever it is you are experiencing, be it success or failure, happiness or sadness. By being compassionate to yourself, you will notice that you are more able to face the troubles in life.