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Building the resilience to hold onto HOPE in a world of challenges

Hope is the sword, and resilience is the shield.

This is the third and final article in our Journey of Hope series. So far we have learnt of the difficulties of hopelessness, and practical ways to build hope in our daily lives.

We end with a long term strategy to retain a positive, hopeful outlook that lasts throughout our life. We need our hopeful vision to be bulletproof, to be resistant to the inevitable shocks of life. The way to do this is to build resilience.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to adapt to stress and adversity. In simple terms, when you get knocked down, you get up again. Rather than letting the inevitable difficulties of life take over, resilience gives us the tools to process the situation, heal and move on.

There is a definite crossover between hope and resilience. The two models feed into each other and building hope often reinforces resilience at the same time.

However, they are two distinct concepts, which serve two separate purposes. Hope is the belief that things will get better and relies on your agency and pathways to get you there. Resilience, on the other hand, is your first line of defence against difficult situations.

Hope is the sword, and resilience is the shield.

Why is resilience important?

Resilience is a crucial survival tool because life tends to throw tragedies, difficulties and failures at us. We, therefore, need the psychological strength to adapt to the twists and turns of our personal journeys. Otherwise, we’d be stuck in a rut, and unable to move forward.

Resilience can help us when dealing with personal problems, such as relationship difficulties or the loss of a loved one.

It can also help you to process global pressures. No one could have predicted the toll that the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the world. Having personal resilience can allow us to take on the challenges that the post-coronavirus world brings, rather than being overwhelmed by them.

Resilience can also give you the strength to fight systems that seem to be weighed against you. When fighting systemic oppression, like the ingrained racism we see throughout the world, resilience can help you to push through despite all the odds.

There’s no doubt that more difficulties are on the way. Vast unemployment, widespread poverty and an increase in deaths are an inevitability at this point. And this is to say nothing of systemic oppression and injustice, which have been around for centuries before the pandemic and will continue for centuries after.

These problems are too big for any one of us to solve on our own – they require organised collective action. But to deal with the pressures that they bring upon us we have to foster a strong sense of resilience.

How exactly do we build resilience? Here are a few helpful tips

Healthy habits

Healthy habits help keep our body and brain healthy. By making sure you get sufficient sleep, eat a balanced and carried diet and stay physically active, you can reduce stress levels and boost resilience.

Exercise, in particular, is the ultimate life hack. It can reduce anxiety, depression and negative mood by stimulating self-esteem and cognitive function. It can also help to see it as a microcosm for life. By overcoming the pain of getting up at 6am to go for a run, we can also learn to deal with the other emotional pains in our life. It can also teach us to set realistic and positive goals and the joy of achieving them.

Change in perception

Think about the way that you see difficult events in your life. Instead of seeing a relationship breakup as a traumatic event, why not see it as an opportunity for growth and development? Keeping perspective is also a useful way to reframe our internal narrative. By viewing a break up within the larger context of your life, and that of the entire world, we can begin to process it more healthily.

By reconfiguring the lens through which you see the world, you can improve your ability to conquer whatever comes your way.

Taking accountability

Resilience begins with you. By taking control of your future and recognising that you are the master of your own fate, you can build your tools of resilience.

A study of children on the island of Kaua’i from the 1950s backs this up. Back then, Kaua’i was a difficult place to grow up – many of the children studied grew up in poverty and came from troubled family backgrounds.

Despite this, one-third of the group grew up to be model citizens. The secret to their success was something called an “internal locus of control”.

This means that they believed that they, and not their circumstances, determined their future. By taking accountability for their own development, they were able to achieve far beyond what they probably should have. It’s a lesson we can all apply to our own lives.

Express yourself

Talking seems to be the universal solution for our mental wellbeing. Expressing our feelings to others when times get tough can help to make you tougher.

It really can be as simple as talking it out. A study of student nurses showed that those who relied on support systems from friends and family, and who expressed their feelings to them, whether they were positive or negative, were less prone to burn out. It allowed them to face the emotional stresses of a busy hospital and having to make life-or-death decisions.

Communicating a sense of togetherness can help you to get through the most difficult of predicaments. Under lockdown in Wuhan, videos of residents shouting “jiyao” to each other (or “hang in there”) went viral for their wonderful insight into the human capacity to spread solidarity and keep going, no matter what.

The old cliche works – a problem shared is a problem halved.

I’ve read these articles and now I’m hopeful and resilient – is my journey over?

The short answer is no. The long answer has two parts.

Firstly, cultivating hopefulness and resilience is a lifelong endeavour. It’s a difficult journey that is sure to have peaks and troughs.

And secondly, it’s important to harness this hopeful energy for the service of others. What use is improving just ourselves, when we can transform the lives of those around us?

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